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Drought, Locusts Heavily Damage Crops In Mauritania

In Mauritania, crops and pastureland have been severely damaged this year by desert locusts and drought. UN officials say up to fifty percent of the country’s cereal production may be lost. VOA’s Joe De Capua reports.

The locust infestation in Mauritania followed several years of poor harvests and drought. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says, “The ability of Mauritanians to cope with the situation has been exhausted…families dependent on their own crop production and livestock for food are especially at risk.” Senegal is described as being nearly as bad.

The FAO says food, seeds and fodder will be needed to prevent malnutrition and “allow farmers to plant their fields and feed their animals.” The effects of the locusts and drought have forced herders to move their animals more frequently in search of food. But many pasturelands have already been overgrazed. Some have had to sell off or destock their animals.

The locusts continue to do damage. The FAO’s Dr. Clive Elliot has an update on the locations of the swarms.

He says, "Still a lot of locusts in Mauritania in the Sahel and quite a few also in Niger. Most of the locusts have now left Senegal and have also left Mali and they have moved northwards."

The locusts are arriving in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria.

He says, "There is an opportunity for Morocco and Algeria to pick off the swarms as they’re arriving one by one, which may mean that the number left by the time the Spring breeding gets underway may be rather small. On the other hand, if the rains come soon then some of the swarms arriving will be able to lay eggs and that will make the situation much more difficult to control. So, there’s so many ifs and buts and the rainfall is the key element."

The amount of rainfall will also determine how large the locust infestations will be next year.

Dr. Elliot says a “freak weather system” has caused African desert locusts to arrive in some distant locations.

He says, "There’s been a series of days in the locust areas of strong southwesterly winds. And this has carried locusts from the Sahel right through to the Mediterranean coast. And we’ve been having just in the last few days reports of swarms of locusts arriving in Crete and Cyprus, a few getting to Lebanon. Some were reported in Israel. And one locust was found dead only a few hundred meters from the Coliseum in central Rome."

About two million hectares in the Sahel have been treated by aerial spraying. Dr. Elliot says while the spraying has been successful, it was slow to get going. He says the spraying would have had a bigger effect on the locust swarms had it begun in early September instead of the end of the month. The delay is blamed on late donations by donor countries.