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The Desert Locust Commission was established under the name Desert Locust Commission in the Near East as Article XIV body within the framework of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The Establishment Agreement was approved in the 44th Session of the FAO Council in July 1965 (Resolution 6/44) as recommended by the 11th Session of the FAO Conference in 1961(Resolution 9/61), and the Special Conference held in Beirut (1965).The Agreement came into force on 21 February 1967 and was amended by the Commission’s 7th Session (1976). The 20th Session (Cairo, 18-20 December, 1994) changed the name of the Commission into Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region (CRC). It also recommended reviewing the definition of the Region covered by the Agreement to allow Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia to become members. The FAO Council approved the proposal at its 108th Session (Rome, 5-14 June, 1995).

Member Countries and Contributions

Delegates from CRC-member states meeting in Jeddah, KSA (Photo: FAO)By 2006, the Commission comprised the currently 16 member states: Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. So far it was not possible for Somalia to become the 17th member, but locust monitoring and capacity building are being nevertheless supported.Each member of the Commission contributes annually its share of the budget in accordance with a scale of contributions that has been calculated on the basis of various economic and risk criteria.The Commission’s Trust Fund covers the salaries and official missions of the CRC staff (one Administrative Assistant and one Driver) as well as most activities within the Commission’s work. FAO's Regular Programme contributes to the Commission by covering the salary and operational expenses of the Secretariat. As part of FAO’s Special Programme, the Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases, the Commission benefited significantly from multi-donor support over a ten years period form 1996 to 2006.

The Secretariat and Seat

The Secretariat of the of the Commission was originally seated in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but transferred in 1992 to FAO Headquarters in Rome. In 1993, the Regional Plant Protection Officer at the FAO Regional Office for the Near East (RNE) inCairo, Egypt, was entrusted the task of managingalso the Secretariat of CRC. In 1998, the member states advised FAO in the 22nd Session to re-establishapermanent post of theSecretary CRC. As a result, FAO appointed a new Secretary in 2001 with seat in Cairo. The Sessions of the Commission are normally held at its seat. However, they can be convened elsewhere in consultation with the FAO Director-General, followingthe decision of the Commission at a previous Session.

The Role of the Commission

CRC-EMPRES crisis management team planning the upcoming campaign (Photo: FAO)As per the establishment agreement, the Commission’s role is to strengthen the cooperation and coordination between member states. It supports the strategy of prevention to detect early signs of gregarious locust populations, and rapid intervention to eliminate dangerous locust infestations before they can cause damage to crops. In this regard, its focus is on human and institutional capacity building and preservation, specifically in the front line countries, and the introduction of up-to-date locust monitoring and control technologies. The Commission also supports joint activities at regional and inter-regional levels to foster cooperation and exchange of field experience among national locust officers. As part of its normative work, the Commission ensures regular locust reporting and the production of reference material and guidelines. At the heart of the Commission’s efforts lies the promotion of environmentally safer locust management tactics to minimise the risks of control operations on human health and non-target organisms. It also stimulates the introduction preparedness and contingency planning approaches. In this regard, the Commission recommended in its 27th Session in Beirut, Lebanon (2010) to increase the Emergency Fund from US$ 100,000 to US$ 300,000 to be in a better position to rapidly scale up the capacities of affected countries in the event of locust emergencies. In brief, the Commission’s mission is to contribute to food security, the fight against hunger and poverty in the Near East Region and beyond.

The Role and Benefits of the EMPRES Programme in the Central Region

Adult Desert Locusts on millet (Photo: FAO)The idea of Emergency Prevention Systems (EMPRES) originates from the need to focus more clearly on risks of transboundary nature, which are posing threats to the health of crops and animals, food security or concerns of general public health hazards. Failure to stop the 1977-1979 Desert Locust upsurge in its early stages and the large scale control operations during the plague years from 1986 to 1989 caused considerable concerns in relation to their economic costs, the environmental impact of the chemical pesticides used, and the capacity of existing organizations to deal with the problem in an efficient and effective manner. In response to this concern the FAO Governing Bodies decided in mid 1994 to establish EMPRES with particular emphasis on the Desert Locust with the goal of enhancing food security.

Desert Locust swarm (Photo: FAO)The original purpose of the EMPRES Desert Locust component was to strengthen the preventive Desert Locust management capacity of locust-affected countries with the aim of minimizing the risk that Desert Locust plagues will develop in order to mitigate food security, economic, and environmental concerns. It was designed as a programme in which affected countries, regional organizations, donors, and FAO join forces and to collaborate in the development of improved preventive control strategies. The EMPRES Desert Locust programme was first launched in the Central Region, covering the nine countries Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, since it was believed that most Desert Locust plagues in the past originated from the areas around the Red Sea.

The programme began its pilot activities in 1996. Phase I as a fully donor-assisted programme started in 1997 and ended in 2000. In Phase II, starting in January 2001, countries introduced the various components of preventive Desert Locust management into their own national programmes, while the objective of Phase III, extending from 2004 to 2006, was to transfer the programme’s responsibility to CRC and the participating countries to ensure sustainability of the preventive control system. The programme has been financially supported by FAO Regular Programme funds together with trust fund projects financed by the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the United States of America, CRC, and the Desert Locust Control Committee (DLCC). The total cost of the programme up to 2006 amounted to US$ 11.5 million.

Five components contributed to the main achievements of the programme:
  • Promoting enhanced regional interaction and cooperation between the affected countries;
  • Development of improved early detection and early warning systems;
  • Supporting introduction of economic and environmentally safer control technologies, including demand driven research;
  • Intensive support to human capacity building and regular staff training;
  • Development of contingency planning tools and rapid deployment plans.

DLCO-EA aircraft doing locust control in Ethiopia (Photo: FAO)The operational advantages of EMPRES’s preventive management approach became obvious during the Desert Locust upsurge from 2003 to 2005 when at least three major outbreaks and incoming swarms from Northwest Africa were rapidly contained. The cost of the campaigns was limited to USD 7 million. Steady improvements through investment in early warning systems, human capacity development and in rapid intervention capacities proved particularly beneficial to prevent an emergency in the Central Region. By contrast and in the absence of prevention systems, the total cost of the campaign in Northwest Africa and rehabilitation was estimated at over USD 400 million including food aid, multilateral bilateral and national contributions. More than 13 million hectares were sprayed with chemical pesticides in order to bring an end to the upsurge and the livelihoods of 8 million people were affected.

As a result of EMPRES, affected countries made substantial advances in establishing and reinforcingtheir national preventive management capacities and are playing a fundamental role in FAO’s global Desert Locust early warning system. The involvementand contribution of the participating countries in providing regular and high quality information from the field, as a pre-requisite for preparedness and the ultimate success of all following actions,is highly acknowledged.

Future Orientation and Challenges

CRC-EMPRES trainees from Eritrea (Photo: FAO)However, preventive control remains a challenge because of the opportunistic and erratic nature of the Desert Locust. In addition, the need to intensify crop production systems and expand land-use into marginal areas in order to meet the increasing demand for food of a growing world population, as well as new ecological niches or habitat changes, and changes in temporal and spatial rainfall patterns due to climate change will increase the risk for more frequent locust outbreaks. As a result, the locust-affected countries will become more vulnerable. Likewise,reduced public attention to maintain the preventive control capacities during calm (recession) periods and the lack of funding to further develop and maintain the achievements, and to enable rapid mobilization of appropriate control resources remains an issue of high concern. The degree of preparedness has proved elusive in the past.

As each upsurge develops, national locust control units often require internationally funded replacement and replenishment of equipment. Continued efforts are required by all stakeholders in periods of reduced locust activities to provide all-important support to preventive Desert Locust management in order to be well prepared for the future upsurges. CRC member states, regional organizations and international development partners are therefor urged to sustain the achievements.
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