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UN Appeals for More Aid to Prevent African Locust Plague - 2004-08-26


United Nations experts fear that if a locust invasion in West Africa spreads it could endanger the population's food supply and even lead to famine. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, based in Rome, Thursday appealed for more funds to prevent a full-blown locust plague from developing in seven African countries.

U.N. experts are still referring to the locust invasion in the Sahel region of Africa as an "upsurge," but they fear it could develop into a regional plague.

Swarms of locusts threaten to devastate entire areas of farmland and experts say that if more is not done to stop the spread, the livelihood of millions of farmers will be at risk and the situation could turn to famine.

The Food and Agriculture Organization's locust forecasting officer, Keith Cressman, says the current locust invasion is the most serious in more than a decade. It could even be worse than the last plague of 1987-89. So far, he says Mauritania is the worst-hit country, with locust swarms also reported in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Senegal.

The locust expert adds that it is very difficult to stop locusts laying eggs and the good rainfall this year has created the right conditions for breeding. Spraying equipment mounted on pickup trucks is being used on crops at the moment and pesticides and protection kits have also been sent to the region. But Mr. Cressman says the infestations are large enough to warrant spraying from the air. However, using planes involves higher costs and more logistics.

Throughout the year the FAO has issued urgent appeals for international aid.

So far the international community has committed $32 million to the fight. But Mr. Cressman says more help is needed, probably as much as $100 million, to effectively combat the locust scourge.