Treatment to Fight Locusts

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Agricultural researchers in Nigeria have developed a new biological weapon against crop-destroying insects. They say it is safer and more effective than existing chemical pesticides.

For years, desert locusts and grasshoppers have been a problem for farmers in Africa and the Middle East. Large numbers of the insects attack food crops and other plants every few years. In Africa, the last major invasion was in the late Nineteen-Eighties. Controlling that invasion cost more than three-hundred million dollars. Experts say Africa should be prepared for another attack by the insects.

Currently, farmers use chemical pesticides to kill locusts and grasshoppers. But this method could harm the environment. It also is costly.

Now, scientists at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria believe they have a better answer. It is a green liquid that contains spores of a powerful locust-killing fungus found in Africa. A spore is an extremely small structure that can grow into an organism.

The scientists say the fungus is harmless to other insects, plants, animals and humans. Its scientific name is Metarhizium anisopliae. The scientists have another name for the new treatment, "Green Muscle."

Jurgen Langewald directed development of Green Muscle at the Ibadan laboratory. He says the fungal treatment is not dangerous to the environment or to human health. He says the fungus can survive for three or four weeks and remain effective against locusts and grasshoppers. Green Muscle requires six to ten days to kill the insects. It needs to be sprayed only once each season.

Mr. Langewald says a single treatment of Green Muscle on one hectare of land costs about ten dollars. He says four years of successful tests have cleared the way for businesses to start producing the treatment.

Mr. Langewald says Green Muscle might not end invasions by locusts and grasshoppers in Africa. However, he says careful use of the treatment could reduce the problem.

Interest in Green Muscle is not limited to Africa. Scientists in Australia are testing a local form of the insect-killing fungus. Other versions of the organism are being developed for southern Europe, Russia and Kazakhstan.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Voice of America Special English