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Red Locust disaster in Eastern Africa prevented

Biopesticides being used on a large scale

24 June 2009, Rome - An international Red Locust emergency campaign in Eastern and Southern Africa has succeeded in containing a massive locust outbreak in Tanzania, FAO said today. It is the first time that biopesticides are being used on a large scale in Africa against locusts.

The rapid intervention has markedly reduced Red Locust infestations thereby preventing a full-blown invasion that could have affected the food crops of around 15 million people in the region, the agency said.

FAO organized and coordinated the campaign together with the International Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA). Aerial survey and control operations will continue during the next weeks in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, until the locust threat is fully under control.

"Without the rapid intervention, involving affected countries and the international community the Central and Southern Africa region could have faced a major Red Locust disaster, putting agriculture and food production of millions of poor farmers at risk," said FAO Assistant Director-General Modibo Traoré.

"The concerted and coordinated effort of all partners involved in this campaign is a model for combating other transboundary pests that are threatening the region."

Surveys carried out in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe by IRLCO-CSA and Ministries of Agriculture revealed serious Red Locust infestations, particularly in Tanzania.

Tanzania at risk

Affected countries launched an emergency appeal to FAO for assistance since they do not have sufficient resources and the necessary equipment to respond instantly to large-scale locust infestations in areas that are difficult to access. Tanzania is one of the first countries at risk as it harbours four out of the eight recognized Red Locust outbreak areas in Central and Southern Africa.

"Locust control campaigns are logistically very complex and require timely and well-targeted interventions using the most appropriate tactics to reduce locust infestations and avoid unwanted effects on the environment," said Christian Pantenius, a senior FAO locust expert.

"This year's Red Locust campaign brought all the important players together in time to prevent a potentially very dangerous situation. The UN's Central Emergency Response Fund contributed nearly $2 million, under its first ever regional project, which allowed aerial survey and control operations to be launched quickly and effectively. FAO provided around one million dollars from its own emergency funds," he added.

If not controlled, large swarms of Red Locusts will fly over vast areas of farmland, travelling over a distance of 20-30 kilometres per day and feeding on cereals, sugar cane, citrus and fruit trees, cotton, legumes and vegetables cultivated by often poor farmers. A Red Locust adult consumes roughly its own weight, about two grams, in fresh food in 24 hours. A very small part of an average swarm (or about one tonne of locusts) eats the same amount of food in one day as around 2 500 people.


Locust control interventions in Tanzania focused mainly on three areas: the Iku-Katavi National Park, the Lake Rukwa plains and the Malagarasi River Basin. In order to protect large wild animals, including elephants, hippos, and giraffes, in the wetlands of the Iku-Katavi National Park FAO used the bio-pesticide Green Muscle® to treat around 10 000 hectares infested with adult locusts.

Green Muscle® is composed of the spores of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae and a mixture of mineral oils. The biopesticide is not toxic to humans and kills only locusts and grasshoppers; it has no other environmental side-effects.

In addition, the World Food Programme organized the airlift of conventional pesticides from Mali to Tanzania, to treat around 4 500 hectares in the Rukwa and Malagrassi region. The chemicals were left-over pesticides from previous locust campaigns.

"Establishing a community-based early warning system involving wildlife rangers and the farm communities in the vicinity of the outbreak areas to better observe locust developments and organize timely interventions will be the challenge of the future," Pantenius said.

Photo: ©FAO/Christian Pantenius
Locust swarms in Tanzania.