Locusts threaten Guinea-Bissau's cashew nuts

Guinea-Bissau has been hit by an unseasonal invasion of desert locusts that threatens to damage the small West African country’s cashew-nut trees that are currently in flower.

Exports of cashew nuts are the main source of foreign exchange for this former Portuguese colony and about two-thirds of its peasant farmers depend on the crop for a meagre cash income.

Locusts invaded several countries of West Africa between June and November last year, causing localised heavy damage to crops and grazing. Since then, most of the insects have migrated back across the Sahara desert to their winter feeding and breeding grounds in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and northern Mauritania.

However, Agriculture Minister Joao de Carvalho said remnant swarms have been crossing into eastern Guinea-Bissau from neighbouring Senegal since December 19 in large numbers that pose a threat to local agriculture.

“If we cannot stop this invasion from spreading to other regions by the end of this week, the consequences will be catastrophic for the national economy since right now we are in the flowering season of the cashew-nut trees, which provide the country’s main export,” he said.

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior told Radio Bombolom, a popular private radio station in the capital, Bissau, that the Cabinet will hold a special meeting later this week, after which the government will issue an international appeal for aid.

This is likely to include an appeal for crop-spraying aircraft, since Guinea-Bissau has none of its own, he said.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has given Guinea-Bissau $400 000 to help fight the locust invasion. Spray teams have already been sent to the affected areas around the eastern towns of Bafata and Gabu.

Government officials said it is the worst locust invasion suffered by Guinea-Bissau in living memory.
The agriculture minister was to tour the affected area with an FAO official on Thursday to assess the situation.—Irin

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