The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is alerting North Africa to prepare people and food producers about a damaging swarm of locusts expected to move in over the coming weeks. A small swarm of locusts can eat the food of 35,000 people but they can also eradicate a wheat field in no time.
The UN organization is alerting North Africa’s Algeria, Libya, Mauritania and Morocco to prepare for the likely arrival of Desert Locust swarms from the Sahel in West Africa in the coming weeks. It won’t be the first swarm of this year to move into North Africa.
The four countries are being urged to stand by to mobilize their field teams to detect the arrival of the swarms and control them. Good summe rains in other parts of Africa are to blame.
Summer rains raise swarms
Swarms of adult locusts are currently forming in Chad and are about to form in Mali and Niger following good summer rains that provided favourable conditions for two generations of breeding and which triggered a 250-fold increase in locust populations in those countries.
Prevailing winds and historical precedents make it likely the swarms, once formed, will fly to Algeria, Libya, southern Morocco and northwestern Mauritania,” said Keith Cressman, FAO Senior Locust Forecasting Officer. “Once there, they could damage pastures and subsistence rain-fed crops. They could also pose a threat to harvests in Chad, Mali and Niger.”
After becoming airborne, swarms of tens of millions of locusts can fly up to 150 km a day with the wind. Female locusts can lay 300 eggs within their lifetime while a Desert Locust adult can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day — about two grams every day. A very small swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35 000 people.
Locusts cripple food security
While not sound and “green” advice the FAO has brokered agreements with countries that have available appropriate pesticide stocks – Algeria, Morocco and Senegal – to donate them to Mali, Niger and Chad. This will avoid increasing stockpiles of hazardous chemicals in the region. The supplies are being airlifted with the support of the World Food Programme.
Frontline countries in the Sahel such as Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad have trained locust survey and control teams but they need external assistance, especially vehicles, equipment and pesticides, to respond effectively to a full-scale emergency. Mali is particularly short of equipment after more than 30 pickup trucks were looted in the northern part of the country.