Pest alert

Swarms of locusts in North Africa could be on the verge of threatening crops further south. If a plague were to break out, maize, sorghum, millet and wheat worth us $2 billion could be destroyed.

There is a possibility that winds might sweep the breeding pests in Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia southwards to countries in the Sahel (the southern boundary of Sahara desert). Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal would then lose some of their harvests, points out the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (fao). The un agency has appealed for funds required to buy sprayers, vehicles and pesticides, and for training that needs to be imparted to contain the outbreak.

The desert locust outbreak began last October. Although two million hectares of land has been treated against the insect, small swarms have started forming in northern Mauritania. The pests could start breeding in as little as two weeks' time, states fao. They increase in number rapidly and adult insects travel in tens of millions, crossing even international borders in search of food. A major locust plague originated in western Sudan and spread as far as India between 1987 and 1989.