Locust Plague May Spread to North Africa as Swarms Form in Chad

Locusts will probably spread to North Africa in coming weeks as swarms form in Chad and are about to gather in Mali and Niger after summer rains, the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization said.

The FAO has alerted Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania to prepare for the arrival of desert locust swarms, the Rome-based agency wrote in an e-mailed statement today. The conflict in Mali, which has asked for international military assistance to help it deal with an Islamist occupation of the country’s northern region, makes it unlikely all locust infestations there will be found and treated, the FAO said.

“Prevailing winds and historical precedents make it likely the swarms, once formed, will fly to Algeria, Libya, southern Morocco and northwestern Mauritania,” Keith Cressman, the FAO’s senior locust forecasting officer, was cited as saying in the statement. “Once there, they could damage pastures and subsistence rain-fed crops.”

Algeria and Morocco are the region’s second- and third-biggest wheat producers behind Egypt for 2012-13, according to data from the International Grains Council. An adult desert locust can eat about its own weight in food a day, and a “very small” swarm can eat the same amount of food in a day as 35,000 people, according to the FAO.

Locusts may also pose a threat to harvests in Chad, Mali and Niger, the UN agency reported. Good summer rains provided favorable conditions for two generations of locust breeding, boosting the population of the plague insects in the three countries 250-fold, the FAO said.

Swarms of tens of millions of locusts can fly as much as 150 kilometers (93 miles) a day, and a female locust can lay 300 eggs in her lifetime, according to the agency.

Locust Spray

Control operations started in Chad in early October with spraying by ground teams, according to the FAO. Similar measures are now starting in Niger, though teams require military escorts to ensure their safety, it said.

FAO brokered agreements for Algeria, Morocco and Senegal to donate pesticide stocks to Mali, Niger and Chad, and those supplies are being airlifted with help from the World Food Programme, it said.

The UN agency said it has received $4.1 million in funds for locust monitoring and control operations out of $10 million requested in June, with government support coming from France, the U.K. and the U.S.

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