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Early Detection of Locusts in Northern Mauritania

New infestations of desert locusts have been discovered in northwest Mauritania – and alerts have been issued against a potential threat in West and North Africa.

Keith Cressman is a locust forecasting officer for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. From Rome, he told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that the undetected breeding probably occurred over the past two months.

“As of the 5th of October, there was a team in the field in northwest Mauritania, about a couple of hundred kilometers north of Nouakchott. In a very remote area they came across an infestation of locusts. Now we were expecting of course that there should be some infestations of locusts this time of year in that part of Mauritania. However, the local Mauritanian teams were unaware of the situation at the time.

Now, since then, they have mobilized a number of teams to try to determine the extent of these locust infestations in the northwest of the country. They could be very important infestations. They are what we call groups of adults. It’s not really a proper swarm of adults. It’s the stage right before that. However, they are mature and they are in the process of laying eggs. So, this does mean of course that the numbers of locusts will be increasing in this part of Mauritania in the coming months,” he says.

In 2004, locust swarms caused heavy damage in parts of West Africa.

“What of course is very interesting is that it was exactly three years ago to the month in which similar populations were found in the same place in northwest Mauritania. And that in fact initiated the two year long locust emergency that we had at that time. But I have to say with a certain amount of caution that that emergency developed because of some very unusually heavy rains that fell at the end of October in 2003. Now, if that was to happen again this year then perhaps we could face another emergency situation, but those rains are very unusual,” says Cressman.

The FAO and regional countries have increased numbers of field and ground control teams. They will also be testing some alternatives to chemical pesticides, such as a naturally occurring fungus called Green Muscle, once the eggs hatch.