- The period between now and the end of February 2005 is crucial for a well-coordinated desert locust control campaign to protect crops in the Maghreb and to reduce the risk of swarms reinvading the Sahelian countries next summer, according to FAO. An "intensive locust control campaign" was however necessary to take opportunity of this narrow window.
The success of the upcoming winter and spring campaign "will determine locust threats to the Sahel next summer," according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "FAO's current focus is on supporting north-west Africa and the northern Sahel during the winter and spring season," said Mahmoud Solh of FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division.
According to him, the goal is now "to prevent crop damage in the Maghreb countries and to reduce the number of swarms that form in the spring breeding areas in the Maghreb countries, which will eventually threaten the Sahel again. Every effort must be made now to prepare for a potential re-infestation in West Africa next summer," added Mr Solh.
Donors have pledged US$ 70 million for locust control activities primarily in the Sahel to fight the worst locust upsurge in 15 years. Affected Maghreb countries are also in need of international support for their control campaigns, FAO said. The 2.2 million hectares of infested land treated during the summer and up to mid-November has helped to limit the amount of crop and pasture damage that could have occurred in the Sahel.
Swarms that escaped spraying in the Sahel have moved rapidly to the Maghreb countries, FAO said. Intensive control operations are under way in Morocco, Algeria and western Libya. A substantial number of immature swarms could become trapped in the coming weeks in the Atlas Mountains and valleys in Morocco and Algeria, FAO said. Swarms will mature and lay eggs in March when temperatures warm up. This gives control teams at least three months to treat as many swarms as possible before they are ready to lay eggs.
In Morocco, around 1.4 million hectares of infested land have been treated since September when swarms reappeared from the Sahel. Extensive spraying is also continuing in Algeria where about 700,000 hectares have been treated. More than 25 aircraft are operational in the region now.
The success of the control campaign will heavily depend on weather conditions, Mr Solh said. A lack of rain, for example, in combination with intensive control operations, could break the cycle of locust development.
In West Africa, some swarms are still present and are moving west in the Sahel, re-infesting northern Burkina Faso, and continuing into central and southwest Mali. Swarms are expected to move further west in Mali and could reach Guinea. Other swarms are moving west along the Mali-Mauritania border, reinvading south-eastern and southern Mauritania and north-eastern Senegal. Potential crop damage is expected to be limited, as most crops are already harvested.
FAO today called upon countries in the region to store pesticide stocks remaining from this year's campaign in properly protected warehouses so that they are available for the summer 2005 campaign. An inventory of remaining stocks was under way. Funds were also being provided to collect empty pesticide drums and ensure that proper disposal procedures are followed.
The UN agency further said it hoped that large-scale field trials of environmentally friendly bio-pesticides would be completed before next summer and that some of these products could be used in future control campaigns.
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