With Desert Locusts ravaging large swathes of East Africa in recent months, concerns have been rising that swarms could turn their sights westward and invade countries such as Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania
FAO anticipated this risk in an updated Desert Locust Crisis Appeal launched in May and engaged with governments to mobilise surveillance and control teams across West Africa to preempt a potential invasion of the crop-devouring pest.
So far, favourable rains in Eastern Africa are keeping the locusts there and West Africa remains locust free. But if conditions change, the ravenous insects could leave their traditional summer breeding areas and head toward the Sahel in search of greener pastures.
An analysis after the fact showed that if the locust invasion had been controlled more quickly and reduced losses by just 10 per cent, some US$226mn worth of crops could have been saved. The cost to bring that crisis under control, more than US$500mn, is equivalent to 170 years of preventive control.
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An important part of FAO’s anticipatory action in West Africa and the Sahel – meant to prevent a further drop in food security for millions of people already struggling to feed themselves across the region – is to preposition the pesticides needed to stop swarms in their tracks.
If conditions do drive the locusts to move west, they will move fast, and countries in the region need to have the supplies on hand now, before that threat might materialise.
This is the reason why FAO, through its regional locust control commission in the Western region, is involving countries in a process called pesticide triangulation. In essence, the commission is moving stocks from low-risk countries to high-risk countries in the region.
“It’s been encouraging to see the countries of the region working together so closely to prepare for a potential Desert Locust infestation and to share their resources so that high-risk countries are ready to act rapidly if swarms invade,” said Coumba Sow, FAO’s resilience coordinator for West Africa and the Sahel.
“We’ve seen in East Africa how quickly locusts can affect an entire region, so acting early and collectively is vital to protecting the food security and livelihood of millions of people in West Africa and the Sahel.”