Desert locusts are threating crops in the Sahel. Heavy rainfall is not only favouring the breeding conditions but it is also making the affected areas difficult to access. As a result, only limited control efforts have been possible.
The desert locust threat to pastures and croplands in Niger and Mali is growing after swarms of the insects arrived in the north of the two countries last month from Algeria and Libya, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported in mid-July 2012. Locust infestations were first reported in southwest Libya in January 2012 and in southeast Algeria. The desert locust damage on the fields will affect some 50 million people. Making this the most severe desert locust infestation since 2005.
In late March, FAO warned that swarms could arrive in Niger and Mali by June. Continued rains and the resulting growth of vegetation led to the formation of swarms by mid-May. Survey and control operations were hampered by insecurity along both sides of the border in Algeria and Libya. Consequently, the groups and swarms that could not be controlled migrated across the Sahara to Mali and Niger.
In the recent past, heavy rains fell in northern Mali and Niger, allowing the maturation of the desert locust adults that are now laying eggs in those areas. Hatching has started and will continue this month, causing locust numbers to increase further. Seasonal rains are expected to be normal in the Sahel and northern Sahel this summer where the locust infestations are currently present.
Although Niger, Mali and other Sahelian countries have trained locust survey and control teams, funding is needed in an emergency to expand their capacity to respond on a large scale and for logistical support such as vehicles, communication equipment and delivery of pesticides. Lack of equipment is particularly acute in Mali, where more than 30 pickup trucks and other locust equipment were looted recently in the northern part of the country. If control operations are not effective this summer in Chad, Mali and Niger, then numerous swarms could form and move to Algeria, Libya, Mauretania and perhaps Morocco during the autumn.