A desert locust infestation threatens one of the world's poorest countries and could spread through north-west Africa, Niger officials have warned.
Moudi Maman Sani, head of National Protection of Vegetation in Niger, told IRIN that adult densities of locusts were increasing in the southern Air mountains, where egg-laying and hatching are in progress.
According to Maman Sani, locusts represent a serious threat when they are at this early stage in life because they can reproduce and spread rapidly.
“We fear a further outbreak in the region,” said Maman Sani, who added that control operations would continue in the country to prevent desert locusts moving into other countries.
Niger is a poor, landlocked West African nation, situated on the southern fringes of the Sahara desert. The population - like in Mali, Mauritania, Morocco and Algeria, which are also under threat - is heavily dependant on agriculture.
Nearly 90 percent of Niger’s 11 million people farm grain crops. However, suitable arable land makes up only 13 percent of the national territory. Desertification is a major problem in this arid zone.
Niger’s authorities have been working to tackle the locust problem since November. Some 10,000 hectares had been sprayed by mid-March to destroy the swarms that are forming.
But despite efforts made by local authorities, with the help of more affluent neighbour Algeria, concentrations of locusts persist, Maman Sani said.
He called for a regional approach to avoid the locusts reaching plague proportions in the Sahelian region.
“The struggle should be planned on a regional scale,” Maman Sani said, adding that “Niger cannot succeed alone to eliminate totally the risk in the sub-region.”
According to a recent alert from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the desert locust situation is extremely serious in northwest Africa.
“There are signs that the situation is moving towards the early stages of an upsurge,” the FAO said.
Maman Sani said Niger did not have the resources to carry on the battle unassisted. The arid country was facing pesticide shortages and has asked for the international community to bring urgent assistance.
Locusts are a type of grasshopper that breed rapidly and form swarms whenever rainfall creates ideal breeding conditions.
FAO said locusts were breeding in larger numbers than usual in West and North-West Africa after exceptionally heavy rainfall last year.
The swarms contain up to 5,000 insects per square metre and can strip an area of vegetation within hours.
“International donor assistance is urgently required to prevent a plague from developing,” the UN agency said.
Last month, the FAO launched an appeal to donors for $9 million to spray 500,000 hectares in West Africa, where swarms of locusts have already started forming.
“A rapid reinforcement of control operations is needed now to try to break this cycle of events,” the FAO said.
The swarms are highly mobile and with the wind behind them they can cover up to 700 km in a single night's flight.
Locust swarms can decimate crops and vegetation where ever they land, provoking food shortages and speeding up the process of desertification.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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