The swarms of locusts which have swept into Niger over the past two months have not yet seriously affected arable land in the far southwest of the mainly desert country, government officials said.
But they told IRIN that the insects were breeding in large numbers on the southern fringes of the Sahara desert in the far west of Niger and were heading southwards towards the country's main millet growing areas all the time.
"The first locust swarms arrived at the end of the second week of July in the zones of Tassara, Tahoua and the south of Tamesna (near the western border with Mali)», Mamana Sani Moudy, the director of crop protection at the Agriculture Ministry told IRIN on Thursday.
“The locust situation evolves daily. We continue treating hatching and hopper bands in the south of Tamesna, but the areas involved are huge”, Moudy said.
Tamesna is a desert area situated near the point where the frontiers of Niger, Mali and Algeria meet.
Moudy said the locusts had not so far reached Niger's main crop-growing area along the Niger valley in the far southwest of the country. But he stressed that the government desperately needed more vehicles and insecticide to boost its control efforts.
He said the government had so far deployed 22 teams on the ground to search for swarms of locusts and spray them with insecticide.
These teams, which include three sent from neighbouring Algeria, were tracking locust swarms along a line from Tillabery, on the Niger river 120 km northwest of Niamey, to Diffa province on the eastern border with Chad, he added.
The director of crop protection said the government also had three planes at its disposal, which were capable of treating 120,000 hectares per month.
However, so far the authorities had treated just under 9,000 hectares of land invaded by locusts and concentrations of their black flightless lavrae, known as hopper bands.
"We currently have 151,000 litres of pesticide available, whereas we need 750,000 litres », Moudy said. “We also need 12 additional vehicles.”
One litre of liquid insecticide, when diluted, is enough to treat one hectare of land against the voracious insects which can eat their own weight of food in one day.
Yahaya Garba, Niger's national coordinator for the fight against locusts, warned last week that the steady southwards advance of the insects was continuing.
“Several swarms coming from the north have been reported in the administrative posts of Assamaka and Tassara, heading towards the agricultural zones”, he said.
Land-locked Niger is the largest state in West Africa. Its 12 million population is concentrated in the far south of the country and is mainly dependent on subsistence agriculture. Two thirds of Niger is empty desert.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in its Desert Locust Bulletin for August that it expected hopper bands to continue developing in the Tamesna district.
It predicted that these would evolve into new swarms of mature winged locusts which would take to the air during September and spread to the Air mountains of north central Niger.
Last Tuesday, West African government ministers and military chiefs met in Dakar and decided that Agadez, a town in central Niger at the southern end of the Air massif, should become one of five principal locust control centres in the Sahel region with upgraded facilities.
Moudy said the operational requirements of the locust control campaign in Niger were rising all the time and estimates given to donors at a meeting in Algiers at the end of July were already obsolete.
“In Algiers, we asked for 263 million CFA francs (US$5,3 million) for operations and equipment. The situation has worsened since then and in Dakar we readjusted our requirements, asking for more personnel, transport, treatment and communications equipment”, Moudy said.
In Dakar, the governments of 13 countries in North and West Africa launched a fresh appeal for immediate international assistance to help them deal with a plague of locusts that has developed following exceptionally heavy rainfall in the Sahel last year.
Donors have so far contributed US37 million of the $100 million called for by Jacques Diouf, the director general of the FAO, during a visit to Dakar last month and the FAO has offered to disburse $16 million of this immediately.
“Using the US$16 million of funds which we have at our disposal, the FAO has ordered pesticides and is ready to hire planes, purchase vehicles and cover general costs in the affected countries this month already”, Hilde Niggeman, the head of emergency programmes at FAO, told IRIN on Friday.
Diouf said in a statement on Thursday: “To make a real impact in the battle to control the desert locust upsurge, help must arrive this month in order to disrupt the next locust breeding cycle in October”.
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