WEST AFRICA: Danger of fresh locust invasion recedes - FAO

Dakar, 20 April 2005 (IRIN) - There is unlikely to be a large-scale locust invasion of the Sahel this year following exceptionally cold weather in North Africa, where most of the insects spent the winter, and heavy spraying of swarms in Algeria and Morocco, a locust control expert of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

Annie Monard, a member of the FAO's locust monitoring group in Rome, told IRIN on Thursday that some locusts would undoubtedly make it across the Sahara in June and July, but West Africa would not experience a devastating invasion of insects like that of 2004.

"The locusts will return to the Sahel as gregarious populations normally do, but on a very small scale," Monard said, but she refused to predict the extent of damage to local agriculture.

"Their impact on crops and pastures will depend on the number that arrive and that cannot yet be estimated, " she cautioned.

Last Friday, the FAO said in a locust update that unless fresh rains fell in North Africa over the coming weeks and stimulated egg-laying, "it is not expected that swarms will form in North Africa during the spring, nor threaten the Sahel during the summer."

Last year, West Africa experienced its worst locust invasion for 15 years.

The insects, which can eat their own weight of vegetation in a day, formed huge swarms that devastated crops and pasture in Mauritania and caused severe but localised damage in parts of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

The first swarms usually start arriving in the Sahel from North Africa in June as the annual rainy season gets under way.

Since it usually takes two or three years for a major upsurge in locust numbers to die down, agricultural experts had been bracing for a fresh invasion this year.

However, Monard noted that an exceptionally cold winter in the Maghreb had diminished the insects breeding capacity and large-scale spraying of swarms on the ground had also contributed to a reduction of locust numbers in Morocco and Algeria.

The international community was slow to react to last year's locust invasion of the Sahel, but in the end the FAO was left with US $30 million of surplus funds which will be put towards this year's control efforts.

FAO will coordinate a regional meeting in the Malian capital Bamako on 25 April to decide on action plans for this year's locust control campaign. Monard said this would be followed up by a meeting with donors in Bamako in early May.

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