Africa, Development & Aid, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

WEST AFRICA: Building a Regional Response to Locusts

DAKAR, Apr 28 2011 (IPS) - The period between May and August is when farmers in the West African Sahel fear the arrival of swarms of locusts. This year, efforts to limit the devastation will be strengthened by coordination across the region thanks to the Africa Project to Combat Locust Invasions.

Senegalese boy with locusts. Credit:  IRIN

Senegalese boy with locusts. Credit: IRIN

The project is known by its French acronym, PALUCP, and includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad. According to the World Bank representative in Senegal, Denis Jordy, the aim of the project is to prevent current and future locust invasions in these seven countries. With the technical expertise of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Commission for Controlling the Desert Locusts, the project has halted the threat and better prepared teams in various countries to prevent future invasions.

“The six billion CFA francs (about 13 million dollars) released by the World Bank for a period of four years will go towards strengthening institutional and technical capacity of the countries involved and it will consolidate the cooperative efforts between the countries for combating the locust problem,” said Jordy.

“It’s also necessary to give financial and material assistance to the communities who have been invaded [by the locusts],” stressed Jordy, inviting the West African countries to coordinate their efforts with the Maghreb countries, which also have experience in the battle against locusts.

Locust invasions threaten harvests of staple foods like millet and sorghum and cause significant damage to both crops and grazing land – and that’s apart from the consequences for the environment, and human and animal health in these countries, notes Jérôme Ilboudo, from the agricultural institute of Burkina Faso.

“It’s about transferring knowledge and experience and ensuring that the gains made are sustained, as well as sharing lessons learned within the PALUCP implementation framework,” he told IPS. “In Burkina Faso, we have a method that involves us creeping up on locusts in the dead of night and killing them immediately. Other countries do not do this. So we have shared our respective experiences.”

The regional project against locusts depends heavily on the sharing of information and experiences in the fight against the locust threat; identifying strategies for managing the fight and establishing the basis for better collaboration between the various role-players and small-holder farmers.

The information exchange will involve awareness of the locust situation in each area. Technicians from the different countries must work cooperatively, particularly when the locusts cross borders.

At the regional level, there are plans to improve the stocking and management of pesticides in each country, as well as put protocols in place to allow one country could supply pesticides to another country whose stocks are depleted.

The agricultural minister from Senegal, Khadim Guèye, assured farmers that effective measures to deal with the locust threat have been taken in his country. “It’s about predicting, anticipating and knowing where they are to prevent them from multiplying exponentially and then decimating them where they reproduce,” said the minister.

“We have strengthened the national system for combating the problem and have improved our stock levels of pesticide with the construction of a warehouse that can hold 9,000 tonnes and the handling of empty pesticide containers,” he said.

“A national management plan for the locust problem and the strengthening of the productive capacity of 12,040 agricultural households that are beneficiaries of donations of agricultural inputs and supplies in the period between harvests and the financing of 305 micro projects are all on track,” said Guèye.

Smallholder farmers are sceptical. Ibrahima Diaw, a member of the rural council of Kaffrine in the centre of Senegal, the says the situation in the farmlands is catastrophic after locusts pass through, and more resources are required to overcome these voracious insects.

“Their arrival is imminent and that is haunting us,” he says, worried.

Participants in a PALUCP workshop that brought representatives of agriculture ministries and agricultural research services together in Dakar at the end of March, just ahead of the locust season, seemed sensitive to Diaw’s concerns. They recommended the strengthening of civil society organisations to support better management of locust invasions. The organisations would be called on to raise popular awareness of the importance of efforts to fight the invasions.

The workshop attendees also recommended that the governments both restore the productive capacity of affected households with donations of agricultural inputs and food during the period between harvests, and finance microprojects.

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