afrol News, 21 September - An estimated 40 percent of Mauritania's harvests and pastures are affected by the desert locust invasion. Mauritanian President Maaouya Ould Taya yesterday had an emergency meeting with the World Food Programme (WFP) as it becomes clear that efforts to stop the locusts are not enough. Aid agencies and authorities warn of a possible famine.
According to the latest update from the FAO's Emergency Centre for Locust Operations, "significant damage" had already been reported on around 40 percent of "pasture, cereal and vegetable crops" in Mauritania's affected areas. The Centre's forecast of the locust situation for the rest of September and October spells more trouble. Swarms will continue their destruction and spread to more parts of the country.
Reports from Mauritania demonstrate that the fight against the locust swarms is not effective. Mauritanian authorities have few means to fight the plague; only possessing one aircraft fit to spray insecticide. Some aid has come from FAO, North African countries and international donors, but FAO recently complained that it had only received 4 percent of the US$ 100 million the UN agency estimates is needed to control the locust outbreaks in West Africa.
Mauritanian farmers confirm that efforts to fight the locusts are at a low level. Locust control teams from the government only "come by now and then and give us insecticide or spray themselves, but they are not always around when the swarms arrive," farmers in south-western Mauritania yesterday told UN reporters.
With the current rate of destruction, Mauritanian farmers may end up losing half their cereal and vegetable crops. Even worse, pastures are rapidly being eliminated by the locusts. Livestock breeding is the main economic activity in rural Mauritania, a country dominated by the Sahara desert and drier parts of the Sahel.
Livestock performance is also key to food security in Mauritania. The poor country only recently went through two years of drought and other natural disasters that depopulated several landscapes. Many rural dwellers lost most of their livestock and had to sell personal belongings to survive the last food crisis.
Another food crisis provoked by the locust plague therefore could spell disaster to poor rural families, which have yet to overcome the last food crisis. Local authorities and aid agencies therefore are warning of a possible famine in Mauritania.
President Ould Taya therefore yesterday had an emergency meeting with the WFP's regional manager, Moustapha Darboé, in the Nouakchott presidential palace. In presence of the national Food Security Commissioner, they discussed how to intensify the cooperation between the WFP and national agencies and whether the UN agency would be able to step up its work to fight the locusts. With failing international donations, there was little Mr Darboé could promise the Mauritanian President.
Still, however, Mauritania's vast Sahelian pastures are green. Parts of the south are reported to have a close to record 95 percent vegetation cover after favourable rains earlier this year. Also the remaining crops are of good quality and large quantities as weather conditions this agricultural season have been close to optimal. Harvests are planned for mid-October.
As Mauritanian authorities reported yesterday, however, "the state of the vegetation is favourable to the migration of locusts." Locust swarms are expected to reach pastures and fields before livestock herders and harvesters as no major insecticide spraying efforts are underway.
Mauritania's Centre for Locust Control in Nouakchott by now estimates that it needs to spray 1.5 million hectares of locust infested land. Estimates are increased every week as funds for pesticides and aircraft rentals are close to non-existent.
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