Locusts are probably the oldest migratory pest in the world. They differ from ordinary grasshoppers in their ability to change behaviour (gregarize) and to migrate over large distances.
The most devastating of all locust species is the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) because it can easily affect 20 percent of the Earth's land and more than 65 of the world's poorest countries. Desert Locusts live in the desert areas between West Africa and India where they normally survive in isolation. But if heavy rains fall and ecological conditions become favourable, they can increase rapidly, gregarize and form swarms. If the infestations are not detected and controlled, devastating plagues can develop that often have severe consequences on the livelihoods of millions of affected people.
There are other locust species of economic importance in the world, for example the Red Locust (Nomadacris septemfasciata) in Eastern Africa, the Brown Locust (Locustana pardalina) in southern Africa, Migratory Locusts (Locusta migratoria) throughout Africa and Asia, the Tree Locust (Anacridium melanorhodon) mainly in Africa, the Moroccan Locust (Dociostaurus maroccanus) and the Italian Locust (Calliptamus italicus) in North Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and the Australian Plague Locust (Chortoicetes terminifera) in Australia.
Accurate and timely information is an important part of the preventive control strategy that affected countries have adopted to minimize Desert Locust plagues. This strategy relies on the timely detection and control of locust populations before they reach plague proportions. Its success depends on a continuing flow of information regarding the ecological conditions in the field and the whereabouts of locusts so that control operations can be planned and carried out more effectively. Information and data are shared through a well-established network that dates back to the 1930s. FAO assumed the central role of managing this network in the late 1970s.
The Organization's Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) continuously monitors the situation based on information provided by affected countries and forecasts the timing, location and scale of breeding and migration. DLIS issues monthly bulletins and sends out warnings and alerts when significant developments occur.
The Director-General of FAO launched a Special Programme in 1994 called EMPRES (Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases) to help strengthen national Desert Locust control capacities by improving warning, rapid reaction, preparedness, and introducing environmentally safer control techniques. EMPRES began in countries along the Red Sea (the Central Region) and has now been extended to West and Northwest Africa (the Western Region). Although the EMPRES programme has yet to reach the Eastern Region (South-West Asia), the FAO Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in South-West Asia (SWAC) is active in the four Member Countries (Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan).
FAO is applying the lessons learned from the Desert Locust example such as monitoring and early warning systems, contingency planning and rapid response to other locusts in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and South Asia, and to important transboundary diseases such as wheat stem rust (Ug99).
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