During 2003 and 2004 several African countries were affected by swarms of desert locust in what was the worst locust crisis in the region since 1987-89. Early warning systems developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) were in place and alerted the international donor community of the danger of a desert locust invasion from the onset of the outbreak. International response to the crisis was, however, slow, and control operations were late to be implemented. Consequently, desert locust populations increased rapidly and swarms invaded eleven countries in West Africa, severely disrupting agricultural production in areas already sensitive to food security. We review the circumstances that led to this situation, and we assess the feasibility of using seasonal rainfall predictions to forecast desert locust risk sooner in order to provide a longer lead-time to affected countries and the donor community. Such an approach would enable the necessary control operations to be financed and undertaken in time.
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