The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has alerted Algeria, Libya, Mauritania and Morocco to prepare for the likely arrival of Desert Locust swarms from the Sahel in West Africa in the coming weeks.
The four countries are being urged to stand by to mobilize their field teams to detect the arrival of the swarms and control them.
Swarms of adult locusts are currently forming in Chad and are about to form in Mali and Niger following good summer rains that provided favourable conditions for two generations of breeding and which triggered a 250-fold increase in locust populations in those countries.
"Prevailing winds and historical precedents make it likely the swarms, once formed, will fly to Algeria, Libya, southern Morocco and northwestern Mauritania," said Keith Cressman, FAO Senior Locust Forecasting Officer. "Once there, they could damage pastures and subsistence rain-fed crops. They could also pose a threat to harvests in Chad, Mali and Niger."
After becoming airborne, swarms of tens of millions of locusts can fly up to 150 km a day with the wind. Female locusts can lay 300 eggs within their lifetime while a Desert Locust adult can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day -- about two grams every day. A very small swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35 000 people.
FAO has been able to monitor the situation in Niger and Chad, but conflict in Mali has made it very difficult to track the situation there. Control operations, with spraying by ground teams, started in Chad in early October. Similar interventions are beginning now in Niger, though teams must be accompanied by military escorts to ensure their safety.