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CABI Invasives Blog

The locust invasions devastating Niger

locust-invasion-in-niger

It is the end of December 2016, with clear skies over Niger. But as 2017 draws near prospects are grim for some 500 residents in Bani Kosseye, a village 80km from the capital Niamey. Agricultural production has been poor here, and families’ meagre stocks are expected to run out within a few weeks. People already fear famine.The main cause for this food stress is none other than locusts. The damage the tiny insects cause to agriculture means they have become public enemy number one in the fields and pastures of this Sahel country.

The various institutions set up to combat the locust threat in Niger classify the insects into two main groups: desert locusts and grasshoppers. There is a third category, migratory locusts, but experts in Niger say these are not a significant threat.

Desert locusts, on the other hand — which are associated with the eighth biblical plague — have the ability to swarm into several dozen million individuals capable of travelling long distances across several countries to devastate fields. The 2003-2005 invasion affected 20 countries across northern Africa and destroyed millions of hectares of crops.

According to the preamble of Niger’s Locust Risk Management Plan, during a massive locust invasion swarms of desert locusts may invade “an area of 29 million square kilometres where 1.3bn people live, stretching from Africa’s Atlantic coast in the northern hemisphere to the Indo-Pakistani border, and from the Mediterranean to the Equator”.

Idrissa Maiga, a locust expert at the Agrhymet Regional Centre in Niamey, says “it is a species with an extraordinary reproductive capacity. Females may lay eggs several times during their lifetime and each female lays between 80 and 100 eggs.”

And how voracious are they? “Each individual is capable of eating its own weight in vegetable matter per day,” the entomologist says. “This means that each individual can eat up to two grams of fresh material per day.”

“Therefore, if a swarm of dozens or hundreds of millions of individuals zooms in on a crop, it only takes them between 15 and 30 minutes to destroy fresh material in the area,” Maiga says.

Millions of hectares destroyed

Some desert locust specialists, who are quoted in a technical note by Niger’s locust monitoring system (published in December 2016, in French) even say that “in theory, a swarm covering a 25-square-kilometre area with a density of 100 insects per square meter, may eat as much grass as 50,000 heads of cattle.”

The director general of the National Locust Control Centre (CNLA), Abou Moumouni, says Niger paid a very heavy price for the 2003/2005 locust invasion.

“3,755 villages had a 27 per cent cereal shortfall equivalent to about 223,487 tonnes,” he says. “This deficit, caused by the dual effects of drought and desert locusts, led to a 4.47million-tonne drop in food production.”

The situation is very worrying for Niger which is, with Mauritania, Mali and Chad, one of the so-called frontline states (a loose coalition of African states) in West and Central Africa. They are countries where outbreaks occur, the insects live on a permanent basis and can reproduce, forming swarms and invading crops — if the process is not interrupted.

In Niger, this happens in the regions of Aïr and Tamesna and, to a lesser degree, in the pastures in the Sahel, which is a summer reproduction area.

Fortunately, the country and the region do not face an invasion every year. “Over the past 30 years, there have only been three desert locust invasions: in 1988, 2003-5 and 2012,” says Moudy Mamane Sani, the director general of vegetable protection at Niger’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

However, the effects of these past invasions are felt for a long time. According to the CNLA, 1.25 million hectares of crops were destroyed in Niger during the 1988 invasion, which affected a total of 26 million hectares of crops in 23 countries
But this is not all. “Following the 2003-2005 crisis, nearly 4,000 villages in Niger were abandoned by residents who had lost their crops. This led to the exodus of these people from their villages to cities,” Moumouni says.

“Growers do not have anything but their production,” he says. “Where desert locusts go, they do not leave anything behind.”

He explains that growers who have lost their crops, and pastures that support their cattle, no longer have any capital; and all they can do is go to urban centres, look for a job and rebuild their lives until the following agricultural season.

Grasshopper threat 

However, for the residents of Bani Kosseye village, it is grasshoppers that are behind the distress, not a new invasion of desert locusts. “These are sedentary locusts which, unlike desert locusts, are not capable of gathering gregariously to form large swarms,” Maiga says.

Among these are Senegalese locusts, which Maiga says are particularly harmful for cereal crops, millet especially.

The fact of the matter is that grasshoppers also have a great capacity for harm in the fields. “Attacks by grasshoppers may take place at various stages of plant growth,” says Djibo Bagna, a farmer and the chairman of the executive board of Niger’s Farmers Platform.

“Once they have attacked seedlings, they move on to young plants. If they do not show up after seedlings have been attacked, it means they are waiting for plants to develop so they can attack leaves. [As a result] you will find stalks that are totally ‘naked’ and that will not yield anything at all,” he says.

“Grasshoppers even attack the ears [of cereal plants] and eat seeds which have not yet reached maturity. So you will see ears but there is almost nothing inside,” Bagna concludes.

This is more or less what the residents of Bani Kosseye experienced during the 2016 agricultural season. “Locusts appeared when the millet started flowering, both at heading time (when flower or seed heads start to show) and when seeds appeared,” says Issaka Arouna, a local farmer.

“We began fighting them even before the arrival of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock,” Arouna says.

Grasshopper infestations 

That particular fight was lost. It failed to prevent the risk of a food crisis, which is now dreaded in the village: “Can’t you see that empty granary over there,” says Arouna as he asks a young man to open one of the granaries of the village.

There is not much inside: ears of millet, some with sparse kernels, barely cover the floor area. “This is the crop of ten people you can see here,” the old man says with a stern expression.

This meagre crop is evidence that the threat of grasshoppers is far from negligible. “In fact, Senegalese locusts cause even more damage to millet in any one season than desert locusts do,” Idrissa Maiga says.

The species is particularly dangerous because it is endemic. “This is a situation we face on an almost yearly basis,” says Sani “During every agricultural season we are confronted with grasshoppers, and the seriousness of the situation varies from one season to another,” he says.

“This year, for instance, we have had many cases of grasshopper infestations, including in the Tilabéri, Zinder and Maradi regions,” Sani says.

Vulnerable countries 

Desperate times call for desperate measures — so countries which are most vulnerable to desert locust invasions have asked FAO (the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation) to coordinate prevention and response campaigns nationally, regionally and internationally. As a result, FAO has set up a special body in each region.

In Western and Northwestern Africa, which includes Niger, the body in question is the Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in Western Africa (CLCPRO), which was set up in 2000. Each of its ten member states (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Tunisia) has pledged to set up on its territory a national desert locust control unit.

In Niger, the unit was set up in 2007. It is called the National Locust Control Center (CNLA), with headquarters in Niamey and a main operational base in Agadez, a city chosen for its proximity to outbreak areas.

“During remission periods, such as now, when there is no invasion and when locusts are in gregarious areas, the CNLA is tasked with leading monitoring operations,” Moumouni told SciDev.Net.

He says monitoring involves carrying out insecticide treatments as soon as the number of locusts reaches a certain level in order to confine them to gregarious areas.

“During invasions, the CNLA is tasked with preparing action plans as well as coordinating and evaluating response operations together with the Directorate for Plant Protection (DGPV) because we have limited means and personnel,” Moumouni says.

The directorate, part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, is also in charge of other types of locusts and pests, including grasshoppers.

Both bodies have opted for prevention as a strategy, spurred on by FAO which stated in 2006 that “when you look at the cost of response operations for the CLCPRO, you realise that expenses incurred to overcome the 2003-2005 invasion could have funded 170 years’ worth of prevention.”

Prevention is also driven by the economic, social and environmental impact of operations carried out as a result of the 2003/2005 invasion. “Thirteen million litres of pesticides were needed to overcome it. It cost more than half a billion dollars and caused crop losses worth more than $2.5 billion,” according to the FAO document.

Locust information network

As a result, steps are being taken in Niger to prevent invasions, and they involve both growers themselves as well as officials.

“We have growers whom we call brigadiers,” says Djbo Bagna, a farmer and the chairman of the executive board of Niger’s Farmers Platform. “We have already trained them to use pesticides and to alert technical services when the situation gets out of hand.”

“We have a locust information network,” adds the CNLA’s Moumouni.  “For gregarious areas, we have trained nomads, the military and all community leaders so they can inform us as soon as they spot a locust.”

He says information is fed into the monitoring activities of the CNLA, which sends teams to these areas on a monthly basis to evaluate the situation before a decision can be made. The evaluation takes the weather into account, as it too affects the development and reproduction of locusts.

The presence of locusts does not necessarily mean that we will have to go and spray [pesticides],” he says. “There is an intervention threshold. As soon as there are 500 adult individuals or between 3,000 and 5,000 small larvae per hectare, an intervention is needed for numbers to come down.”

Agricultural aircraft

“The DGPV’s Sani says that “in the case of localised infestations over several hectares, growers themselves intervene quickly in their fields with portable sprayers to solve the problem.”

“When the situation reaches a certain threshold, it is a matter for decentralised services at local or regional level who have spraying machines fitted to vehicles and who can treat several hectares per day,” he explains. “Air operations are conducted when infestations reach several thousand hectares.”

Sani says Niger has an airbase with three agricultural aircraft to deal with large-scale infestations.

In addition to aircraft, biopesticide products have been designed to assist with the response. Green Muscle, for example, was developed by Chris Prior and David Greathead, two scientists with CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International).

Neither Green Muscle nor any chemical pesticide will remove the threat. But with adequate monitoring of locust and grasshopper numbers — especially when they have just been born and before they become adults — Green Muscle may be able to control the number of locusts and grasshoppers, preventing them from becoming a threat for crops and human lives,” says Belinda Luke, a CABI biopesticide scientist.

The biopesticide is now sold by BASF but Luke says CABI is available to those needing advice to make the best use of the pesticide.

Monitoring and response

However, like those leading locust control in Niger, she believes monitoring remains the most effective weapon against desert locusts. “We need eyes in fields to monitor the number of locusts in order to be able to treat them with Green Muscle as soon as necessary.”

Meanwhile, research continues and Niger has the advantage of being the home of the Agrhymet Regional Centre, which was set up by the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) to “inform and provide training on food security, the fight against desertification and water management in the Sahel and Western Africa”.

Among other facilities, the Agrhymet Centre has an insectarium where locusts are raised for the purposes of scientific work. The institution was set up to serve the 13 member countries of the CILSS, but “offers Niger a benefit given that everything it develops as a decision support tool or any information it provides is first implemented in the nearest countries, i.e. in Niger,” says entomologist Maiga.

“It goes without saying that our cooperation with Niger’s national technical services in charge of the locust threat is much closer owing to this proximity,” he says.

Yet despite this mechanism, it does happen quite often that there is no immediate response when the alarm is raised. That is precisely what occurred in Bani Kosseye during the latest agricultural season. Locals are still reeling from the fact that technical services failed to intervene as soon as they raised the alarm.

Both the DGPV and the CNLA cite reasons to do with the unavailability of financial means, the procedure for making a military escort available for teams, and a shortage of staff in charge of monitoring and intervention in several places at the same time. These difficulties have given rise to the idea of using drones in the near future, in a bid to increase the efficiency of prevention and intervention operations.

Meanwhile, villagers are making do. “We have a traditional method whereby we light small fires around fields because locusts fly away when there is smoke,” says Arouna, from Bani Kosseye.

Unfortunately, this method was inadequate to protect crops during the 2016 agricultural season.

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article→

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FAO-logo

UN food agency leaders hail U.S. law aimed at boosting global food security, resilience, nutrition

FAO and WFP say law will greatly enhance worldwide efforts to combat hunger and rural poverty

©FAO/Munir Uz Zaman

A rice paddy in Bangladesh. Building the resilience of food systems today can help ensure global food security tomorrow.

Joint FAO-WFP news release

25 July 2016, Rome – Leaders of two United Nations agencies fighting hunger worldwide have applauded new legislation in the United States aimed at strengthening global food assistance programs in the years ahead.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) praised U.S. President Barack Obama for his 20 July signing of the  with remarkably broad support.

“The United States is helping to put and even stronger emphasis on how food security and economic development are intertwined, while stressing the central role of small-scale family farmers in the fight against hunger and poverty,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“This law will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people throughout world, showing once again why the United States is a leader in promoting food security and helping those who struggle to feed their families so they can start to build their own future,” says WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

Strongly promoted by President Obama, the GFSA supports initiatives that focus on developing agriculture, assisting small-scale food producers and improving nutrition, especially for women and children worldwide. It also seeks improve the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene to poor communities and build their resilience to withstand shocks, such as those stemming from conflict, droughts and floods.

Among other things, the GFSA writes into law the Feed the Future programme, the U.S. government’s global hunger initiative, ensuring it will continue after the Obama presidency ends in January. Feed the Future helps countries struggling to provide their citizens with adequate access to food. It emphasizes the needs of smallholder farmers, particularly women, and has supported WFP’s work in Uganda and other places.

The GFSA also authorizes for the first time USAID’s International Disaster Assistance (IDA) and Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP). This means future White House administrations and future Congresses could more easily make cash assistance available to people experiencing hunger unexpectedly, due to causes such as natural disasters or war.

And the law aims to improve coordination among various U.S. agencies providing overseas aid, to ensure the wisest possible spending practices. The U.S. is the largest bilateral donor to both FAO and WFP.

The bill was passed with bipartisan support, meaning by members of both the Democratic and Republican parties, during a time of great division in U.S. politics. It was sponsored by U.S. Representatives Chris Smith and Betty McCollum and by U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson and Bob Casey.

About FAO
FAO leads international efforts to defeat hunger. It helps countries to modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. FAO focuses special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70 percent of the world’s poor and hungry people. For more information visit: http://www.fao.org or follow FAO on Twitter @FAOnews @FAOknowledge

About WFP
WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.

 

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Manila Times logo

Fungal disease reduces onion produce

July 27, 2016 9:53 pm

AGGRAVATED by climate change, fungal disease infection resulted in yield losses in the onion supply in Badoc town in Ilocos Norte. An assessment by the municipal agriculture office revealed that the areas planted to the red onion variety have decreased by almost 50 percent because of the sudden occurrence of the plant’s disease during this year’s planting season. Cornelio Dinong, Badoc municipal agricultural technologist, said the dominant fungal diseases that hit the growing onions are the “anthracnose” and the purple blotch, which usually develop during drizzles and the rainy season, and are further aggravated by climate change. To eliminate the fungal disease causing microorganisms, intensified information campaign was staged urging local farmers to practice soil sterilization and crop rotation at the onset of planting season. Farmers, meanwhile, have chosen to grow hybrid corn, mungbean and high value vegetables in their field in lieu of onion.

 

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Nepal terraces

Nepal international conference on biodiversity, climate, and livelihood

Protecting unique assemblages of biodiversity together with meeting the needs of people under the scenario of climate change poses a great challenge. The impacts of climate change, along with habitat loss, invasive species, and other ecological threats, are most severe for the global poor, and South Asia is a highly affected region. In this backdrop, an International Conference on Biodiversity, Climate Change Assessment and Impacts on Livelihood (ICBCL) has been programmed in Kathmandu for January 10-12, 2017 by Nepal and US universities with USAID IPM Innovation Lab support.

The conference will focus on approaches from the natural and social sciences to support sustainable economic development particularly in developing countries, which face climate hazards, biological invasion and agricultural pests, biodiversity loss, nutrient and water stress, and social and gender inequities. We will bring together eminent scientists, policy makers and development workers for integrating science, technology, policy and action. Emphasis will be on innovative applications of scientific and technological research to promote rural livelihood and broad based improvements in nutrition, health, and quality of life. This conference will also include opportunity for developing knowledge sharing hubs, regional working groups, and pilot projects for regional climate change adaptations and village based ecological enterprises.

The abstract submission deadline is 15 September, while the early registration deadline is 30 November. Please see icbcl17.org for more details, or contact the conference organizers at icbcl17@gmail.com

For more information contact:

Prof. Mohan Siwakoti

Tribhuvan University

Kathmandu, Nepal

Email: icbcl17@gmail.com

Phone: 00-977-1-4331322

Website: http://icbcl17.org

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Cosmos

Plants could boost photosynthesis with the introduction of just one gene. Belinda Smith reports.


Synechococcus cyanobacteria – a photosynthesising bacteria – contains a gene that allows it to make molecules that absorb light outside visible wavelengths.
Eye of Science / Getty Images

Crops able to absorb more of the sun’s light and produce higher yields are a step closer.

Biochemists at Pennsylvania State University in the US found the gene that converts chlorophyll – the most common light-absorbing pigment used by plants to photosynthesise – to a form that absorbs wavelengths in the far red range of the light spectrum.

The discovery, which could let scientists engineer crops to better harness the sun’s energy, was published in Science.

“There is nearly as much energy in the far-red and near-infrared light that reaches the Earth from the sun as there is in visible light,” says Donald Bryant, senior author of the paper.

“Therefore, the ability to extend light harvesting in plants into this range would allow the plants to more efficiently use the energy from the sun and could increase plant productivity.”

Algae, plants and some bacteria reap energy using photosynthesis. The process if dependent on visible light – wavelengths of 400 to 700 nanometres – being absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Light plus carbon dioxide is converted to sugar and oxygen through a series of reactions.

Some cyanobacteria (commonly known as blue-green algae, even though they’re bacteria) have extended their spectrum reach. They’re able to absorb light just outside the visible spectrum, around 700 to 800 nanometres, with chlorophyll f, which was discovered by Australian scientists in 2010. But how chlorophyll f was made was a mystery.

So Ming-Yang Ho and colleagues examined the genome of two cyanobacteria that naturally made chlorophyll f – and were capable of photosynthesising in far-red light – and another which could not.

They identified the enzyme responsible for making chlorophyll f, which they named chlorophyll f synthase, and the gene encoding it.

When the researchers disabled the gene that encodes for chlorophyll f synthase in the far-red-photosynthesising cyanobacteria, the bacteria were completely devoid of that form of the pigment.

And when they added chlorophyll f synthase to the cyanobacterium dependent on visible light, they found it produced chlorophyll f – albeit a small amount, and only when grown in light. This suggests chlorophyll f is connected in some way to chlorophyll a, which is the molecule plants use to absorb in the visible part of the spectrum.

But, as chlorophyll f seems to be controlled by a single gene, the researchers write it may be feasible to introduce it into plants to extend their photosynthesis wavelength range.

Belinda smith 2016 2.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.0
Belinda Smith is online editor at Cosmos.

 

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Food security is an issue of major concern with climate change, as water supplies become scarce and the world’s population continues to grow.

Combined, these factors are expected to stress the world’s agricultural capacity. But one solution may be right underfoot, so to speak. Insects are easy to digest and grow. They may even provide global food security in the future. But while human beings have eaten them for thousands of years—and two billion people still include bugs in their daily diet—for many, there’s a “yuck” factor to contend with. UCLA professor Andy Rice explored the delights of entomophagy (bug eating) with L.A. Laker Metta World Peace and students in his “Food: A Lens on Environment and Sustainability” class. Many first-timers were dubious about partaking in fresh roasted crickets, with reactions varying from the purely squeamish “like salty regret in my mouth” to “it’s like eating shrimp.” For his part, Metta described his first roasted cricket as “not bad, tastes like an end piece of bacon, crispy… and a little bit scary.”Despite such mixed reactions, Rice believes bugs will be a great source of protein in a world affected by climate change. Many experts believe that global warming and human development will reduce agricultural lands. Insects could be a smart alternative to resource-intensive foods such as beef. They are hardy and thrive in warmer temperatures, which are expected to be stressors for traditional livestock. The infrastructure for insects is also simpler and requires less space, making it easy for families to raise certain species at home. Watch and learn…

 


The video was made by Dr. D. Andy Rice, ASPIRE Fellow in Socially Engaged Media in Undergraduate Education Initiatives and co-instructor for the freshman cluster “Food: A Lens on Environment and Sustainability,” in collaboration with the freshmen enrolled in the 2015-16 class. The Healthy Campus Initiative also provided funding and support for the project.

 

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igw_ 2 home_grosse_kachel_video_HomeBigScreen-de

(http://www.gffa-berlin.de/en/fachpodium-3/

 

Expert Panel Discussion 3

Contact:   <falko.feldmann@jki.bund.de> for more details.

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