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FAO Warns of Locust Plague in Africa - 2004-09-17

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says more funds are essential to combat locust swarms that are devastating crops in West Africa, and warns failure to act quickly, could result in a regional plague by the end of the year.

West Africa is facing one of the largest desert locust infestations in 15 years. The situation continues to deteriorate, with new swarms forming and crop damage spreading.

FAO Director General Jacques Diouf says only a small percentage of the $100 million required to control the desert locust outbreaks has been made available.

"Officially committed, we have $15 [million] almost $16 million. But up 'till today, we have not received that money," he said.

Control operations were launched as soon as the first locust swarms arrived in the area. But eradication efforts were slow to get started, due to a lack of funds. The FAO says only 300,000 hectares have been treated in West Africa since June.

"Now, we have roughly three million hectares infested," said Mr. Diouf. "We need to undertake action in a period of 45 days between now and the end of October."

FAO says the worst affected countries are Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Niger. The agency is currently assisting 11 countries in the battle against locusts. The organization's locust forecasting officer, Keith Cressman, explains.

"Many of the hopper bands are in cropping areas," he said. "They have now reached the last stage in their development, before they become swarms. And, in fact, new swarms are now forming in Mauritania and in Niger. More swarms will be forming in the rest of the countries during the remainder of this month."

Much of the control operations are done by aerial spraying of conventional pesticides. But the FAO says more aircraft will be needed in the coming weeks. Mr. Cressman says the strategy being pursued is to treat the largest infestations first, and those that are closest to the crops, or in the crops, in order to protect this summer's harvest.

The FAO says that, for the moment, it is only able to provide a rough estimates of the damage, up to 40 percent of pastures and 10 percent of vegetables. But, Mr. Cressman says, there is also evidence of severe local damage in some countries, like cassava crops in Senegal and rice crops in Mali.

"The situation is extremely serious," said Mr. Cressman. "A portion of the summer harvest is expected to be lost this year, perhaps as high as 25 percent."

The FAO says the countries worst affected by the desert locusts are already food deficit countries. The organization says an assessment mission in October will analyze the impact of the locusts on the crops in those countries, to decide what action will be required to avoid a worsening of the food security situation.