The Heat Is Online

Drought, Floods Spawn Record Locust Outbreak in Afghanistan

UN's FAO battles locust swarms in Afghan wheat area

Reuters News Service, May 14, 2002

ROME - Afghan villagers and United Nations food agency staff are braving land mines and harsh conditions to combat swarms of locusts devastating wheat crops in the "bread basket" region of northern Afghanistan.

One Afghan involved in the locust extermination campaign was killed by a landmine in northern Afghanistan last week, Clive Elliott, a senior plant protection officer with the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said yesterday.

He estimated the locust outbreak, probably the worst to hit Afghanistan in the last 30 years, had damaged some five percent of the wheat area in the most seriously affected provinces of Baghlan, Samangan and Qunduz.

"It is too early to gauge the success of the locust campaign, but if we keep the damage to around five percent of the wheat area, that would be a big achievement," Elliott said.

FAO is coordinating the $1 million campaign involving Afghan villagers and non-governmental organisations (NGO), including Irish NGO Goal, to bury and poison the locusts.

Drought and conflict have devastated farming in northern Afghanistan, where production of the staple wheat is rain-fed.

The objective of the locust campaign, expected to last until June, is to limit crop damage ahead of next month's harvest.

The indigenous locusts are thriving after years of drought followed by recent heavy rains, Elliott said.

Wheat production in northern Afghanistan has also been seriously jeopardised by a shortage of seeds, fertilisers and hand tools.

In some regions, villagers chase locusts into ditches built around hatching areas and bury them. In remote locations, operators spray a synthetic chemical pyrethroid, using hand-held and vehicle-mounted sprayers.

As of May 4, more than 100,000 hectares had been treated to remove locusts.

The difficulty of getting into mountainous areas complicates control measures, FAO said. In an area called Bandar, 16,000 hectares are reported infested with the pests.

Plastic nets and insecticide may have to be air-lifted into the area because roads have been badly affected by flooding.

Story by David Brough