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Locust Invasion Threatens Caribbean Crops

October 21, 1988 GMT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Swarms of pink locusts, possibly blown thousands of miles from Africa by tropical storms, have invaded at least 12 Caribbean nations, and officials say they endanger sugar and corn crops.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has sent experts to the islands to help in eradication, Frederick Zenny, the FAO regional head in Barbados, said Thursday.

Locusts, rarely seen in the Caribbean, are migratory grasshoppers that often travel in vast swarms and strip areas they pass of all vegetation. Because locusts feed on grass, the two major grass crops in the region - sugarcane and corn - are most in danger.

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Zenny said the locusts could be part of a swarm the FAO has been tracking since early October. Officials say the insects pose no danger to people.

″We had been tracking a swarm earlier this month that had blown off course from Africa towards the Cape Verde islands and we have tracked this swarm to about 1,500 miles away from French Guiana in South America,″ he said.

Since Tropical Storm Joan, now a hurricane, swept through the eastern Caribbean last week, the locusts have been sighted in Barbados, St. Vincent, Antigua, St. Lucia, Dominica, Trinidad, Grenada, Guyana, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Agricultural experts in Guyana, Grenada and Barbados said they suspected the locusts were blown in from Africa by Joan and other tropical storms this season.

However, Dominica’s Agriculture Ministry issued a report saying, ″This may not be an African species of locusts, but South or Central American.″

Dr. David Nellis of the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources said the locusts probably came from northern South America.

″The locust is 3 inches long, has speckled wing covers and salmon pink legs,″ Nellis said.

Chris Seiler, a Virgin Islands resident, said the locusts are the same as those that helped destroy agriculture in his native Ethiopia. He said the only means of prevention is to chemically spray where the locusts are expected to hit next.

In Guyana, on South America’s northern coast, the government asked farmers to report any locust sightings to the police or Agriculture Ministry, saying the insects - never seen before in Guyana - could wipe out crops.

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″We are asking anyone who notices the creatures ... to notify authorities immediately,″ said an Agriculture Ministry statement read over government radio. ″They are dangerous to agriculture.″

″If what we fear is true, there is a serious threat to the agricultural industry,″ said a ministry spokesman.

The Dominica government’s chief agricultural adviser, Colin Bully, said no reports of crop damage have surfaced so far.

The ministry said three field survey teams are covering Dominica to assess the density of locusts and will issue a report on possible crop damage.

Barbados mounted an islandwide survey and planned a massive spraying campaign for Saturday and Sunday.

Agricultural officials in have set up three hot lines for farmers and residents to report sightings.