The COVID-19 situation in Morocco, limiting the use of aircraft, delayed the competent department’s response to the insect attack.
Morocco’s Department of Water and Forests at the Ministry of Agriculture warned of a defoliating insect attack in the Maamoura forest, in the northeast area of Rabat.
The department issued a press release today to announce that over 15,000 hectares of cork oak forest in the Rabat-Sale-Kenitra region experienced an exceptional phytosanitary attack by the “disparate Bombyx pest (Lymantria dispar),” or gypsy moth, the statement said.
A low population of gypsy moths can exist for many years without causing significant damage. A severe outbreak of the pests, however, can result in serious defoliation, or the loss of leaves from plants, along with tree growth loss, dieback, and tree mortality, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The insects can be harmful to human and animal health but they pose the greatest threat to trees by eating leaves or needles.
Despite the regular anti-pest measures implemented by the department and the National Office of Food Product Safety (ONSSA), the COVID-19 situation and restrictions on the use of aircraft delayed the response to the attack.
The concerned departments were therefore unable to immediately identify the infested areas, define a control program, and deploy the necessary resources needed to battle the insects.
However, treatment operations are now “ongoing in several areas of infestation after obtaining the necessary derogatory authorizations,” the department said.
Morocco’s forest department said it set up all surveillance, prospecting, confirmation, and mapping operations jointly with ONSSA between September 2019 and March 2020.
“A global area of around 15,000 hectares of cork oak has thus been identified and designated to receive phytosanitary treatment. In this regard, all preparations for logistics, phytosanitary products and aircraft for engaging in aerial control have been put in place,” the statement said.
The department explained that it coordinated with the Royal Gendarmerie, ONSSA, and a company specializing in aerial treatment to fight the pest outbreak after obtaining the necessary authorization.
The statement said that 5,000 hectares have been treated, adding that the majority of trees resisted the attack and will not sustain long-term damage unless “defoliation is repeated several years in a row.”