Spraying to control the caterpillars in Liberia

Spraying to control the caterpillars in Liberia

We are only into the second month of 2009, and already Liberia has been struck with two plagues of caterpillars. Now those caterpillars from that first wave have crossed over into Ivory Coast threatening the cocoa crop. They have also crossed over into Guinea. The first wave of caterpillars were identified as Achaea catocaloides. The caterpillars devour everything, cocoa, cash crops, food crops. Sikoun Wague, spokesman for Guinea’s Agriculture Ministry, told Reuters:

“The equipment we have means we can only spray up to a height of 6 metres (yards), whereas some trees are 30 metres high. We absolutely must have air support,”

“These insects suck the sap from trees and leave tonnes of waste in channels and water courses, which are then unusable for two weeks,” he said.

The threat to the water supply is particularly serious. The threat to food security, and the danger of hunger is large and rising.

GBOLUMUE, Liberia, Feb 11 – Martha Kermel holds out rail-thin arms covered with a latticework of scratches from her encounter with a plague of caterpillars that has devastated crops and spread fear through this corner of West Africa.

“They scratched my arms when they moved,” said Kermel, a mother of four, telling how the small creatures poured down onto her from the tree branches overhead as she set out from her village to a rice farm cultivated by her community in Liberia.

That was two weeks ago. Now the millions of caterpillars which covered the road and nearby bushes have retreated into cocoons, or hatched already into moths ready to spawn a new generation of grubs here or further afield.

She and her family, subsistence farmers like most people in the area, live 16 km south of the border with Guinea and 45 minutes by foot from the nearest passable road.

When the bugs attacked, Kermel had nowhere to go, and worried about feeding her children.

She said the ‘kotin’, as locals call the pests, fouled the creek near her home with their faeces, turning the water black.

Every day since then, she and her children have had to walk several miles to the main road to gather water at a borehole.

The Liberian government has said the caterpillars are threatening the food security of 350 000 people, and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf declared a national state of emergency.

The species can travel up to 100 km per day. Ivory Coast is already sounding alarms.

Ivory Coast is:

… the world’s top cocoa grower and an important producer of coffee, rubber, palm oil and other cash crops.

The creatures were first thought to be army worms, a moth caterpillar, but they were identified this week as the young of another kind of moth, the Achaea catocaloides, which are also known to damage cocoa and other tree crops.

For the time being, the moths are headed north, and experts in Ivory Coast said this week they should avoid Ivory Coast’s valuable cocoa belt, which produces about 40 per cent of world supply.

But they remain a risk to Ivory Coast’s central borderlands, which produce around 100 000 tonnes of cocoa and 70 000 tonnes of robusta coffee a year.

“I think this is a seasonal threat. From our experience in Benin, the moth will disappear by early or mid-March,” Georg Goergen, an entomologist at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), told Reuters.

While the caterpillars feed on trees, adults belong to a group known as fruit-sucking moths for their penchant for piercing ripening fruit and sucking out the juice, often causing the fruit to rot and drop prematurely.

Spray teams, each member with a plastic tank of insecticide strapped to their back, have started work. But Jobson Momo, an agricultural programme officer in the town of Carey, said his team did not have enough pesticide, protective gear or vehicles.

The entire first wave of Liberia’s caterpillars has now turned into moths. Scientists at the Ministry of Agriculture fear they are are now reproducing and could cause secondary and tertiary waves of infestations that, if uncontained, may destabilise an already volatile region.

This plague has been described as the worst in at least 30 years. And now Liberia has been struck by a second wave of caterpillars. The new ones are a different species, but appear to have the same appetites.

Monrovia, Feb. 18: “On Friday… we got information that there was an invasion of caterpillars in the Margibi County area. We know that is not the same species that was found in Bong, Gbarpolu, Nimba and part of Lofa,” Agriculture minister Christopher Toe told a press conference late on Tuesday.

“Our task force, our crop protection people, are now on the ground addressing this particular issue,” Toe said

It will take some time to identify the new species.

Toe said the areas first affected in Liberia by the caterpillars are still suffering from the after-effects.

“The problem that we face has implication beyond agriculture,” Toe warned. “Damage for example to food crops now could lead to food insecurity in the future as well as to loss of revenue and income.”

He added that the community was also facing health issues as water sources were being polluted by the caterpillars’ droppings and by dead caterpillars.

The local population has been warned not to drink affected water.

The invasion is likely to spread:

to neighboring Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast unless it is quickly contained, said entomologist Winfred Hammond, who is also the agency’s representative in Liberia.

Hammond blamed the outbreak on last year’s unusually long rain season in the country.

FAO also said that the caterpillars … are clogging wells and waterways with excrement. In some communities, villagers can’t reach their farms as they are surrounded by the pests.

Experts are trying to identify the exact species to choose the best pesticide to combat them, the agency said. However, aerial spraying risks further contaminating the water and hand spraying has proved ineffective, as the pests dwell on the leaves of giant forest trees that can rise more than 26 feet (8 meters).

The last African armyworm outbreak in the area occurred in Ghana in 2006, the agency said.

The countries in the region are responding:

MONROVIA (AFP) — Four West African nations have joined forces to do battle against a species of caterpillars laying waste to crops in the region, a statement said Saturday.

The agriculture ministers from Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have created a team to look into the threats posed by what are believed to be Achaea Catocaloides caterpillars.

Crops in central Liberia and southern Guinea have already been ravaged by the caterpillars, and other countries in the region fear the damage will spread further.

“The five-man technical committee will begin work immediately,” the ministers from the four countries forming the Mano River Union said in a statement after meeting in Monrovia on Friday.

“They will design plans of action that will be implemented by all member countries.”

An expert from Brazil already working with Liberia will assist the new committee.

This story gets me worrying about our farms, and the safety and comfort of people around us. So far the threat is not near, but it can travel fast.
h/t African Agriculture for links

DAKAR, Senegal - Representatives from Senegal participate in the three-day Africa Endeavor 2009 Initial Planning Conference, January 13, 2009 in Dakar, Senegal. Africa Endeavor, the largest multinational communication interoperability exercise on the African continent, will be hosted in Gabon in July, 2009. The exercise is designed to encourage information-sharing among African nations that will support the development of overall African Union humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peace-support missions. (U.S. Africa Command Photo by Justin G. Wagg)

DAKAR, Senegal - Representatives from Senegal participate in the three-day Africa Endeavor 2009 Initial Planning Conference, January 13, 2009 in Dakar, Senegal. Africa Endeavor, the largest multinational communication interoperability exercise on the African continent, will be hosted in Gabon in July, 2009. The exercise is designed to encourage information-sharing among African nations that will support the development of overall African Union humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peace-support missions. (U.S. Africa Command Photo by Justin G. Wagg)

This exercise supports a lot of U.S. goals“, U.S. Air Force Major Eric Hilliard, of the Africa Command (Africom)

DAKAR, Jan 13 (Reuters) … Communications experts from around 25 African armies and the U.S. Africa Command (Africom) are meeting in Senegal this week to plan a continental exercise in Gabon in July, the third of its kind and intended to pave the way for a common communications platform.

“The aim is to devise a transmission architecture for control, command and coordination, as well as an information system, for an eventual African Union peacekeeping force,” Captain Mouhamadou Sylla, of the Senegalese army, told Reuters.

This exercise also helps cement the US Africa Command in place as an imperial colonial power organizing and directing proxy armies, controlling the tools, techniques, perhaps the language of their communication. It would be nice if the US would invest in standardizing communications between first responders in the US, or in enableing their communication devices to communicate across the board with each other.

From Congressional testimony by the Africa Faith and Justice Network, in July 2008:

The ‘train and equip’ idea is not new. In fact, it has a very bad history in Africa – a history that harkens back to the proxy wars of the Cold War and U.S. support for illegitimate or corrupt regimes.

In the 1980’s, the U.S. spent $500 million to train and equip Samuel Doe in Liberia. According to a report from the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, “every armed group that plundered Liberia over the past 25 years had its core in these U.S.-trained Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldiers. There is thus a fear that when the United States withdraws support for its security sector reform program and funding for the AFL, Liberia will be sitting on a time bomb; a well-trained and armed force of elite soldiers who are used to good pay and conditions of service, which may be impossible for the government of Liberia to sustain on its own.”

AFRICOM’s value as a structure for legitimizing African armies should therefore be called into serious question. The long-term ramifications of irresponsible training and equipping should be taken into consideration before the U.S. military is awarded more power in Africa. PMC’s should be debated and scrutinized by the African people and parliamentary bodies in every country should be encouraged to enact legislation against their operations. Propping up and arming corrupt leaders is no path to stability in Africa. The U.S. must act as a credible force for peace, not an overzealous superpower that employs private contractors to conduct military operations in Africa.

Many question the idea of training and coordinating African militaries at all. Many African military forces are primarily used against their own people in order to keep the current regime in power.

South African poet and activist Breyten Breytenbach spoke of US interest in Africa:

… it would seem that the two major sources of interest when it comes to the African continent for the United States is security, the way they interpret it, in other words, how to counteract the possibility of Islamist influence in Africa.

And the second one, of course, is the access to natural resources, particularly to oil. Same effect. In other words, you’re not concerned about developing society. You’re not concerned about democracy. You’re not concerned about women’s rights. You’re not really particularly concerned about the health problems either, although some work has been done in that field. So, AFRICOM, I think, should be seen within that context.

He also spoke in the larger context on government in African countries:

If I may step back for a minute, there’s a big picture that’s emerging in Africa. Africa is rapidly moving to the point where we’re going to have to reconsider the viability of the nation-state concept, when it comes to the African continent, because governments are falling apart. These are plundering elites, as in the case of Zimbabwe, and as is the case with Senegal, for that matter, who use the notion of sovereignty, of national sovereignty and of national independence to be able to plunder and pillage their own people. African armies don’t fight one another; they fight the civilian population.

But you have—parallel to that, you have developing a network, a continental network of civil society organizations, women’s organizations, children’s organizations, the youth, cultural organizations, human rights organizations. Those really, to a large extent, now produce very essential services. One should invest in these organizations. That’s the way it should happen. But, of course, it’s a complicated thing, because you are then denying this club, this very well fed, comfortable club, international club of rulers recognizing one another.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi writes more on these civil society groups that are actually doing the work of governing in much of Africa:

But there’s another side of Africa, the one that pushes back. This side is comprised of political and social organisations and activists, school teacher organisations, journalists, and health professionals, as well as women, worker, and youth organisations that patiently chip away at Africa’s problems usually with no funding, media coverage, or national and international recognition to speak of.

These Africans work against great odds to prevent famine, war, human rights abuse, the spread of AIDS, and a host of other urgent issues. When tragedy strikes, they work hard to ameliorate the effect. But even when they aren’t facing political persecution, they are under-funded and without the protection that comes with media coverage. They are the unseen, under-supported and unrecognised pillars of African societies.

… the question is why it is much easier for us to listen to philanthropists talk about what is wrong with Africa rather than the serious and dedicated political activists on the ground. Why are we not helping those who are helping themselves?

We love glossy packages that promise big bangs and super solutions. Take the Bill Gates Initiative, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa that promises super seeds for super plants to end famine in Africa. A simpler and more long-lasting solution lies in organic African farming, growing more food crops over cash crops, the diversification of African agriculture, and the depoliticisation of food and other basic human necessities.

The point is that every little bit of support counts and it can come in many forms – moral solidarity, awareness-raising, or financial support. But this help should not be afraid of the Africa that pushes back, or come at the expense of long-term solutions. One helping hand should not kill dreams with the other.

It looks like Breyten Breytenbach is correct when he says to the US:

“… you’re not concerned about developing society. You’re not concerned about democracy. You’re not concerned about women’s rights. You’re not really particularly concerned about the health problems either, although some work has been done in that field. So, AFRICOM, I think, should be seen within that context.”

France 24, France’s 24 hour news channel in English featured a segment on Training Liberia’s Future Army. It featured a number of scenes from the training. They said two private companies are conducting the training, but only named one, DynCorp. The narrator said: The US military does not allow instructors from the private companies to speak to the press. Lt. Col. Wyatt, pictured above, spoke for the training. He said, and this is pretty close to verbatim: that information, that training, is available to the public. On request the training can be viewed by the public. The whole process is transparent. We answer – We entertain any requests.

The report also said: this program will soon become part of the US security structure for Africa called AFRICOM.

It certainly sounds as though that “transparency” is carefully filtered. Wyatt corrected himself from saying we answer to we entertain. To say we entertain is to say we allow you to ask questions. There is no promise of an answer.

USS FORT MCHENRY, at sea — Marines from 4th Landing Support Battalion and Sailors from Amphibious Construction Battalion 2, position a seven-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle as it is moved from the USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo, a maritime prepositioning ship, onto the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) March 21. The Marines are transferring the equipment in order to evaluate the INLS at sea and to conduct a humanitarian assistance mission in Monrovia, Liberia as part of West African Training Cruise 2008. The WATC 08 exercise began March 17 and runs through April 5 in concert with the ongoing African Partnership Station deployment with a focus on the delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies to various clinics and schools here from a sea-based command. (Department of Defense photo by Marine Sgt. Rocco DeFilippis)

US Marines engaged in an exercise off the coast of Liberia to test sea basing capabilities. An AFRICOM base has not been welcomed in any African country except Liberia. The Pentagon has been planning for some time to create sea bases where they may not be welcome on the land. Implementation of sea basing has now begun. And where better to practice than offshore of a country where they are welcome, and by bringing much needed medical and school supplies.

Back in July 2007 Nick Turse wrote in Planet Pentagon:

The Pentagon is now considering — and planning for — future “sea-basing.” No longer just a ship, a fleet, or “prepositioned material” stationed on the world’s oceans, sea-bases will be “a hybrid system-of-systems consisting of concepts of operations, ships, forces, offensive and defensive weapons, aircraft, communications and logistics.” The notion of such bases is increasingly popular within the military due to the fact that they “will help to assure access to areas where U.S. military forces may be denied access to support [land] facilities.” After all, as a report by the Defense Science Board pointed out, “[S]eabases are sovereign [and] not subject to alliance vagaries.” Imagine a future where the people of countries at odds with U.S. policies suddenly find America’s “massive seaborne platforms” floating just outside their territorial waters.

That is now coming to pass:

With the help of the Navy’s Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One, 19 Marines of 4th LSB employed new concepts and equipment during the exercise designed to evaluate the progress of the seabasing model.

“This sea-basing portion is designed to take future operational concepts and execute them using today’s platforms,” said Michael Harvey, prepositioning officer, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe. “We are taking equipment that was originally designed for ship-to-shore movement and we are using it as a ship-to-ship connecter.”

Assisted by their naval counterparts, the Marines’ mission was to transfer seven Marine Corps vehicles embarked on the USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo of the Maritime Preposition Squadron One, to the Navy’s new Improved Navy Lighterage System. The INLS is a system of floating causeways designed to move equipment from ship-to-shore. After a short ride on the INLS, the Marines drove the vehicles from the INLS platforms directly into the well deck of the USS Fort McHenry, where they are being prepared for the next phases of WATC 08.

“We are dealing with multiple naval platforms during this exercise, tying in with African Partnership Station,” said Marine Lt. Col. Clarence R. Edmonds, Eurasia regional planner, Marine Forces Europe. “[The INLS] gives us the stable platform we need to offload vehicles and equipment from one ship to another at sea.”

The exercise marked the first time that the INLS had been assembled and used in an open sea environment, Edmonds said. The capabilities provided by the INLS make it possible for the Marine Corps to operate in more flexible ways.

“The sea-basing environment gives us the opportunity to offload select equipment, materials and supplies to conduct arrival and assembly operations at sea,” Edmonds said. “This gives us multiple capabilities to execute a mission ashore, within a very limited time frame and with a very limited footprint [ashore].”

The mission was welcomed in Monrovia:

MONROVIA, Liberia (March 27, 2008) (linked page by Marine Sgt. Rocco DeFilippis no longer available)– The streets were lined with hundreds of smiling faces and thumbs-up signs. Happy shouts of “Marines!” were directed towards a humanitarian assistance convoy of two seven-ton trucks and several humvees laden with thousands of dollars worth of hospital and school supplies making their way slowly through the city of Monrovia, Liberia.
. . .

The supplies consisted of multiple disposable medical supplies, furniture, text books and other school supplies. The total value of the items to be delivered over the two days is $58,000.

“Today is a day that the Lord has made, because we have been long awaiting these supplies to come in,” said Rev. Elwood Jangaba, director of Agencies for Holistic Evangelism and Development International associated with the Logan Town clinic. “I think they are going to make a great impact to the community when we see the health care delivery system in this community brought to life.”

“We are working to establish those friendly relationships while at the same time exposing the Marines to a new and different culture,” said Maj. Jason Smith, convoy commander and a Marysville, Wash., native. “I wouldn’t call (the supplies) luxury items, but these supplies will provide a definite improvement to the quality of life at these facilities.”
. . .
“It’s not only a great training exercise, but it’s a good opportunity to experience something new working with another country in peace-time environment,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon S. Malone, 4th LSB heavy equipment operator and Vienna, Ohio native.

. . .

“Because of the magnitude of the exercise, the Marines knew that preparation for this mission would be key,” Smith said. “All of the Marines have put a lot of time into this outside their own regularly scheduled training. All of the Marines were really excited once they got this opportunity.”

The convoy fits into the larger picture of WATC 08, by serving as a component of a sea-basing exercise. During the first phases, equipment aboard Maritime Prepositioning Ships USNS 2nd Lt John Bobo and USNS Lance Cpl. Roy M. Wheat was linked up with forces from aboard the USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), assembled at sea and then transferred between the naval platforms using the Improved Navy Lighterage System. Using the causeways and ferry system that makes up the INLS, the Marines were capable of moving vehicles from ship-to-ship in open seas for the first time.

“The importance of this phase for the Marine Corps is two fold,” said Lt. Col. Roy Edmonds, exercise support team officer-in-charge and native of Dallas. “Not only does it show that we can operate from a sea base, transit through an austere port and execute a humanitarian assistance mission; but it also gives us an opportunity to conduct security cooperation with the Armed Forces of Liberia and establish positive relations through good will.”

You can find pictures of the exercise and more at the Photo Gallery – African Partnership Station

I am very glad the US brought medical and school supplies to Liberia. I think the US owes Liberia a lot more than it has begun to deliver. But all of West Africa should take notice of this initial exercise in sea basing. AFRICOM is a combatant command. US assistance to Africa in recent years has mostly been massive military investment and transfer of arms and weapons, primarily to those countries that produce oil. A sea base provides far more freedom, flexibility, and access to interfere in the sovereign affairs of African countries. At this point, this is particularly true for West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. The dangers have just gone up.

Finance Minister Antoinette Sayeh with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
“It took men three decades to destroy Liberia, and it is now the women who are fixing it.”
— quote from one very impressed man in Monrovia–

Liberia is poor. Its people are poor, its government is poor, the state of the country’s infrastructure is poor. You’d be hard pressed indeed to find a country much poorer than Liberia today.

And yet, paradoxically, Liberia should be filthy rich. From the perspective of its natural resources, Liberia boasts a literal gold mine. Open a map of Liberia, close your eyes and draw an X, and you may very well have located your fortune.
. . .
The hefty profits from extractive industries – diamonds, gold, forestry – have for decades been used against Liberia’s people instead of for them.

“The Bush administration’s new obsession with AFRICOM and its militaristic approach has many malign consequences,” write FPIF columnist and co-director Emira Woods and FPIF contributor Ezekiel Pajibo in AFRICOM: Wrong for Liberia, Disastrous for Africa. “It increases U.S. interference in the affairs of Africa. It brings more military hardware to a continent that already has too much. By helping to build machineries of repression, these policies reinforce undemocratic practices and reward leaders responsive not to the interests or needs of their people but to the demands and dictates of U.S. military agents. Making military force a higher priority than development and diplomacy creates an imbalance that can encourage irresponsible regimes to use U.S. sourced military might to oppress their own people, now or potentially in the future.”

As Woods and Pajibo write:

AFRICOM’s first public links with the West African country of Liberia was through a Washington Post op-ed written by the African- American businessman Robert L. Johnson, “Liberia’s Moment of Opportunity.” Forcefully endorsing AFRICOM, Johnson urged that it be based in Liberia. Then came an unprecedented guest column from Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, “AFRICOM Can Help Governments Willing To Help Themselves,” touting AFRICOM’s potential to “help” Africa “develop a stable environment in which civil society can flourish and the quality of life for Africans can be improved.”

Despite these high-profile endorsements, the consolidation and expansion of U.S. military power on the African continent is misguided and could lead to disastrous outcomes.

Liberia’s 26-year descent into chaos started when the Reagan administration prioritized military engagement and funneled military hardware, training, and financing to the regime of the ruthless dictator Samuel K. Doe. This military “aid,” seen as “soft power” at that time, built the machinery of repression that led to the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Liberians.

. . .

Liberia has already given the Bush administration the exclusive role of restructuring its armed forces. The private U.S. military contractor DYNCORP has been carrying out this function. After more than two years in Liberia and an estimated $800,000 budget allocated, DYNCORP has not only failed to train the 2,000 men it was contracted to train, it has also not engaged Liberia’s Legislature or its civil society in defining the nature, content, or character of the new army. DYNCORP allotted itself the prerogative to determine the number of men/women to be trained and the kind of training it would conduct, exclusively infantry training, even though Liberia had not elaborated a national security plan or developed a comprehensive military doctrine. In fact, the creation of Liberia’s new army has been the responsibility of another sovereign state, the United States, in total disregard to Liberia’s constitution, which empowers the legislature to raise the national army.

This pattern of abuse and incompetence with the U.S. military and its surrogate contractors suggests that if AFRICOM is based in Liberia, the Bush administration will have an unacceptable amount of power to dictate Liberia’s security interests and orchestrate how the country manages those interests. By placing a military base in Liberia, the United States could systematically interfere in Liberian politics in order to ensure that those who succeed in obtaining power are subservient to U.S. national security and other interests. If this is not neo-colonialism, then what is?

And based in Liberia, AFRICOM would be conveniently located to interfere in governments throughout the West Africa, and all along the Gulf of Guinea.

Another unsavory fact, and additional evidence that DynCorp is wrong for Liberia, are the charges of human traffiking, sexual slavery, and paedophilia in Eastern Europe, brought against DynCorp by employees of the company, and documented on video. (Insight on the News; 9/2/2002, Vol. 18 Issue 32, p48) In Liberia, a land whose children have already suffered being conscripted as soldiers, in conjunction with human traffiking, sexual slavery, and paedophilia; Dyncorp is uniquely unqualified to act in any capacity.

I came across another point about defense contracting that people in both the US and Africa need to consider. Kevin Drum points to this:

. . . there has been very little public debate or discussion about military privatization. . . . the kind of privatization represented by the gun-toting Iraq war contractors has created what she called “a live war military-industrial complex” — that is, an industry that depends for its profits, even its existence, on hot wars, wars that kill people. . . . it’s an opening to all sorts of other issues.

Although he adds:

Hmmm. Is this really true? It might be, but the old military-industrial complex seemed to be pretty good at nudging us into hot wars too

Some time ago I came across the Perpetual War Portfolio. In theory, this is satire, but look at the return, and look at the connections. The Bush family, Cheney, and their friends and associates are all heavily involved with these and related corporations, all are profiting from the Bush war presidency.