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Current Needs and Opportunities | A New Paradigm

RATIONALE

FORMER AND EXISTING PROGRAMS

Perhaps the earliest locust management program was founded in the late 1800s in South Africa. Today, the Locust Research Unit of the Agricultural Research Council’s Plant Protection Institute in Pretoria continues to provide valuable, regional research and operations support in southern Africa. Although the number of acridologists in the Unit has recently declined, their expertise remains strong, perhaps in large part due to their focus on regional pest management issues.

The Northern Hemisphere’s oldest program in acridid pest management began in 1929 at the All-Russian Plant Protection Institute (VIZR) in St. Petersburg. The control of grasshoppers and locusts was one of the three foci of VIZR, along with rodents and plant diseases. This Institute flourished during the 1960's and 70s, with perhaps the world’s greatest concentration of acridological expertise working at the Institute during its heyday, when as many as 20 staff dedicated to this mission. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, two factors led to the decline of the grasshopper and locust program at VIZR: 1) the majority of infestations occurred outside of the new, Russian boundaries and 2) the loss of economic vitality and funding for scientific enterprises.

The first, major international program to address locust outbreaks in a comprehensive manner was the Anti-Locust Research Centre (ALRC) in England. From 1945 to the early 1970s, this group of scientists distinguished themselves as the unparalleled leaders in locust research and pest management, with enormous advances being made in operational tactics, application methods, survey techniques, and locust biology. Despite these accomplishments, the ALRC was slowly dissolved through an erosion of their focus. The primary target of the Centre, the desert locust, presented a very erratic series of opportunities for investigation, with several years passing between major upsurges. And so, with the passing of the Centre’s director and preeminent acridologist, Sir Boris Uvarov, the more broadly charged Centre for Overseas Pest Research (COPR) emerged. The Natural Resources Institute (NRI) is now the successor of COPR, and although there are many outstanding scientists in NRI, acridology is no longer the central mission of the Institute.

As the ALRC became diffused, the primary operational and survey responsibilities were transferred to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO). This agency has operated a very high quality forecasting and management system for several decades, and widely respected work on the environmental impacts of locust control continues through a project in Africa, LOCUSTOX. However, the structural capacity and international mandate of FAO are too limited to allow its experts to address the full range of acridological challenges. The FAO’s Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES), which is already operational in seven countries in Northeast Africa represents an important strategic development with respect to locust management.

Also corresponding with the decline of the ALRC was the emergence of the French Program in Operational Acridology (PRIFAS). This effort was focused on training and operational programs throughout the world, with collaborative efforts in Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. This world-class organization provided nearly 25 years of vital expertise, making significant advances in pest management strategies. In the last 2 years, however, PRIFAS has been drastically downsized, as a result of political and institutional issues related to intense competition for dwindling scientific resources and redirection of national priorities. Today, a number of excellent acridologists remain in PRIFAS, but the hope that it would become the successor of the ALRC has faded.

There are a number of regional organizations for locust control in Africa and the Near East. Although these agencies have limited operational capacity, they include a dispersed but powerful pool of expertise. The Organization Commune pour la Lutte Antiacridienne et Antiaviare (OCLALAV), Desert Locust Control Organization for East Africa (DLCO-EA), the East African Red Locust Control Organization (EA, RLCO), and the Regional Commission for the Control of Desert Locust in the Neat East (RCNE) all represent significant sources of knowledge and experience. In addition, research institutes in Nairobi (ICIPE) and Cotonou (IITA) are conducting important work, especially with respect to biological control.

In the United States, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided valuable research through the Agricultural Research Service’s Rangeland Entomology Laboratory, which was developed in Bozeman, Montana during the early 1900s. The Laboratory pioneered advances in the biological control of rangeland grasshoppers and became a leader in grasshopper ecology and population modeling. This group of scientists flourished during the 1980s, and they became the focal point for the USDA’s Grasshopper Integrated Pest Management Project of the early 1990s. Just as their expertise was expanding into international settings, political and economic pressures led to the relocation of a more broadly based laboratory to Sydney, Montana. The effect was predictable – most of the scientists chose to leave the laboratory for other opportunities, and only two acridologists remain. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Plant Protection Center in Phoenix, Arizona continues to dedicate limited resources to grasshopper management.

The German program aimed at the international development and transfer of technologies (GTZ) has recently emerged as a leader in the application of locust management strategies in Africa. Their work on botanical compounds, economic analyses, and remote sensing has provided particularly valuable insights, and it appears that their research and development efforts will continue into the foreseeable future. Despite their growing acridological expertise, GTZ does not appear to have the critical mass or mandate to become a world center for grasshopper and locust management.

Finally, the Australian Plague Locust Commission is one of the most successful locust control organizations in the world. Their program has effectively brought an extremely damaging locust species under continuing control, but the scope of their efforts is national. Although there is clearly considerable potential of adapting APLC methods to other locust outbreaks, the Commission has only recently begun to expand its expertise in grasshopper and locust management beyond Australia.



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CURRENT NEEDS AND OPPORTUNITIES

The current state of applied acridology in the world suggests that pockets of considerable knowledge and experience exist in many countries, but no single laboratory or program has the critical mass to emerge as a center of advisory, training, and research expertise. This fragmentation of the world’s acridological expertise suggests that the future of locust and grasshopper pest management risks becoming disconnected, confused, and inefficient as companies, nations, and agencies continue to call for assistance in developing and employing control operations. The need for expertise in applied acridology is certain to be increasing with time, as a consequence of four factors. First, concerns for environmental and human health are growing rapidly through the world. Traditional methods of locust and grasshopper control involving the intensive use of broad-spectrum insecticides are being questioned.

Second, economic pressures are mounting to reduce the cost of grasshopper and locust control. Declining bilateral and multinational support for locust control is expected, and many countries can not longer afford national subsidies for grasshopper control.

Third, infestations continue to plague industrial nations, and outbreaks are becoming more severe in developing countries. Many grasshopper and locust species thrive in disturbed and fallow lands, which are expanding in CIS countries and portions of Africa.

Fourth, the complexity of tools used in applied acridology is increasing dramatically. Remote sensing, decision support software, biological control, and survey methods (including applications of Geographic Information Systems) all require training and continuing refinements.

Thus, we have arrived at what appears to be an extremely opportune moment in history for applied acridology. The global expertise is strong but highly dispersed, while the demand for this expertise is great and increasing. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of past programs and through careful attention to the political, economic, cultural, and ecological variables that provide the foundation for successful pest management practices and international cooperation, we believe that it is possible to develop a alliance of scientists, industries, and agencies that can collectively meet the intricate challenges of grasshopper and locust management well into the 21st century.


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A NEW PARADIGM

One might contend that developing a new initiative in applied acridology is opposing the overwhelming trend of downsizing such programs in the last 20 years. However, this trend also suggests the viability of adopting the opposite strategy. That is, the growing vacuum of international leadership in acridology with an increasing demand for new methods around the world predisposes a strategically designed initiative for success. It is clear that any new program will need to learn from history to exploit current opportunities and adapt to future conditions. The proposed International Association for Applied Acridology has two unique qualities that provide the essential basis for a successful venture at this time and into the foreseeable future. First, the Association is explicitly international in its expertise and perspectives. The involvement of 25-30 of the world’s finest acridologists and supporting scientists, representing 10-15 Institutional Partners from 20 countries, 6 continents, and every major grasshopper and locust outbreak zone assures the broad base necessary to address problems under all circumstances. Through this strategy, the Association will be able to avoid the "feast and famine" cycles of demand that have characterized previous programs specializing on a single or few pest species. Furthermore, rather than relying on any single country to build and maintain the critical mass of acridological expertise, the Association will bring together the best scientists across the world. As such, when individuals leave the field, the Association will not be seriously weakened, as newly rising experts can then be invited to join the program. The dispersed leadership and explicit involvement of the best scientists available assures that the Association will be strong and credible without relying on the reputation or status of any single Associate or Institutional Partner. Such an international focus will present some particular challenges as well, including communication and collegiality. With respect to the former, the Association’s directorate will be trilingual (English, French, and Russian). With regard to the latter, the Association’s Board will meet annually, all of its Associates will participate in annual workshops, ongoing communications will be maintained through email.

Second, the Association will be funded through a dispersed coalition of industries and agencies. While the first year’s external funding is being provided by the Rhône-Poulenc Foundation, the search for other industry and agency partners has begun. This approach is intended to assure a consistent and diverse base of funding and provide opportunities for marketing the services of the Association to potential clients. By providing funding partners with specific incentives (e.g., waiver of institutional overhead, participation in the annual business meeting, and access to valuable information and annual workshops), we hope to draw in a range of private and governmental funding sources. The involvement of multiple partners will provide an important source of "professional disinterest" on the part of the Association, but it will be necessary to assure that this diversification does not cause excessive fragmentation of funding for operations. By offering Sponsoring Partnerships at reasonable levels, it should be possible to become inclusive and avoid piecemeal funding. With sponsorships set at $25,000 and $10,000, both large and smaller companies and agencies will be included and fiscal tractability will be assured.



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