Desert locusts in Niger. Photo by our Observer.
One of the immediately obvious consequences of the ousting of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was the large number of weapons that went missing
in Libya, many of which ended up in neighbouring countries. However that’s not the only way his downfall affected the region. Another, more surprising, consequence is now becoming apparent: it has caused a mass influx of desert locusts into the Sahel desert, which spans eight countries, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
Alarm bells have been ringing since the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) released a statement on the June 5 that emphasised both the gravity and urgency of the situation. Despite measures taken in Algeria and Libya after locust infestations were reported in both countries in January, desert locusts are now also being spotted in Mali and Niger and threaten to decimate the region’s crops. Libya used to possess equipment for eradicating huge swarms of locusts, but the spraying machines were destroyed during the uprising, and eradicating locusts is not high on the new government’s list of priorities.
The Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Western Region (CLCPRO), an inter-regional FAO committee that works with eleven countries in North Africa and the Sahel, says it plans to double its efforts to stop the plague. At the end of May, swarms were spotted in the north of Niger, mostly in the regions of Arlit and Agadez. Locust control teams were sent there straight away to prevent the locusts from breeding. The task was made more difficult by the fact that heavy rainfall earlier in the year had created ideal breeding conditions. So far, 700 hectares of land have been treated. But the swarms of insects are starting to head south, where most of the country’s agriculture is based, and around 500,000 hectares of crops are at risk of being decimated.
Photo by a desert locust in Mauritania in 2004, published on Flickr by Sopfcim.
However, the efforts made in Niger may all be in vain if Mali does not take pre-emptive action against an imminent plague of locusts on its territory. The presence of armed separatist and Islamist groups in the north of Mali, a breeding area for locusts, has prevented both the authorities and FAO teams from treating the area.
The last time this region suffered a plague of locusts was between 2003 and 2005. Coupled with an unprecedented drought, the plague resulted in the worst famine Niger had experienced for decades. Almost 3 million people were affected by the famine, 800,000 of whom were children. Poor cereal harvests last year mean that Niger is now facing another food crisis
, and a plague of desert locusts could greatly exacerbate this already precarious situation.
Photos taken during a recent mission by the National Centre for Locust Control in northern Niger.