Locust crisis to hit northwest Africa again - situation deteriorating in the Sahel
Summer harvest in the Sahel at risk - control operations expanded - donor response slow
17 September 2004, Rome -- The desert locust crisis in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Niger is expected to deteriorate over the next few weeks, and there is a serious risk that northwest Africa will be reinvaded by swarms from October onwards, FAO warned today.
"The scale of the locust invasion in northwest Africa is likely to be larger than last spring," said Keith Cressman, FAO locust information officer.
"The extent of the new invasion in the Maghreb countries depends on the success of the ongoing survey and control operations in West Africa, and on the quantity, distribution and frequency of rainfall in the coming months. The success of control operations in West Africa is crucial if we want to reduce the new threat to the Maghreb countries," he added.
Harvest at risk in West Africa
It is estimated that around three to four million hectares of land are now infested by locusts in West Africa, with Mauritania being the worst hit country (around 1.6 million ha infested). Nearly 300 000 ha have been treated this summer so far in the region. The rate of control is likely to increase considerably with the expanding aerial spraying capacity.
A bumper harvest is expected in West Africa this summer. "A substantial portion of this harvest is at risk because of the unusually high locust infestations," Cressman warned. According to country reports up to 40 percent of pastures and 10 percent of vegetables have been damaged so far.
There are, however, few reliable estimates of regional crop losses that could allow precise forecasts of famine in West Africa. Local communities in affected countries have already been severely hit and may be in need of assistance. FAO assessment teams will visit affected countries in October to obtain information on crop losses.
A locust swarm moves with the wind up to 200 kilometres in a day. One tonne of locusts (a very small portion of an average swarm) eats as much food in one day as about 2 500 people. Locusts live between three and six months. There is a tenfold increase in locust numbers from one generation to the next.
As of today, donor countries have approved a total of $24 million, of which FAO has actually received only $4 million. The agency has provided $5 million from its own resources. This is a small percentage of the $100 million the organization estimates is needed to control the widespread locust outbreaks. Affected countries have also contributed some resources to locust control campaigns. They have also received significant support from neighbouring countries.
FAO is currently assisting eleven countries in the battle against locusts. The agency has delivered around 300 000 litres of pesticides for around $1.7 million. Another 490 000 litres will be delivered within this month for $3.2 million.
One million dollars has been spent on spraying and safety equipment, protective clothing, satellite and radio systems as well as on vehicles. Two aircrafts have been hired for spraying in Mauritania and two for Mali, at a cost of some $750 000. More money is urgently needed to hire planes for aerial spraying operations in other affected countries.
The locust situation
Widespread breeding has occurred during the last two months in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Niger and, to a lesser extent, in Burkina Faso. Smaller-scale breeding is in progress in Cape Verde and Chad. Desert locust hopper bands are rapidly developing in all affected countries and the first generation of summer swarms have already started forming in Mauritania and Niger, FAO said.
In Sudan, small-scale breeding continues in Northern Kordofan. There have been no reports of locust infestations in Darfur.
A substantial number of swarms will form in the coming weeks in the Sahel in West Africa, Cressman said. Locust swarms often stretch over dozens of kilometres containing billions of insects.
Some of these swarms may stay put and could breed again in the next two months, while others may reinvade Senegal and move southwards, to Gambia, Guinea Bissau and possibly Guinea by the end of the year. However, the majority of the swarms are expected to move to west and northwest Mauritania and breed there.
There is a real threat of a reinvasion of Northwest Africa, which could be on a larger scale than that in the spring of 2004, FAO warned. Large numbers of swarms from West Africa will almost certainly migrate to northwest Africa. They will most likely arrive in northwestern Mauritania, in the western Sahara and in southern Algeria from early October onwards, progressively moving north during November. Some swarms may also appear in southwestern Libya. Swarms could lay eggs during November if rain falls in these areas.
With sufficient rainfall, swarms will reach the traditional spring breeding areas along the southern side of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and Algeria as well as southern Tunisia and western Libya between October and March.
FAO promotes the sound use of pesticides to reduce risks to human health and the environment. FAO staff advises countries on how to apply pesticides. Pesticides used against locusts usually degrade within seven days.
The agency is actively investigating the use of environmentally friendly biological control agents, for which the efficacy for use in emergency control operations still has to be demonstrated. FAO will soon test bio-pesticides on three areas in Mauritania.
To ensure proper clean-up operations after spraying, FAO will arrange for the cleaning and the collection of empty metal pesticide drums, which will be crushed and disposed of. Every effort is also made to avoid the accumulation of unused pesticides.
FAO has created a scientific institute in Dakar, Senegal, which offers training in environmental monitoring of pesticides in affected countries.
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105
e-mail this article