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Locusts Threaten African Crops, warns UN - 2003-10-22

The United Nations Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) warns that swarms of desert locusts could threaten crops across Africa. The U.N. organization said the outbreak could become critical within weeks.

The Rome-based FAO has alerted the governments of Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Sudan that outbreaks of locusts were reported in their countries. The agency's locust group says swarms of locusts may devastate crops in the northern areas of these countries and spread to the neighboring countries.

While desert locusts are normally solitary, scattered insects, under certain climatic conditions, they increase in numbers and band together in huge swarms, devouring vast areas of vegetation. Tens of millions can join up and travel great distances.

FAO locust expert Annie Monard says rains in these countries have allowed desert locusts to breed and rapidly increase in number. "The rainy season was very humid and very suitable for locust development this year," she said.

The FAO official added that the problem needs to be addressed immediately or it will get much worse. "First of all it is necessary to carefully monitor the situation and to carry out extensive surveys all over the area where the ecological conditions are suitable for locust breeding," she said.

Ms. Monard added that the level and phase reached by the locust population also needs to be assessed. The agency fears that, if the problem worsens, locusts could move north from Mauritania into Morocco, from Sudan toward the Red Sea, and from Niger and Mali into southern Algeria.