West Africa's worst locust plague for 15 years has encroached on one of the region's largest rice-growing areas.
BAMAKO, Mali West Africa's worst locust plague for 15 years has encroached on one of the region's largest rice-growing areas, authorities in Mali report.
Massive swarms have infested thousands of miles of land from the Atlantic coast to landlocked Chad in the last two months, already causing substantial damage to grain crops.
Officials in Mali said they had taken steps such as digging trenches to protect the Office du Niger, a large area of irrigated land developed under French colonial rule, from so-called hopper bands of young locusts that cannot yet fly.
But swarms of the older flying locusts have arrived this week at the edge of the area in Southern Mali, which covers 160,000 acres) and provides some 400,000 tons of paddy rice around half the country's annual rice needs.
"The Office du Niger has been the subject of special attention in the fight against the locusts, we put a protective ring around the zone to counter the hopper bands," said Agriculture Ministry official Yaya Diarra.
"But these were measures on the ground and we were talking mainly about the hopper bands. Since Sunday, we've been alerted to the arrival of swarms in ... communities on the edge of the area near Mauritania," he said.
Diarra said the locusts had destroyed about 15 to 20 percent of crops in the areas on the fringe of the rice-growing zone and authorities had sent an extra plane to spray pesticides, boosting the efforts of one aircraft already there.
Regional agriculture experts meeting this month in Senegal's capital Dakar said West Africa may lose up to a quarter of a bumper grain harvest this year if the plague is not brought under control but famine did not appear to be a danger for now.
West Africa's impoverished nations lack the money, equipment and chemicals to control the plague and have appealed to rich countries for help. Some diplomats say both governments and aid agencies have been too slow in responding to the crisis.
Mali's Agriculture Minister Seydou Traore said last week the locusts had infested a swathe of the country producing nearly 1.5 million tons of cereal between 40 and 45 percent of the annual cereal harvest.
Groups of young locusts were also chomping undergrowth and stripping shrubs of leaves this week near a nature reserve outside the Senegalese town of Saint Louis, by the Atlantic.
Some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) away in Chad's capital N'Djamena, the same type of young yellowy-green locusts infested buses and hotel grounds on Friday, flitting around lamps and hopping onto diners' plates.