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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Africa declares 'war' on locusts
Locusts in Morocco
A locust swarm can devour as much food as 1,000 people
Twelve west African countries have agreed to use their armed forces to stop swarms of locusts devastating large areas of West and Central Africa.

After long talks in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, ministers agreed to set up five operational bases in Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.

Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade said only military mobilisation could stop the locust infestation from spreading.

The decision was made as locusts arrived in parts of the coastal city.

"I'm particularly stressing the need for the army to be mobilised because for me this is a real war," Mr Wade told the conference.

The African ministers agreed late on Tuesday night on a 15-point plan to combat them.

Crop-spraying efforts will now be co-ordinated from five bases in the worst affected areas.

But the agriculture minister for neighbouring Gambia, Sulayman Mboob, said it could be too late to prevent a famine.

Fresh warning

The infestations of the desert locust are the most widespread and damaging for 15 years.

More than two-million hectares of young crops are at risk, but only 3% of this area has been sprayed with pesticide.

Due to good rainfall, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that new waves of locusts are imminent.

Mr Wade also called for urgent international help - in the form of pesticides and aircraft, rather than money.

So far, a total of $37m of the $100m needed by the FAO to fight the locusts has been pledged by international donors.

Funds are needed for targeted aerial spraying and for environmental monitoring, the FAO says.

Desert locusts breed rapidly, maturing in just three weeks, and are capable of travelling large distances.

The FAO is concerned that the new swarms could move in two directions: north-westwards into new areas of Mauritania or southwards into Senegal, Gambia and even northern Nigeria.

It said the main priority should be to save as much as possible of the next harvest of crops including millet, sorghum and maize, which will coincide with the appearance of new swarms.

FAO locust forecasting officer Keith Cressman says the swarms, which can travel as far as 100km (60 miles) in a day, are particularly hard to control as they are incredibly mobile.

"It's very difficult to treat a moving target... the swarms are moving very quickly, and it's horribly difficult to prevent them from laying eggs," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Locusts can eat their own weight in food every day, which means a single swarm can consume as much food as several thousand people.

Locusts ravage northern Nigeria
19 Aug 04  |  Africa
In the eye of the swarm
31 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature
Why locusts swarm
27 Mar 01  |  Science/Nature


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