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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Locusts plague Turkmenistan

The locusts will hatch in 40 days

Colonies of baby locusts, discovered hatching in southern, Turkmenistan could devastate agriculture there if they mature, according to the country's authorities.

Measures already taken to eradicate the growing swarms include ploughing nearby land and spraying pesticides. A special team from the capital, Ashkhabad, has been brought in to investigate.

[ image: 2,500 have been counted so far]
2,500 have been counted so far
So far, experts estimate there may be as many as 2,500 locust eggs per square metre in the area surveyed.

If preventative measures are not taken, the insects will hatch within 40 days.

Experts say mature locusts can fly to a height of 200 metres and cover large distances in their search for food.

According to the BBC's Central Asia Correspondent, Louise Hidalgo, Turkmenistan is a desperately poor country where agriculture is an increasingly vital part of the economy.

The country's last big locust plague was more than 10 years ago.

Migration from Iran

The colonies have been identified as Moroccan Locusts - a particularly destructive type - probably established by migrating insects from neightbouring Iran.

Specialists at Turkmenistan's desert institute say this is the first time the Moroccan Locust has appeared in the area.

They have infested Bagir, a fertile region just south of the capital.

Bagir's rich agricultural land, in the foothills of the Kopet Dag Mountains separating Turkmenistan from Iran, is one of the main fruit growing areas in a country that is mostly desert, and provides much of the food for the country's livestock.

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