- Desert locust swarms have arrived the Cape Verde islands twice since the plague started in continental West Africa. Specialist say locusts have reproduced on four islands and may soon form swarms. According to information obtained by afrol News, UN responsibles are "concerned" but not taking any efforts to stop a potential larger infestation.
Enormous desert locust swarms are out of control and currently creating a potential famine in Mauritania and other West African countries. At two occasions, swarms have even reached the Cape Verdean archipelago, situated 500 kilometres from the west coast of Africa. The latest swarms arrived four islands on 5 August, airlifted by strong north-easterly winds.
According to the last issue of FAO's 'Desert Locust Bulletin', "swarms at densities up to 50 adults per square meter were reported in northern Boa Vista, southern Maio, in the interior of Santiago and on Fogo Island." Santiago and Fogo islands are Cape Verde's dominant agricultural centres, hosting almost 70 percent of the nation's total cultivated area.
Keith Cressman, FAO's locust information officer, told afrol News that desert locusts on these four islands "are in the wingless larval (hopper) stage. It will be about three weeks before they become adults and obtain wings." Adult locusts are the ones causing most damage on crops and pasture, especially if they start forming swarms.
- There is a risk that a few very small swarms could form in October, Mr Cressman said. "These are most likely to remain confined to the islands and may be joined by a few other swarms coming from the West African coast," he added. The FAO locust expert held it likely that new swarms could arrive from the African mainland "during those few days when winds are from the east."
Damages of a smaller scale have already been noted, however. The Cape Verdean government has reported some damage caused by the locust larvae "on maize, beans and groundnut as well as cereals and pasture." Mr Cressman could not inform about the size of these damages.
Repeatedly asking FAO representatives on their agency's action to prevent further locust damages in Cape Verde produced no answer. Mr Cressman said that Cape Verdean authorities were "monitoring and controlling the locusts." All representatives interviewed by afrol News repeatedly emphasised that "infestations in West Africa" were currently much graver than in Cape Verde.
Henri Josserand, leader of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (ESCG), is responsible for monitoring the food security situation in Cape Verde, but he declined to answer questions related to the locust situation. "We are concerned about the impact the desert locusts can have on crops and rangeland, and equally concerned that realistic estimates be used, rather than guesses based on impressive but limited evidence," said Mr Josserand.
Further communication with Mr Josserand revealed that his agency had no updated data on food security and the desert locust situation on Cape Verde. An assessment of the situation would take place "in mid-October", at a time when locust swarms are already predicted to have formed and possible disinfestations work will be more difficult to conduct.
Mr Josserand again referred to the "most affected countries" on the mainland, saying he would "not make any pronouncements" regarding Cape Verde. Attempts to contact the WFP's regional manager, Moustapha Darboé, and his spokesman Ramin Rafirasme, failed as the two were discussing the locust situation with the government of Mauritania.
The two UN agencies have been fighting an uphill battle against the locust plague in West Africa for almost one year. International donors have only contributed with a microscopic part of the estimated US$ 100 million needed to effectively stop the locusts. Efforts have therefore been too small and too late. FAO's and WFP's policy towards chronically food insecure Cape Verde may however also indicate bad planning at the UN agencies.
Cape Verde is a Sahelian archipelago with a highly variable food production and a permanent food deficit. On average, the nation only produces about 20 percent of cereals consumed. As nearly 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas, most of the population is nevertheless strongly affected by poor harvests. Only in 2002, an estimated 50,000 Cape Verdeans were hit by food shortages due to poor harvests.
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