- Desert locust experts warn that the pest, which crippled agriculture in West Africa last year, this year may create an equal disaster in the African Horn region. Locust swarms have already been formed in Sudan's Darfur region and these have now moved westwards, entering Eritrea. From Eritrea, these swarms may threaten the entire Horn region, the experts warn.
The desert locust watch group of the UN's food and agriculture agency, FAO, today urged for "intensified survey operations" in Sudan and neighbouring Eritrea. Several swarms have moved east across Sudan from Darfur towards the Gedaref area and the border with Eritrea in mid-June, according to the latest FAO update.
The swarms forming in central Sudan are reported to be the descendants of locust swarms terrorising West Africa last year. They have moved across the continent until finding favourable ecological conditions in the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan. Reaching western Darfur, "they quickly matured," FAO reports. Ironically, this indicates that there would have been good agricultural conditions in Darfur this year, if farmers had not been forced to leave their soil.
According to FAO, some desert locust swarms had laid eggs in western and northern Darfur while others have already moved further eastwards. These first appeared in western and northern Kordofan (central Sudan) and then continued across the Nile River to Gedaref in eastern Sudan. "Some swarms may have already reached the western lowlands of Eritrea and north-west Ethiopia," FAO holds.
Hatching and hopper band formation were likely to start by the end of June in Darfur, the UN agency warns today. When hopper bands are formed, it becomes extremely difficult to control the locusts. Extensive pest control operations are necessary to stop the locusts from spreading to new areas and finish off harvests and pastures in an incredible speed.
While the Horn of Africa now could be threatened with a major locust infection, the experts however can comfort West African and Maghreb cultivators. Here, the large-scale crisis seems to be over and the situation in control. There are still some locust breeding areas in Morocco, Algeria, Mali and Niger, but these are being treated with pesticides and FAO does not believe wandering swarms will be formed here this year.
Last year, huge locust swarms invaded the Sahelian countries from north-western Africa, causing extensive damage to harvests and pastures. More than US$ 200 million were spent by FAO, the Maghreb countries and the international community to fight the worst locust upsurge in 15 years. In Mali, Niger and Mauritania, the pest combined with local drought has caused severe malnutrition among millions of people this year.
Only an unconfirmed report by nomads of two swarms in northern Mali in early June is now causing concern among FAO specialists. "To prevent a repetition of last year's disaster, intensive survey operations should be immediately launched in Mali, Niger and Chad, continued in Mauritania and maintained in all of these countries during the summer breeding season," according to FAO locust expert Clive Elliott.
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