New locust upsurge could threaten North and West Africa

Two years after the worst locust infestation to hit North and West Africa in 15 years, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned the region to raise its level of alert against a possible new invasion of the crop-devouring insects.

Important desert locust infestations have recently been detected in northwest Mauritania, raising concerns of an upsurge of swarms there and in Algeria, Mali, Morocco and Senegal as well as other countries if favourable weather and ecological conditions continue, the agency said.

“Locust adults are now present in areas of recent rainfall about 150 kilometres northeast of Nouakchott (the Mauritanian capital) where they are concentrating in green vegetation,” FAO added, noting that it cost affected countries, the international community and the agency itself more than $400 million to fight the 2004 infestation.

“The eggs are expected to hatch in about 10 days. Surveys are currently in progress in summer breeding areas in southern and central Mauritania, northern Niger and in the southern parts of Morocco and Algeria,” it said.

FAO is arranging for a helicopter that should arrive in Mauritania next week to survey larger areas once the eggs hatch. Ground teams started control operations last week and have so far treated more than 200 hectares. A military spray aircraft is also on standby. Morocco has also launched survey operations in adjacent areas in the Sahara region where so far only isolated locusts have been reported by the military.

In 2004, the locust upsurge heavily damaged agriculture in several parts of West Africa, with numerous swarms invading the Sahelian countries adjacent to the Sahara from northwest Africa, devastating crops, fruit trees and vegetation. But by the summer of 2005, the infestation ended thanks to control operations and weather unfavourable to the insects.

FAO’s Assistant Director-General for Agriculture Alexander Müller said the current situation is an opportunity to field test environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional pesticides, such as the use of a natural fungus called Metarhizium anisopliae, which causes locusts to stop feeding, killing them in one to three weeks.

FAO expects that the current level of resources in Mauritania such as pesticides, equipment and staff will be sufficient to address the current situation, but whether external assistance will be needed depends on how the situation develops during the next two months.

From United Nations

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