4 August 2003, Rome/Kabul -- A major threat to food production in northern Afghanistan has been averted after a successful locust control campaign coordinated by FAO.

Following a survey of locust egg beds carried out in 2002, it had been estimated that over 400 000 hectares of rainfed wheat and over 190 000 hectares of irrigated wheat would be at risk from locust attack, FAO said today.

The campaign treated over 123 000 hectares of locust infestations mainly with conventional pesticides.

For the first time in Afghanistan, some areas were controlled with an insect growth regulator in an effort to introduce more environmentally friendly methods.

In spite of the current outbreak, which started in 2001 and has been the most severe in living memory, damage to the wheat crop was kept to a minimal level.

The control campaign

FAO provided spraying equipment, protective clothing and training, together with two international and five national consultants.

The Irish non-governmental organization GOAL supported 9 provincial coordinators, 11 supervisors and 117 local organizers, who led trained spray teams, each of approximately 10 local people. GOAL also provided transport and logistical support.

The spray teams were supported by local communities. A team of technical staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry was seconded from Kabul to participate in the campaign.

Control was carried out using hand-held, battery-powered sprayers, which enabled an operator to treat up to 15 hectares per day. Eight vehicle-mounted sprayers, each capable of treating up to 100 hectares per day, were also deployed. Farmers received training in the safe and effective use of the equipment and pesticide.

Long-term strategy needed

In some areas of Kunduz and Takhar provinces, access to locust breeding areas was restricted by the presence of mines and unexploded ammunition and shells. As a result, some locusts escaped control and attacked cotton and melons.

Although the locust infestation has been significantly reduced by this year's campaign, further control will be necessary in 2004.

FAO is discussing with the Ministry of Agriculture on possible sources of funding for 2004 and on developing a sustainable long-term strategy to prevent future outbreaks.

This year's campaign was jointly implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, FAO and GOAL. It was financed by Belgium, Ireland, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and from FAO's own resources.

FAO globally coordinates efforts to control locust outbreaks and plagues.

It is continually promoting improved locust control methods by applying more environmentally friendly pesticides, including the use of insect growth regulators, biopesticides, and barrier-spraying instead of blanket treatments.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105