Africa Faces Lengthy Locust Plague

Locust, Mauritania, video still 2004/8/6
The huge locust swarms that have ravaged swathes of western Africa are likely to plague the region for several years, a senior U.N. official said.

Crop-munching locusts in recent weeks have begun heading north into Morocco, Algeria and Libya from affected countries to the south. They are expected to breed, multiply and will likely move south again, experts said.

"It is likely that this situation is going to last for a couple of years," said Edouard Tapsoba, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Senegal. "We should not think we are at the end of the story."

Locusts remain in Mauritania, Senegal, Niger and Mali. But the focus of prevention efforts in the coming months will be the Maghreb region of North Africa — Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, officials said.

Said Ghaout, an FAO consultant who is the director the national locust control center in Morocco, said a new generation of locusts was expected to breed in November in Mauritania and northern parts of Niger.

Those swarms will move north in January to the Maghreb, where they will breed in March or April and move south again in June, Ghaout said.

Tapsoba said African nations must ensure they have adequate stockpiles of pesticides and planes to deal with the crisis.

Ghaout said Maghreb nations, relatively wealthier than those in sub-Saharan Africa, had more planes and pesticides to deal with the crisis. But damage in those countries nevertheless "could be serious," he said.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa were still "ill-equipped" to deal with the insects, despite millions of dollars in donor aid, Tapsoba said.

The Rome-based FAO has called on donors for $100 million, but has received only about US$43 million so far.

Last week, the FAO said the locust swarms may travel as far away as Pakistan.

Locusts are present every year in Africa, but this year's swarms are especially large because of prolonged periods of heavy rainfall. The insects eat their weight in crops every day, and group together in swarms dozens of miles long.

By Todd Pitman