Celebrating 25 Years of Scoop
Special: Up To 25% Off Scoop Pro Learn More



Cablegate: Exchanging Letters with Fao Over Locusts

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.







E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Exchanging Letters with FAO over Locusts

REF: Rome 3669

1. (SBU) Per reftel, the text of Ambassador Hall's letter
to FAO DG Diouf on September 16, 2004 follows:

"I am writing to express the United States' concern over
FAO's response to the locust plague in the Sahel. While
I know that other donors share aspects of this concern,
these views are not shared on their behalf.

As you know, the current desert locust situation
continues to deteriorate across the Sahel. Large-scale
invasions of locusts have infested an estimated two
million hectares in Mauritania, Mali, Senegal and Niger,
while swarms have been reported in Burkina Faso, Chad,
Gambia and Cape Verde. Though there are no reliable crop
assessments to date, OCHA and others predict this locust
plague will have greater devastating effects than the
last widespread locust plague of 1987 1989. Action is
needed now to prevent the situation from worsening.

On Friday, September 10, I chaired a roundtable
discussion on the crisis, which was attended by members
of FAO and interested parties from the diplomatic
community. Experts from the U.S. and FAO briefed the
attendees on the current situation, giving a rather
gloomy prognosis for the region, and called for
additional donor support. I seconded that call.

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

There was also a good and frank discussion among the
participants of what is going wrong in providing
assistance to the victims of this infestation. Had our
collective response been well organized and targeted from
the beginning, it is conceivable that the crisis would
not have reached its present magnitude. The donor
countries share part of the blame for our slow collective
response and contributions to this emergency. For
example, we understand that a majority of the funds
pledged were only recently made available in August and
September. The time between pledges and actual
donations is unfortunately too long and requires
improvements on our part. Additionally, the affected
countries have an essential role to play in responding to
the crisis.

However, stronger leadership on the part of FAO is
required over the coming months. FAO has a global
mandate, nearly fifty years in existence, to provide
emergency assistance to countries experiencing
agricultural crises such as locust infestations. We hear
a chorus of concerns from the field that question whether
that commitment is being fully met. In examining some of
the critical recommendations made in an after-action
review of FAO's role in the last major outbreak of the
1980s, it troubles us that too many of them still hold
true. The major critique then was FAO's slow response to
the crisis; it remains our worry now.

There are five particular areas of concern that I want to
highlight from some of the observations and requests that
we have been receiving from our embassies in the Sahel
and from the larger donor community.

1) Transparent and timely use of donated funds. In last
Friday's roundtable, the Ambassador of one of FAO's major
donors articulated what we, too, have been hearing from
various reports: FAO is facing a crisis in confidence in
response to its handling of the current infestation.

Donors want and need transparency before funding
decisions are made, yet I am sorry to repeat that we feel
there has been insufficient transparency in FAO's
actions. Donors are now beginning to question whether
using a multilateral approach one that is slow in its
response is the best and most efficient means to
mitigate this crisis. We are still unclear how long the
process requires from receipt of funds to arrival of
goods and services in the affected countries. [In fact,
it took more than six months for FAO to utilize fully a
standing emergency grant, during the crucial early stage
before the appeal was announced in February.]

2) Delay in establishing a coordinating structure or
process. Though it is true funds from donors have come
in late, we believe FAO could have done a much better job
in organizing itself to confront this crisis. I am glad
FAO experts correctly predicted the crisis last October,
some eleven months ago. But in anticipation of this
crisis, little seems to have been done internally, and it
appears that FAO has employed inadequate means and tools
to respond to the emergency.

I also question why FAO's ECLO (Emergency Center for
Locusts Operations) was reconstituted so late in the
crisis, on August 25. This coordinating body would have
helped bridge, much earlier on, the internal gaps among
technical, operations, and contracting departments. The
appointment of one person with overall responsibility for
overseeing FAO's response could have highlighted
weaknesses within the organization and resolved them
earlier on. Even if the declaration of an ECLO were only
a formality, an earlier and more timely declaration would
have been another way of signaling the urgency of the

I urge you to give serious consideration to the idea of
FAO's setting up a regional operations and coordination
center in the Sahel. The center should be established
within one of the affected countries and staffed by
technical experts and operations personnel. Without
well-planned coordination among countries, donors, and
organizations, it would be rather difficult to tackle a
problem that transcends international boundaries.

3) Inadequate staffing in the field. I understand that
until the end of August, FAO had just two experts working
in the region to assist host governments. From the
beginning, this small presence generated concerns over
FAO's commitment and leadership. While more personnel
are deploying currently, the cumbersome and time-
consuming hiring process has delayed this crucial
component in responding to the emergency. Many reports
also indicate that the FAO representatives have not
responded well to the crisis.

Reports from Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania are that FAO
has not taken the lead in organizing the locust
campaigns. WFP has had to step into the void in Dakar to
perform donor coordination functions. At a recent locust
coordination meeting in Burkina Faso, frustrations also
surfaced about the role that FAO has played during the
locust crisis, both in the country and regionally.
Donors noted that FAO had repeatedly said that it had
monetary and in-kind contributions, but that it has not
so far been able to give a good accounting for the
distribution of these contributions. The local FAO
representative could not answer questions as she lacked

even basic information about what had been pledged,
purchased, and delivered. Donors across the board have
been "sorely disappointed" with the performance of FAO's
offices in Burkina Faso and Mali. In Mali, FAO recently
fielded an excellent logistics officer to work with the
government, but he arrived very late and more like him
are needed.

4) Lack of quick response mechanisms. When staff from my
mission inquired why so few experts had been deployed,
they were told that FAO's personnel practices delayed the
quick hiring of outside experts. An emergency response
unit should have the capability to respond nimbly to
crises. In the view of donors and affected countries,
FAO lacks sufficient quick-response mechanisms. For
example, FAO should have a roster of pre-selected experts
whom it can tap the moment a crisis develops. FAO should
have "indefinite quantity" contracts for services,
supplies, and equipment with a broad range of companies.
Terms could be revisited on an annual basis or sooner if
needed. This would likely have reduced FAO's delivery
time in purchasing pesticides and leasing sprayer
aircraft. At the roundtable discussion, an idea of
creating a pesticides bank was proposed, something that
could have merit. Clearly, innovation is needed.

One consequence of these delays is that donors have had
to act independently. In Mali, for example, the U.S.
Ambassador directed $50,000 in disaster relief funds to
USAID instead of FAO because FAO had been unable to
provide any effective response to the crisis there. In
five-days time, USAID purchased all the equipment and
products needed to spray in two of the most severely
impacted regions: the Gourma and Timbuktu. When the
equipment and products arrived in the Gourma, the whole
town celebrated because no spraying was occurring.

5) Lack of a comprehensive information system. Another
criticism common among the donors is the lack of shared
information. Information on pledges, recipient
countries, procurement, etc, was infrequently
disseminated. FAO representatives, whether in Rome or in
the Sahel, often could not answer basic questions about
FAO's response or the regional perspective.

In fact, we received three different figures for overall
contributions to FAO as recently as last week. I
understood an information system would soon be in place,
but to date that does not appear to be the case. FAO
should have created such a system back in February when
it started making appeals for funds.

In the past, you and I have had frank discussions about
the possibility of opening up FAO to an outside
evaluation or assessment. This is something I plan to
continue to pursue. In addition to that assessment, I
would like to propose having an outside assessment of
FAO's response to the desert locust crisis, once we have
turned the corner. Its purpose is not to point fingers
and place blame on individuals or institutions, but to
make bold recommendations as to how FAO can respond in a
more nimble way to such crises in the future. If there
are bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles that limit
FAO's ability to respond, then those obstacles should be
identified and, to the extent possible, they should be
removed. We believe there is much to learn from this
emergency operation. It is essential that we learn from
this, given the increase in complex humanitarian

emergencies. We also need to look closely at the
recommendations on FAO emergency operations from the
Independent Evaluation of FAO's Decentralization.

The concerns I have listed above are not contingent on
the timing of donor contributions. They are questions of
basic management and leadership inadequacies that plague
the delivery of assistance at whatever resource levels.

Much is at stake in the Sahel. The potential
ramifications of a large-scale locust infestation on the
lives and livelihoods in the affected countries are
grave. FAO has already warned of severe food insecurity
if control operations are not increased to combat the
swarms, which are interrupting the current planting
season. The combination of loss of employment and food
insecurity could lead to rural migration to urban
centers. Although the impact of the present locust
upsurge on malnutrition levels cannot be determined at
present, many children in the region are already
suffering from malnutrition, making the potential impact
life-threatening. We must work to do better.

I look forward to working with you and your staff to do
all we can to alleviate this current crisis and improve
all of our responses for the next time a similar
emergency occurs. Accept my best wishes and commitment
to work together for a world where we accomplish the goal
of cutting hunger in half."

2. (SBU) The text of DG Diouf's letter in response to
Ambassador Hall's letter to FAO DG Diouf on September 16,
2004 follows:

"I have the honour to refer to your letter of 16
September 2004, in which you raise a number of important
issues with regard to FAO's handling of the current
Desert Locust invasion in North-West and West Africa.

I wish to express my sincere appreciation for the keen
interest in this matter that your concerns demonstrate,
and for your willingness to support FAO's efforts to
tackle the crisis and to improve our collective response
to an extremely worrying situation for the food security
situation of the affected populations. I had the
opportunity to address some of the points mentioned in
your letter during the donors' meeting which I convened
on Friday, 17 September 2004, at FAO' s headquarters, but
I am pleased to provide you herewith with additional

As you rightly point out, action is needed immediately to
curb the locust invasion before the winter. In this
regard, however, I would to stress once again that FAO
did not wait for the situation to deteriorate before
acting. The Organization issued alerts to the
international community as early as 17 and 20 October
2003. The developments and forecast of the crisis led me
to launch an appeal to several donors, on 23 February.
The seriousness of the situation was again brought to the
attention of the donors in a meeting on 10 March. On 8
April 2004, another donors' meeting was convened at FAO
which I personally chaired. I also wrote to the Heads of
State and Government of the countries most affected in
West Africa (Algeria, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania,
Morocco, Niger, Senegal, and Tunisia) to stress the need
for collective and coordinated action in the fight
against the locust plague.

On 7 July 2004, I sent another letter to the Heads of
State and Government of donor countries to solicit more
funds. At that time, the financial resources required to
tackle the Desert Locust invasion were estimated at US$30
million. Three weeks later, the deterioration of the
situation made it necessary to revise this estimate, with
funding requirements ranging between US$58 and US$83
million, according to the projections of the acreage to
be treated. Current estimates amount to US$100 million if
the locust's threat is to be contained before the winter.

As you acknowledge in your letter, despite these repeated
appeals, very little funds have been received from donors
in FAO's account and a significant time lag has occurred
between pledges and actual transfers of funds. As of 14
September 2004, only US$2 million had been received from
donors, including US$800 000 from the USA. An additional
US$2 million from the USA were received on 15 September
and a further US$ 500 000 on 17 September. On the other
hand, signed agreements with donors for which funds have
not yet been received represent, at present, some US$21.7
million. Taking into consideration the urgency of the
situation, and despite not being a funding agency, FAO
has allocated US$5 million of its own resources toward
the fight against the Desert Locust, in favour of the
North-Western Region (Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad,
Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal,
Tunisia) and the Central Region (Eritrea, Sudan and

It is the time taken in releasing the donors' funds that
has resulted in delays in delivering the inputs to fight
the Desert Locust. In this regard, as you point out, FAO
must respect the rules and regulations which have been
decided and agreed upon by its Governing Bodies, of which
donors and affected countries alike are parties. Under
these rules, the Organization is not authorized to commit
funds to purchase equipment or supplies, or to recruit
experts for the operations, if these funds have not been
received at its bank account. There may be a need to
revisit these rules and regulations in the light of the
experience gained from the current emergency locust
control operations, but such a review would have to be
decided by the Member States of the Organization. In this
connection, I welcome your suggestion to conduct in due
time an evaluation of the response to the crisis, taking
into due consideration the internal and external factors
which bear on it. Such an evaluation would certainly shed
light on both positive and negative outcomes,
constraints, potential for innovative approaches.

Besides the issues of a lack of resources, I also wish to
mention that limits imposed by donors for the use of
their funds can also create constraints for the
implementation of field activities. Earmarking of funds
for specific countries, and for the US funding in
particular, the prohibition to spend funds on pesticides,
make it necessary to secure resources from other sources
with no such limitations. In a situation of locusts
upsurge as is witnessed at present in West and North-West
Africa, the use of pesticides is essential. While funds
are also needed to purchase sprayers, vehicles and to pay
for flying hours for aerial spraying, the bulk of the
funds are to be spent on pesticides, and financial
resources must be available for this purpose. To put it
roughly, for every US $l million provided for spraying
equipment and vehicles or for every US$1 million provided

for flying hours, an estimated US$3 million are needed to
procure the corresponding amount of pesticide to be

With regard to your specific mention of the absence of an
FAO counterpart in Dakar this summer, I wish to clarify
that the FAO Representative had, a long time before,
requested to take the annual leave to which he was
entitled. In accordance with the normal procedures of the
United Nations, I myself designated the representative of
another UN institution (WPP) to ensure the interim
arrangements. He did not on his own "step into the void
in Dakar". I brought back the FAO Representative for the
Ministerial Meeting of CLCPRO members on 31 August 2004
in Dakar and when the evolution of the situation
warranted it, I immediately called him back from his
leave, which he had not even completed.

As to procurement, the issue has not been one of advance
planning as FAO did conduct advance tenders and market
research. The issue was confirmation of the timely
availability of resources as pointed out in your letter.

While I recognize the usefulness of the information that
your Country Representatives can provide you, I wish to
point out that I have received a somewhat different
feedback during the visits that I undertook myself, on
several occasions, to the countries affected by the
locust invasion, including, in mid-August, Senegal and
Mauritania jointly with the President of the African
Union, H.E. Alpha Oumar Konare, and Burkina Faso early
September. I also had the opportunity to discuss
personally with several Heads of State and Government of
the region and have regular phone contacts with the
Ministers of Agriculture. These field visits and
discussions provided me with first-hand knowledge of both
the damage caused by the locusts' plague and the
perception, by the countries concerned, of the actions
taken by FAD and the responsiveness of the FAD

This being said, I acknowledge the need to improve the
flow of information between Headquarters and the field,
and I can assure you that steps have been taken over the
past weeks to establish a consistent and regular exchange
of information regarding the planning and conduct of the
locust fight operations on the ground, and to be shared
with representatives of donors and the government in the
country. This is being done through various means of
communication, including daily phone calls, emails and
the use of interactive monitoring and implementation
systems through the Internet.

With respect to staffing, it is demand driven and is
adapted to the volume of operations. That is why FAO is
taking further action to strengthen its field staff and,
more specifically, the Secretariat of the Commission for
the Control of Desert Locust in the Western Region to
support further emergency operations.

Once again, I am grateful for your genuine wish to
improve the response to the Desert Locust crisis so that
it can be tackled as quickly and as efficiently as
possible, with the view to protecting food security. I am
most willing to consider and further discuss with you any
suggestions that you may have to strengthen the capacity
of the Organization to tackle the present and other
similar emergency operations, and that could be brought

to the attention of the Governing Bodies concerned,
should the need arise.

Accept, Excellency, the assurance of my highest


2004ROME03681 - Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
World Headlines


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.