August 18, 2004 (ENS): Rains usually mean good
news for the arid countries of the West African Sahel,
but this year, good rains have brought devastating swarms
of locusts to Mauritania, Mali and Niger, and United
Nations agriculture officials say the worst is yet to
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said from
its headquarters in Rome that the main reason for this
year's enormous numbers of locusts is that a series of
good rains has fallen, first in the Sahel during the summer
of 2003, and then in Northwest Africa during winter/spring.
The rains have created favorable ecological conditions
for locust development in the region and allowed at
least four generations of locusts to breed one after
the other, the UN agency said.
To survey the threat up close, the Chairman of the African
Union Commission, the former President of Mali, Alpha
Oumar Konare, and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
are visiting Mauritania today.
In Mauritania, swarms of locusts moving from the north
towards the south were reported in Tiris Zemmour, Adrar,
Inchiri and the capital Nouakchott.
FAO officials say the first adult locusts of the summer
generation could start to appear by the end of August.
"I can't just stand here with arms crossed - I
have to plant my crops even if I know the locusts are
going to come and eat them," says Jidhoum M'Bareck,
a farmer near the town of Kaedi, Mauritania. "Between
six and 10 people depend on this field."
Another farmer, Amadou Binta Thiam, 82, still tills
his fields by hand. "I have a big family, 20 people
depend on me. I have no children working outside who
can send me money. If locusts get my field, it is a
Massive hatching has started and large numbers of dense
hopper bands are forming in Mauritania and along the
Senegal River Valley. Many other farmers have stopped
sowing seeds because of the locust threat.
Some locust swarms have reached westward into Chad.
So far, there are no reports of swarms in Darfur, western
Sudan, but "the threat remains high in August,"
the FAO says.
Sudanese refugees are still streaming east across the
border into Chad, fleeing the Arab Janjaweed militia
that have already killed roughly 30,000 people and driven
more than a million from their homes.
In addition to its chronic poverty and the influx of
refugees, Chad has now been hit by the locusts that
flown in from West Africa.
The locusts heading towards the Chad-Sudan border are
adding to the almost insupportable burden of misery
there. Jean-Marie Fakhouri, the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees' director of operations for Sudan and Chad,
warned following a visit to Iridimi camp in northern
Chad that the area has not turned green even under heavy
rains and the situation is "very, very precarious."
Fakhouri left Chad to return to Darfur on Tuesday,
continuing his mission to assess how the refugee agency
can better help 200,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern
Chad, as well as many of the estimated 1.2 million Darfuris
displaced within Sudan in 18 months of civil conflict.
Countries from Morocco in northern Africa to Mauritania
to the southwest have attempted to control the locust
onslaught with pesticides sprayed by plane. Despite
planeloads of pesticide, the insects have destroyed
orchards, food crops, and grazing land in a wide swath
across the continent.
At a recent ministerial meeting in Algiers involving
the nine locust affected countries in western Africa,
two scenarios were drawn up, costed at $58 million and
$83 million, depending on the degree to which the situation
Aircraft, pesticides, vehicles, sprayers and technical
support are lacking in all affected countries, the FAO
So far, about $14 million has been committed through
FAO by donors, including the Arab Organization for Agricultural
Development, France, the Islamic Development Bank, Italy,
the Netherlands, Norway, the United States of America,
and the FAO. Other funds from several more donors are
in the pipeline, awaiting approval.
More locust breeding will occur from August onwards
and the first new swarms could start to form by mid-September,
threatening crops that will be ready for harvest. Soon
afterwards, the swarms are likely to re-invade the north
and northwest unless conditions remain unusually favorable
in the Sahel to allow another generation of breeding,
the agency says.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All