20 October 2003, Rome -- Desert Locust outbreaks in Mauritania, Niger and Sudan may locally threaten crops, FAO said on Monday, issuing an alert to inform affected governments and the international donor community.

Desert Locusts outbreaks were reported in areas of north-western Mauritania, northern Niger and and north-eastern Sudan, FAO said.

Swarms of the migratory insect can devastate crops as they fly in great numbers in search of food.

"The number of locusts is increasing rapidly. They are beginning to concentrate themselves into groups characteristic of an outbreak," FAO's Locust Group said, "We need to address the problem now, before the situation deteriorates."

Desert locusts are normally solitary, scattered insects but when climatic conditions are favourable, for example after good rains and a mild temperature, they can rapidly increase in number.

As the rainy season ends and green areas shrink locusts tend to group together in the few remaining green vegetation and start to change appearance and begin behaving as a group.

After several years of drought, exceptional rains in Mauritania have allowed the Desert Locusts to breed and increase in number, FAO said.

Vegetation had dried out much quicker than expected in the country, causing locusts to concentrate in three main areas in Western and central regions.

Forming a swarm

When they begin to take on group characteristics young, wingless locusts, known as "hoppers", march together in search of food.

They develop into adult, winged insects that form swarms which may contain tens of millions of insects, stretch across kilometres and travel great distances, crossing international borders.

"This situation has the potential to develop rapidly and it could be a matter of weeks," the Locust Group said, "We must immediately boost the number of surveys, the level of monitoring and prepare for expanded intervention."

In Mauritania control operations have covered several hundred hectares of land so far and additional teams have been sent to the field, bringing the total to five survey teams including two motorized control teams with pesticide-spraying capacities.

In Niger locusts have been reported at a density of up to 20 hoppers per square metre and in Sudan, where five aircraft are on standby, mature adult locust swarms have been seen along the Atbara river, some of which were laying eggs.

"If the situation worsens this migratory pest may move northwards across northern Mauritania into Morocco, from Sudan towards the Red Sea and from Mali and Niger into Southern Algeria," the Locust Group said.
Stephanie Holmes
FAO Media Relations
[email protected]
(+39) 06 570 56350