See also:
» 02.11.2010 - High alert over Tanzania deadly virus
» 15.06.2010 - Ugandan scientists develop resistant banana
» 05.06.2008 - Food aid distributed in Guinea-Bissau
» 15.11.2006 - Guinea-Bissau's cashew crops rot as prices plummet
» 11.09.2006 - Guinea-Bissau unable to sell cashew harvest
» 05.05.2006 - Famine warning issued in Guinea-Bissau
» 20.01.2005 - Portugal aids Guinea-Bissau fighting locusts
» 14.11.2003 - Bissau food crisis deteriorates

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Agriculture - Nutrition

Locust invasion causes panic in Bissau

Misanet / IRIN, 10 January - A large swarm of pink immature locusts invaded Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau on Friday, causing panic among the city's inhabitants and increasing fears that this year's harvest of cashew nuts, the country's main export, will be destroyed by the insects.

The sky darkened as the largest swarm of locusts in living memory descended on the sleepy coastal city of Bissau. Many of its frightened inhabitants ran inside their houses to escape the insects, shutting all the doors and windows.

Others burnt tyres to try and scare off the grasshopper-like insects which can eat their own weight of food in a day.

One man described to the UN media 'IRIN' how a mango tree in front of his house turned from green to pink as a cloud of locusts settled on it. Within minutes, he said, they had stripped it bare of leaves.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meanwhile promised to fly emergency supplies of insecticide in from neighbouring Senegal and send crop spraying planes to destroy the locusts, within the next few days.

Luis Fonseca, the FAO's head of programmes in Guinea-Bissau, said the aid would be rushed in next week to complement US$ 400,000 of cash already promised by the organisation to help Guinea-Bissau fight locusts.

West Africa suffered its worst locust invasion for 15 years in 2004, but most of the insects migrated north across the Sahara to their winter feeding and breeding grounds in the Maghreb during November.

The FAO said in its latest locust bulletin on Friday, however, that some swarms had moved south, invading southern Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and perhaps northern areas of Guinea-Conakry.

The bulletin said an aircraft had been positioned in Senegal with a view to undertaking cross border spraying operations into all these countries until the end of January. Another had been stationed in Gambia, it added.

With the grain harvest is now safely in across the semi-arid Sahel belt of West Africa, the immediate threat posed by locust swarms that remain in the region is sharply reduced.

However, Guinea-Bissau is particularly exposed because the country's cashew nut trees are currently in flower. Cashew nuts are the main export of this former Portuguese colony of 1.3 million people and provide a meagre but vital source of cash for two thirds of its peasant farmers.

Locusts first appeared in eastern Guinea-Bissau on 19 December, but their arrival in the capital, which lies at the heart of the cashew nut growing area, has heightened fears that the country's plantations of cashew nut trees may suffer heavy damage.

The economy of the small country is still in ruins following a 1998/99 civil war and three years of chaotic rule afterwards by former president Kumba Yala, who was deposed in a bloodless coup in September 2003.

International aid enabled the interim government which replaced him to pay a huge backlog of civil service salaries and finance the holding of parliamentary elections in March last year.

But the elected government of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, which emerged from those polls, is still broke.

It had to contend with a mutiny by unpaid soldiers in October and complained to donors earlier this week that it had no money to finance presidential elections which are due to take place in May.

Foreign Minister Soares Sambu met locally-based diplomats on Wednesday to urge them to finance this poll, which is due to complete Guinea-Bissau’s return to democracy.

The 2004 locust invasion found the countries of the Sahel and the FAO itself ill prepared to react quickly and effectively.

Large-scale control measures got under way late and locust experts fear an even bigger insect invasion when the swarms migrate south across the Sahara again in June this year unless control operations currently under way in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya prove successful.

The Senegalese government will host an international conference in Dakar from 11-13 January to consider ways of controlling locusts in West Africa more effectively.

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