Significant progress in Afghan locust battle - Most cultivated areas now cleared of pest, FAO reports

Rome, 3 August 2005- The government of Afghanistanworking closely with FAO, has largely succeeded in clearing crop-devouring Moroccan locusts from cultivated areas in the agriculture-dependent country.
"The extent of the infested area has been greatly reduced and the main cultivated areas have now been cleared," said Andrew Harvey, FAO's Locust Control Coordinator for Afghanistan, during a debriefing on the 2005 control campaign at FAO's Romeheadquarters.

The only areas where locusts successfully laid eggs this year were in remote desert areas, he noted, and while some control will be necessary in 2006 to prevent reinvasion of cultivated areas, it will not need to be extensive. The country's locust population has been drastically reduced from 2002 levels, Harveyconcluded.

The 2005 campaign started in the third week of March and continued until the first week of June, focusing on northern four provinces where the locusts occur: Baghlan (27,580 ha treated), Balkh(56,295 ha), Kunduz (28,273 ha) and Samangan (31,091 ha).

New pesticide made a difference

Because spring came late this year, locust eggs hatched later than usual, giving more time to pre-position equipment and pesticides.

Timing is critical. Every day that spraying is delayed increases the overall control effort eventually required by 15 percent, Harveyestimates.

Also, this year the campaign focused on using diflubenzuron, a pesticide used against the juvenile hopper stages of locusts, as a main tool.

Diflubenzuron is not a contact poison, but interferes with moulting, the process by which insects grow. After being sprayed on vegetation, it is ingested by young locust hoppers as they feed. At the next moult, the locusts' new skin fails to harden and they die as a result.

An added advantage is that diflubenzuron persists for some time on vegetation, so that if more hoppers hatch they too will be killed without further spraying.

More importantly, says Harvey, because of its mode of action, this type of insecticide, compared to other pesticides, is virtually harmless to humans, livestock and wildlife like birds. However, to be effective it must be applied before the locusts become winged adults, because after that they do not moult again.

Strong collaboration

The Moroccan locust is a perennial pest in Afghanistan, but its numbers exploded in 2000/2001 to plague proportions, posing a clear and present danger in a country where agriculture provides more than 51% of the nation's GDP and employs over 80% of the labour force.

Since 2002, FAO has assisted in yearly anti-locust campaigns in Afghanistan, which involve not only locust control operations but also training and capacity building.

FAO has provided equipment, pesticides, logistical and coordination support, and training, while manpower has been supplied by local communities under a traditional system of communal work, called hasher.

To map egg beds, FAO trained over a hundred Afghan organizers, including staff from the country's Plant Protection and Quarantine Department. These organizers then worked with local communities to build up 10-man anti-locust teams.

Each team surveyed affected areas and applied pesticides. All their activities were mapped using GPS technology, providing a wealth of data on the distribution and habitats of locusts as well as the effectiveness of anti-locust measures.