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Battle against locusts to last two or three years

[Senegal] A boy in the suburbs of Dakar does his bit to stop the locust invasion. August 2004.
Un jeune garçon dans la banlieue de Dakar contribue comme il le peut à la lutte contre les criquets pèlerins (IRIN)

Donors are belatedly coughing up cash to fight locusts in West Africa, but agricultural experts warned on Monday that it would take two or three years to reduce the number of insects to the point where they no longer presented a significant threat to agriculture.

Officials of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said nearly 40 crop-spraying planes had been deployed to kill the swarms of locusts that have invaded Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Chad since June.

These aircraft and dozens of ground-based control teams are fighting to save the annual harvest which is under way throughout the region and is due to finish by the end of November. According to preliminary estimates, the locusts could destroy up to a quarter of the crops in these countries.

FAO officials and the representatives of European donors admitted on Monday that not enough had been done to control the largest locust invasion to hit West Africa for 15 years.

They said the swarms were already moving back to their winter breeding grounds in North Africa and a fresh control locust control campaign would be required over the winter and spring to reduce their numbers in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

Even then, they warned, large numbers of the insects were still expected to head south to the Sahel again next summer.

"The current interventions will allow us to reduce numbers, but to be able to totally break the locust cycle at least two intensive campaigns in the Sahel and Maghreb countries will be necessary," said Said Ghaout, the director of Morocco's locust control centre, who is currently helping FAO operations in Senegal.

"This is not the end of the story," agreed Edouard Tapsoba, the FAO representative in Senegal.

"The situation will likely last for two or three years," he told reporters.

The FAO has appealed for US$100 million to fight this year's locust invasion of the Sahel and FAO officials said on Monday that $43 million of donations had now been received and a further $25.5 million were in the pipeline.

But Jos Van Aggelen, the Dutch ambassador to Senegal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, admitted that not all this money would be spent in the timeframe originally planned.

"The plague will continue next year as we did not react early enough this year," he told a news conference in Dakar. "We have not won the battle against locusts this year, so it will be important to be better prepared for next year's fight and the European Union's funds…will also be used for that," he said.

An EU statement said the European Union and its member states had collectively and individually pledged 50 million euros (US$60 million) towards locust control operations in the Sahel in 2004 and 2005.

But FAO officials said a fresh aid appeal would be needed to help the Maghreb states fight the billions of locusts currently heading north across the Sahara desert towards the southern foothills of the Atlas mountains.

"The intensity of next year's locust upsurge will depend on the interventions that take place in the Maghreb and ecological and climatic conditions," said Morocco's Ghaout.

"If the current climatic conditions persist in the summer reproduction zone of the Sahel and the winter/spring breeding area of the Maghreb, then numbers will grow and we will face an invasion for a period of two or three years," he predicted.

Nearly half the crop-spraying aircraft in West Africa have been sent to Senegal, although the country which has suffered the most extensive infestation of locusts is neighbouring Mauritania.

The Senegalese government said on Monday that 18 crop-spraying planes were operating from its territory, although four of them were flying cross-border operations into Mauritania.

The FAO said there were only five crop sprayers based in Mauritania, even though the country has nearly three times as much locust-infected land as Senegal and more swarms are entering its territory every day as the locusts migrate north.

The FAO said a further 11 planes were deployed in Mali, two in Niger and two in Chad, although the Libyan planes sent to Chad could not fly at present because the right sort of fuel was not available.

Morocco last week sent two planes to the arid Cape Verde Islands, 450 km west of Senegal to combat swarms which have been driven west over the Atlantic Ocean.

Agricultural experts said that although the locust swarms were already on the move, its still made sense to continue spraying operations in West Africa.

"The swarms in the Sahel are migrating towards the north, but a good number of locusts are still in the Sahel, notably hopper bands that will fledge and migrate later," Ghaout said.

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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