Locust infestation in northern Sudan sparks warning from UN agency

13 November 2007 –

An outbreak of desert locusts has occurred in northern Sudan, prompting the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to warn that a potentially dangerous infestation of the insects could emerge along the Red Sea during the upcoming winter season, especially if there is strong rainfall.

The situation must be monitored carefully by governments in the region, FAO said in a news release issued yesterday, after unusually favourable breeding conditions have caused wingless hoppers – or young, immature locusts – to concentrate and form small bands and adults to form several small swarms.

It called for early warning measures and rapid responses to protect the agricultural industry and ensure that the risk of a plague developing is minimized. Japan has already provided $2 million to help in these efforts.

The problem is greatest in the Tokar Delta region of northern Sudan, which is also the most important agricultural area on the country’s coast. Small groups and bands of hoppers formed last week and are being joined by adults arriving from more remote desert areas in the interior.

FAO said the remoteness of much of the affected region is hampering the efforts of the Sudanese Government to find and treat all of the locust infestations, although its aerial and ground control teams have treated more than 11,000 hectares so far.

The agency expects more swarms to form in the interior this month and then move to the coast, and expects hatching and band formation to occur in the Tokar Delta from mid-December onwards.

The risk of infestations in neighbouring nations remains low at the moment, according to FAO, but small populations of locusts are already present and breeding in northern Eritrea and on Yemen’s coastal plains. Local breeding is expected to start soon in south-eastern Egypt and in Saudi Arabia, and the FAO said locust swarms could also travel as far west as Darfur, on Sudan’s border with Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR), by early summer next year.

Desert locusts, which live for three to five months, are migratory grasshoppers that often travel in vast swarms. One adult locust consumes roughly its own weight in fresh food every day, and a small section of an average swarm can eat as much food each day as 2,500 people.

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