In the summer of 2004, just as West Africa was struck by the worst locust plague in 15 years, issue 20 of ICT Update reported on eLocust, the FAO's electronic desert locust monitoring and early warning system.
bIn the summer of 2004, just as West Africa was struck by the worst locust plague in 15 years, issue 20 of ICT Update reported on eLocust, the FAO’s electronic desert locust monitoring and early warning system.
The system – consisting of mobile survey units equipped with a palmtop computer, a GPS device and HF radio equipment that run on a car battery – has led to significant improvements in locust analysis and forecasting. Indeed, the FAO had warned that a major locust plague was in the making as early as December 2003.
Despite this early warning, in many locust-affected countries the control measures did not arrive quickly enough, due mainly to the lack of financial resources. When the FAO issued its first appeal for assistance in February 2004, donor responses were very limited and slow. By mid-September, the FAO had received only US$2 million of the US$19 million that had been pledged.
The lack of cash delayed the FAO’s ability to provide the resources needed in time to deal with the upsurge in desert locust populations and to prevent swarms of locusts infesting agricultural areas. Mauritania has been by far the worse affected country, as the locusts invaded its prime agricultural land, vegetable producing areas and pastureland. They also caused widespread damage to pasture and crops such as millet, sorghum and cowpea in Mali, Niger and Senegal.
Although no large-scale swarm invasions are expected in West Africa this spring, the FAO has set out to improve early response capabilities throughout the region. In December in Rome, the FAO’s Desert Locust Control Committee met in an extraordinary session to make recommendations. With respect to financing, the committee recommended that a large emergency fund be set up that can be drawn upon quickly to deal with locust upsurges. With respect to locust monitoring and control operations, the committee recommended that all affected countries liaise with the FAO to identify gaps in information and coordination, and to use all available technologies to improve the collection and management of data.
Already, the FAO is organizing a training package to assist in preparing national staff from ten West African countries for next summer’s desert locust campaign. The training will include modules in survey and data management, management of control campaigns and the bio-ecology of desert locust populations. The three-week training, hosted by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Niamey, Niger, will begin in mid-March.
For more information, visit the FAO’s Emergency Centre for Locust Operations (ECLO) or send an email.