MALI: Locusts May Destroy One Third Of Grain Crop
UN Humanitarian Affairs (Dr. Claudia R. Wintoch)
September 23, 2004



I believe the Lord has given me a mandate to do something in this situation. How? I have no clue. It will take a car, food to distribute... then we can preach the good news and do what Jesus did. Please pray.

I'm arriving back in Bamako Wednesday night.

Love, Claudia

MALI: Locusts may destroy one third of grain crop

BAMAKO, 23 September (IRIN) - Locusts are expected to destroy about one million tonnes of this year's grain crop in Mali - about one third of the expected harvest - despite frantic government efforts to control the invasion of insects, UN officials said on Thursday.

Although the Ministry of Agriculture has so far only published an official estimate that 441,000 tonnes of food will be lost, they said government officials privately told a UN mission which visited Bamako last week they expected the true figure to be nearer one million tonnes.

The UN officials said current efforts to contain the locusts, which are pouring in from neighbouring Mauritania and are breeding across a vast swathe of central Mali, were plagued by poor logistics.

One UN official closely involved with monitoring the locust crisis in West Africa told IRIN that Mali had nine crop-dusting planes with which to spray infected land and adequate stocks of insecticide.

However, the planes were often unable to fly for lack of fuel and maintenance and the insecticide was not always available in the places where it was most needed, he added.

According to an Agriculture Ministry bulletin issued at the end of last week, more than 703,000 hectares of land in Mali have so far been infested with locusts, but only 143,000 have been treated.

It reported heavy damage to crops and pasture in the western regions of Kayes and Koulikoro, particularly in areas near the frontier with Mauritania.

Fresh swarms of locusts were flying into this region from Mauritania and a new generation of locally bred locust larvae was starting to grow wings and take to the skies there, the bulletin said.

It also described a "worrying" situation in the fertile area around Mopti, in south-central Mali. This contains vast areas of irrigated land in an inland delta formed by the river Niger.

The river divides into a series of channels as it flows north past the town of Segou. These channels then reunite 400 km further north before the river flows past Timbucktoo on the southern edge of the Sahara desert.

The Ministry of Agriculture also reported dense concentrations of flightless larvae, known as hopper bands, and newly fledged immature locusts between Timbucktoo and Gao at the top of the Niger bend. They were causing damage to crops and pasture in this region, it added.

"This year is turning out to be a catastrope," Hamadoun Bourry, a peasant farmer near Timbucktoo, told a visiting film crew from Malian state television. "Our fields have been ravaged and even the areas of pasture where our animals feed have been devastated by locusts."

Increasingly the government is being accused of doing too little too late.

Only last month, Agriculture Minister Seydou Traore was giving public assurances that the locust situation was under control in Mali, but all those involved in the battle to control the Sahel's worst locust invasion for 15 years now recognise that it is not.

"The government did not act in time.above all we are short of the equipment and products that we need," Baba Handane Djiteye, an agricultural advisor based in Timbucktoo, told IRIN during a visit to Bamako.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) which is already starting to build up food stocks to prevent a possible famine if the harvest fails, is also concerned.

Pablo Recalde, the WFP representative in Mali, said; "The government and its partners should have acted earlier."

He noted that as early as October last year, the authorities had been aware that swarms of locusts were developing around Kidal in the desert northeast of Mali, 1,600 km from Bamako.

"In November 2003 and February 2004, the Early Warning System made a recommendation that the government and its partners should put in place an effective operation to control desert locusts and grain eating birds in good time..but unfortunately that advice was not followed."

As a result, Recalde added, swarms began re-appearing in Mali on 18 April.

The Malian government finally appeared to wake up to the scale of the emergency in early September, when President Amadou Toumani Toure and his 28 ministers announced that they were each donating a month's salary to help fund the locust control campaign.

As in neighbouring Senegal, the army has been brought in to help out.

About 400 soldiers have been drafted into the locust control campaign which currently has 31 spraying teams deployed on the ground.

The Malian authorities have provided 24 of these teams, Algeria has sent four and Libya has provided three more.

The World Bank, United States, Libya, South Africa and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have all provided or chartered fixed-wing crop-spraying aircraft and there is one helicopter fitted with crop-dusting equipment at the campaign's disposal.

Meanwhile 1,500 village locust control brigades have been formed to tackle the insects when they appear at a local level.

According to confidential estimates prepared by the government and made available to IRIN, Mali should be looking forward to a grain harvest of 3.1 million tonnes in October and November, following good rains for the second year in a row.

In the event of limited crop damage by locusts, this would be reduced by 441,000 tonnes to about 2.6 million tonnes. That is the middle scenario which the government is publicly sticking to.

However, UN officials said Agriculture Ministry officials were now tending towards a third scenario under which virtually all grain production in Mali between the 14th and 17th parallels would be lost. That would reduce the harvest by 1.25 million tonnes to around 1.85 million tonnes.

Their current estimate was that about one million tonnes of food being grown for human consumption would be destroyed by the insects, they added.

Although weighing just two grammes, a desert locust can eat its own weight in food each day. Swarms can contain up to 80 million insects per square km and each swarm can cover several square km. When hungry locusts descend on a patch of ground, they can strip it clean of all greenery within a few hours.

Ousmane Thiam, the Minister for Promotion of Investment and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, who also fulfills the role of official government spokesman, said recently that control efforts were focussed on stopping the locust swarms from moving south of the 14th parallel. This runs along a line that stretches roughly from Kayes in the west, through Mopti on the river Niger in central Mali, to the point where the Niger river flows southwards into the Republic of Niger in the east.

Some peasants north of this line have already given up hope. "This year, the harvest has been completely ruined..the only thing left to do is leave the village," said Halidou Maiga, who left his home near the eastern town of Gao to seek work in Bamako. "A lot of other people are about to leave their villages," he added.

Meanwhile, Recalde is already preparing for the food shortages that undoubtedly lie ahead.

"We have 33,000 tonnes of grain, 1.5 billion CFA francs ($2.8 million) in financial reserves, plus the stocks that are in the hands of peasants and traders," he said.

Ask of Me, and I will make the nations your inheritance. (Ps 2:8)

Dr. Claudia R. Wintoch
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  BPE 2165

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