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West Africa: Locust Invasion
Sep 16, 2004 (040916)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has appealed to the
international community for $100 million to help contain this
locust invasion, the worst which West Africa has seen for 15 years.
But everywhere, too little is being done too late. The FAO has so
far received only a third of the money needed." - UN Integrated
Regional Information Network (IRIN)
Early warning systems worked. The archives of the FAO's Desert
Locust Information Service show warnings as early as November last
extensive reports and monthly updates). For months, affected states
have joined the FAO in appealing for urgent support. But
international funds have been slow in coming. Early this month Mali
President Amadou Toumani Toure and his cabinet said they would
forego a month's salary to help pay for fighting the insects. Due
to recent good harvests, the impact on food security may be kept
down initially. As one of the articles below notes, local farmers
are taking their own initiatives. Still, as much as 25% of total
harvests in affected regions may be lost.
If the response does not step up significantly in September, FAO
Director General Jacques Diouf said last month, the current
invasion of desert locusts could be worse than the last plague of
1987-89, which cost the international community $600 million and
took five years to bring under control. Had full funding been
available earlier this year, according to IRIN, this new outbreak
of locusts might have been contained for only $9 million.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Locust larvae across Western Africa indicate that the worst is yet
9 Sept 2004
Catholic Agency for Overseas Development
Since last summer, an upsurge in locust breeding has occurred in
Western Africa, first concentrating in the Sahel region, and since
then spreading into several outlaying areas, including Darfur,
Sudan. Extremely heavy and continuous rainfall has created ideal
ecological conditions for breeding, prompting officials to call
this upsurge as the worst locust plague to hit the Sahel region in
almost two decades.
In all, more than 2.5 million rural households are anticipated to
suffer from food shortages, as hundred of thousands of hectares of
crops and farmland will be destroyed from these swarms feeding off
vegetation and seeding. Already, officials report that swarms of
locusts have caused heavy damage to crops in three areas of
Nigeria, and in Mauritania, 80 percent of their harvests have
already been destroyed. ...
Current Conditions Forecast Future Devastation
Summer breeding is in progress over a large area of southern
Mauritania, northern and central Senegal, in the Sahel and in the
north of Mali, in western Niger and in northern Burkina Faso.
Laying and hatching are occurring continuously, with new swarms
forming and expected to spread into other countries in the coming
weeks. While significant crop damage has already been reported in
several countries, the full effects and force of this plague have
yet to be realized.
According to Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the United
Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the next two
months are critical in the battle against "Desert Locusts" in West
Africa. "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. "
Officials estimate that 500,000 hectare of cultivated land is at
stake, putting current and future food supplies at risk. Yet with
these estimates, only a mere 4,000 hectares of land have received
appropriate pest control measures. To thwart food shortages and
disaster, Dr. Diouf stressed how funding is needed now to secure
and deliver critical and large quantities of pesticides, spraying
equipment and other means to affected areas.
West Africa: Sahel Could Lose 25 Percent of Harvest to Locusts -
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
September 10, 2004
Good rainfall should give the semi-arid countries of the Sahel
region of West Africa a bumper harvest for the second year in a
row, but up to a quarter of the 2004 crop could be eaten by
locusts, the Inter-state Committee to Fight Drought in the Sahel
(CILSS) has warned.
Following a three-day meeting of agricultural experts from the
organisation's nine member states in Dakar, CILSS said in a
statement on Thursday night that Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and
Niger were the countries which risked the heaviest locust damage
to this year's grain harvest, which will take place in October and
However, CILSS said the overall food security situation in the
Sahel was presently good following a bumper grain harvest of 14.3
million tonnes in the region last year.
"The average price of millet in August 2004 was lower than during
the same period of 2003 and lower than the average for the past
five years in most markets. As a result, access to grain supplies
for most consumers is still easy," it said.
CILSS estimated that if the good and well distributed rainfall
observed during July and August continued until the end of
September, the Sahel could expect another bumper grain crop of 14
million tonnes this year.
But if rainfall fell below normal during September, production
could fall as low as 11 million tonnes, it added.
CILSS stressed that these estimates did not take into account
possible damage by locust swarms which have swept into the Sahel
from North Africa since June and which are now breeding in
Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Niger.
"The invasion of desert locusts has given rise to great uncertainty
over the real level of production that can be expected," the
organisation stressed. It added that losses would be "very variable
from one country to another, depending on the degree of infestation
and where exactly the infestations take place."
However, CILSS concluded: "The maximum losses likely in a scenario
where the desert locust situation is not brought under control are
estimated at 25 percent of the overall production in the region."
Some countries are already bracing themselves for a food emergency.
Mauritania, which suffers from a chronic food deficit, is the
country worst affected by locusts so far and has so far done little
to stop them.
The government's director of food security, Mohamed Ould Zeine, has
already warned that the mainly desert country of 2.8 million people
will face "a major food crisis" this year.
He told IRIN on Thursday on the sidelines of the CILSS conference,
that hunger could set in as early as November.
President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, has meanwhile estimated that
locusts could cause up to US$500 million of damage to agricultural
production in Senegal this year, endangering the country's strong
6.5 percent economic growth rate.
"If we fail to stop them we will lose half a billion dollars," he
told the state news agency Agence de Presse Senegalaise. "Where
could we find that sort of money?"
Wade, who has called in the army to lead the fight against the
invasion of locusts, has urged donors to provide equipment and
pesticides to fight the insect plague rather than cash.
Already, Morocco, Algeria and Libya have sent spraying teams
equipped with four-wheel drive trucks and crop-spraying aircraft to
help kill the locust swarms in Senegal, a mainly agricultural
country of 10 million people.
The locust invasion of West Africa is the worst seen for 15 years.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates it would
cost $100 million to bring the situation under control. Just over
a third of this sum has so far been pledged by donors.
The member countries of Niamey-based CILSS are Senegal, Gambia,
Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and the
Cape Verde Islands.
CILSS said despite a late start to the rainy season in some
countries of the region, all except Cape Verde had received ample
and well distributed rainfall during July and August.
"Apart from the locust threat, the general outlook for this year's
harvest is one of the best the Sahel has ever known," it said.
SENEGAL: Fighting locusts with hoes and mobile phones
Farmers near the village of Mekhembar sweep locust larvae into a
ditch to bury them alive and suffocate them
IRIN (http://www.irinnews.org) .
MEKHEMBAR, 1 Sep 2004 (IRIN) - In a sandy field of half-grown
cassava plants, a group of 30 farmers were fighting a plague of
locusts with long-handled weeding hoes and improvised brushes.
Some had dug a shallow trench five metres long. The rest were
sweeping hundreds of thousands of newly hatched locust larvae into
it with bunches of leafy twigs.
The black insects, known as hoppers, were the size of large ants.
They had hatched a day or two before and covered the ground for 300
square metres like a rippling black carpet.
But being young, they had no wings to fly away with. And being
small, they could not jump out of the 40 cm deep trench, where the
farmers of Mekhembar in central Senegal gleefully buried them
"If only we had insecticide we could do a fantastic job," said
Massamba Gueye, the chairman of the local farmers' association, who
was supervising the work.
He said there were at least 20 farmers in the village who had been
trained to fight locusts during the last invasion of insects in
"The powder is really effective, but they won't give us any," he
added sadly. "There is none left."
"Our stock of powder has run out. We are waiting for more to come
in," chipped in Abdoulaye Mar Ndoye, a technical advisor from the
agriculture ministry, as he watched the scene which is being
repeated across Senegal.
"People call from mobile phones or drop into our office to tell us
about new hopper bands that have appeared, but when there is no
powder left we just have to tell them to use mechanical means (to
bury the insects)," he said.
Giving encouragement, but no insecticide
Alerted by phone, the local authorities had come to see what was
happening in Mekhembar, a village of 1,500 people set among thorny
acacias and baobab trees with their bulging trunks.
The prefect (district administrator) from the nearby town of
Tivouane was there in his khaki uniform with black and gold
So too was a colonel from the Senegalese army in battle fatigues.
The armed forces have been mobilised by President Abdoulaye Wade to
fight the locusts, which have swept south from Mauritania over the
past two months.
And leading the small convoy of official vehicles down the dirt
track to Mekhembar and its fields of millet, beans and cassava, was
a pick-up truck from the Ministry of Agriculture.
But this official delegation had not come to bring insecticide for
the farmers fighting a plague of locusts that is threatening crops
in a dozen countries across the Sahel.
Recently hatched locust larvae known as hoppers cover a fence post
near Saint Louis in northern Senegal
They were simply there to offer encouragement to the farmers using
their bare hands to fight the insect invasion. The prefect and the
colonel commended the farmers for their initiative in a couple of
short speeches and moved on.
The Ministry of Agriculture officials accompanying them had half a
dozen motor-driven spraying kits in the back of their pick-up
truck. But these spraying kits, which are worn like a backpack,
were not a gift from the government to the farmers. They were a
gift from the farmers of Mekhembar to the government.
Ndoye, the agriculture advisor, explained that all the spraying
kits needed repair. The villagers hoped government technicians
could fix them and put them to good use.
Self-help the answer
With no practical help coming so far from the authorities, the
people of Mekhembar have clubbed together to buy their own supplies
of insecticide powder to deal with the next swarm of bright yellow
locusts that will almost certainly come to lay eggs in their
The mature insects do not actually eat much greenery, having sated
themselves elsewhere during their growing phase. But once their
eggs hatch after 10 days of incubation, the concentrations of
hungry young hoppers can reach 10,000 per square metre.
Dusting insecticide from sacks on top of these armies of small
flightless insects is an easy and efficient way to kill them.
"Yesterday we decided that every single person in the village
should contribute 500 CFA francs (90 US cents) towards buying
insecticide powder," Gueye, the head of the farmers' association,
told IRIN. He said someone would be send to Thies, a large town 35
km away, to buy it.
"A 25 kg bag costs 25,000 CFA ($46) and a full bag is enough to
treat two hectares," he added.
Two weeks ago a swarm of millions of locusts descended on Mekhembar
and a line of villages stretching 20 to 30 km to the west and the
They laid a batch of eggs and disappeared the next morning. Now the
young have hatched and are congregating in large hopper bands that
voraciously devour every item of greenery in their path.
If they are allowed to survive for more than three weeks, these
hoppers will grow wings and a new swarm of locusts will take to the
skies in search of new vegetation to destroy.
Like a blizzard of thick yellow snow flakes, the swarms go wherever
the prevailing winds carry them.
Over the past two months, they have flown south across the Sahara
and as far west as Chad. They have even drifted 450 km out into the
Atlantic Ocean to reach the Cape Verde Islands.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has appealed to the
international community for $100 million to help contain this
locust invasion, the worst which West Africa has seen for 15 years.
But everywhere, too little is being done too late. The FAO has so
far received only a third of the money needed. And had donors
responded fully to its first appeal for help last February, the
bill would only have been $9 million.
At Saint Louis, a coastal town on Senegal's northern frontier with
Mauritania, Colonel Abdurahman Cisse, the regional military
commander, plans his own campaign against the enemy insects.
The colonel is chairing a crisis meeting with his senior officers,
the regional director of agriculture and the head of a
locust-spraying unit sent by the Algerian government to help out.
In front of them, a huge map of northern Senegal fills the entire
wall. The area along the Senegal river valley which forms the
border with Mauritania is covered in yellow dots. These are the
main locust breeding grounds detected so far by the teams sent out
every day to scout the position of new swarms.
"Since 6 August we have trained 1,200 soldiers in control
techniques. We are training 100 more each day and so far we have
sprayed over 60,000 hectares. Within another month we will have
done 120,000," Cisse told IRIN.
"Our people are determined to fight to the end. They are determined
not to see the locusts move on to other countries," he said.
But the colonel readily admits that there is not enough insecticide
to go round, that his men need more vehicles and spraying pumps and
that he has only one crop-spraying plane at his disposal. This has
been loaned to the locust-control campaign in northern Senegal by
a local sugar cane plantation.
President Wade has heavily publicised the army's leading role in
the war against locusts, but the soldiers are only able to focus on
a handful of selected areas.
"Spraying teams from the army?" laughs El Hadj Sene, a senior
lecturer at the agricultural college in Ndiaye, 35 km up the road
from Saint Louis. "I've only ever seen them on television."
He and his friend Babacar Diop, a local rice farmer, would prefer
the government to trust the job of fighting locusts more directly
to the farmers themselves, by providing them rather than the army,
with the necessary, equipment, pesticide and training.
"You should not snuff out the people's initiative," said Diop, who
is the chairman of the local farmers' association. "Once they see
their own interests threatened, they react," he said. "I think that
giving the population the means to defend itself would be best."
Most of Colonel Cisse's men are deployed around Matam, several
hundred km inland from Saint Louis and Ndiaye, where the locust
infestation is presently most serious. But sometimes the government
spraying teams do manage to respond effectively to pleas for help
from the villages closer at hand.
At Niassene, a small village that grows millet, beans, groundnuts
and water melons on a dry sandy plain 50 km to the south of Saint
Louis, dead locusts littering the landscape are testimony to that.
"Last Friday, the younger brother of the village chief was sent to
Saint Louis to ask for help," Pape Sarr, the headmaster of the
local primary school, told IRIN.
"He came back on Saturday and on Sunday the spray teams
arrived.They left behind sacks of powder and on Monday all the
chiefs of the villages round about met to discuss the situation and
begin treating the fields immediately."
Killing hopper bands the priority
Fode Sarr, the government's director of agriculture for the Saint
Louis region, stressed that treating hopper bands was a much easier
task than dealing with swarms of flying insects which settle on the
ground or in trees at night and can only be sprayed during the very
early morning before they fly off again.
"The first wave of insects to arrive, the mature yellow ones, have
not caused too much damage so far," Sarr told IRIN.
"It is really the hopper bands that we have to do battle with,"
Sarr stressed, noting that each female locust can lay up to 90 eggs
at a time on three separate occasions.
He worries that if the mature locusts breed successfully in
northern Senegal, a new generation of hoppers could grow their
wings and wipe out this year's food crops just as they become ready
to harvest in October and November.
Jean Pierre Chapeaux, who runs a massive market garden near Saint
Louis that produces fresh vegetables for export to Europe, is still
calculating whether or not he can win his own battle against the
"I have two pick-up trucks patrolling with spraying equipment and
1,000-litre tanks within a three-km radius of the estate," the
French agronomist told IRIN. "But I have to decide within the next
15 to 21 days whether or not to plant. As far as I am concerned, if
the risk of crop loss is 100 percent, we should not cultivate."
Chapeaux's firm, the Marseilles-based Compagnie Fruitiere, is
preparing to grow tomatoes, sweet corn and green beans for the
European winter market in 52 hectares of net houses that are
nearing completion, and on 106 hectares of open fields.
Chapeaux is fairly confident about the crops in the net houses,
although he worries that the roofs could collapse under the weight
of millions of insects if a really large swarm landed on top of
His big dilemma is whether or not to plant the open fields - and
several hundred jobs for local people hang in the balance.
Danger of further invasions from Mauritania
Chapeaux voices openly a fear that many Senegalese officials are
too polite to mention publicly. That Senegal will suffer because
neighbouring Mauritania, from where the locust swarms have come,
has not done enough to tackle the infestations on its own
As a result, fresh waves of insects may move south into Senegal
over the coming months.
"It is terrifying," said Chapeaux, who also manages a market
gardening estate on the Mauritanian side of the border.
"The only spray teams in Mauritania are working along the main road
(from the frontier) to Nouakchott. They spray whatever they find
along it but they don't even go 500 metres into the bush on either
Within Mauritania, government officials readily admit that they
have lost control of a desperate situation.
"We're racing against the clock, but it's an unfair race because we
only have 10 percent of the resources we need to win it," Mohamed
Abdallahi Ould Babah, the head of Mauritania's Centre to Fight
Locusts, told IRIN last week.
Meanwhile, some villagers in Senegal wonder whether all the
insecticide being thrown at the locusts will poison the pasture for
their cattle, sheep and goats or even their drinking water.
Nayejo Dia, the head of a small settlement of cattle herdsmen near
Saint Louis, remembers the helicopters that came to spray his land
against locusts during the last plague. Today, behind his family's
collection of grass huts, a small hopper band is munching its way
thought the grass, undisturbed.
"What will these chemicals do to our animals? What will they do to
the water we drink from the river," Dia asked. "Will it still be
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