Desert locust management: a success story

Thami Ben Halima, Director of Agrotech, Past Director of CLCPRO/FAO

The Desert Locust, Schistocerca gregaria (Forskål, 1775), is one of the main pests of humanity in reason of its invasions and of their serious economic, social and environmental consequences. During the invasions, swarms can invade, in the northern hemisphere, an area of 29 million km² extending From the Atlantic coast of Africa to the Indo-Pakistan border, across 65 African and Asian countries. The population dynamics of this pest alternate periods of remission, resurgence, recrudescence and invasion.

Experience from the past invasions demonstrates that Desert Locust can only be properly managed if an effective preventive control strategy is implemented sustainably throughout the Desert Locust permanent habitat area (the remission area). All the countries with outbreak areas must, therefore, be able to implement this strategy in their respective territories: regular surveys in areas potentially favorable to multiplication and outbreaks, and rapid interventions on the first concentrations. Failure to implement this strategy will expose the 65 countries of the invasion area to disasters in the agricultural, food, economic, social, environmental and even political spheres. The curative control also requires the mobilization of enormous human and financial resources from the countries concerned and from the international donor community, and also requires the spraying of enormous quantities of chemical pesticides with disastrous consequences for human health and the environment.

If during the past decades (before the 21st century) it was difficult to circumscribe and localize the areas likely to harbor the Desert Locust primitive outbreaks, the currently available knowledge on the bio-ecology and dynamics of the locust populations, the possibilities offered by new technologies (satellite imagery, GPS, and new technics to collect and transfer data), restructuring and institutional strengthening at national and regional levels, currently make it possible to conduct scientifically and effectively the preventive control strategy. The implementation of this strategy, advocated by FAO since the 1960s, has become a reality in West and North-West Africa since 2006 thanks to the coordination of Desert Locust control activities by the FAO Commission for controlling the Desert Locust in the Western Region (CLCPRO), established in 2002, and the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) implemented in the same region since 2006 and coordinated by CLCPRO. This approach made it possible to control nine resurgences between 2007 and 2017 and thus avoided the development of locust crises similar to that of 2003/05. The appropriation of this preventive control strategy by all partners at the regional level (CLCPRO state members) and at the international level (FAO and donors) has made Desert Locust management in West and North West Africa an exemplary “success story”.