The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says desert locust infestations are declining in the Sahel due to control operations and the migration of swarms northwards. There had been fears earlier this year the increasing number of locust swarms could result in a regional plague.
The swarms of desert locusts devouring pastures and cropland across West Africa have finally started to decline and there are now few locusts remaining in the Sahel.
Although some locusts are still present in Mauritania, Senegal, Niger and Mali, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says prevention efforts in the coming months will be focused on the Maghreb region of North Africa, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
"The rains of course have stopped in the Sahel. The locusts are responding by forming swarms and they are moving out of the Sahel, out of the drying areas up towards north-west Mauritania and western Sahara," explained Keith Cressman, the organization's locust forecasting officer. "What's quite unusual in fact is that those swarms are encountering dry conditions. So as a result they're moving through those areas quite rapidly further north up into Morocco and they've extended into Algeria," he said.
Mr. Cressman says control operations are still underway in the Sahelian countries and these will continue until the end of the year, at least until the locusts are gone. At the same time, ground and aerial control operations are already in progress in Morocco and Algeria in response to the incoming swarms from the Sahelian countries. Mr. Cressman says a two-pronged strategy is in place.
"It's to protect the agricultural crops, especially important areas like the Suos Valley in Morocco which they have citrus crops for export there," added Mr. Cressman. "The second-fold of the strategy is population reduction, to reduce those locusts numbers as best as possible."
Mr. Cressman says the number of locusts might not be reduced in the Maghreb countries until the beginning of the spring rains. That is four months away. During this time locusts will breed and multiply and then move south again. But there are no longer fears of a regional plague.
"There is no threat to countries further east in north east Africa, in the Middle East, in southwest Asia, not at all. The problem will remain primarily in north-west Africa from now until the beginning of next summer," he predicted.
International donors were initially slow to respond but an injection of funds followed an FAO appeal so that it could step up its control and combating operations.
FAO has now received over $47 million to which FAO has added $6 million of its own funds. A further $20 million has been pledged but not yet received.