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Locust Plague Swarms Madagascar

  • Joe DeCapua

 Betroka Region, Southern Madagascar - A dense swarm of locusts as seen during spraying operations, May 29, 2011. ©FAO/Yasuyoshi Chiba

Betroka Region, Southern Madagascar - A dense swarm of locusts as seen during spraying operations, May 29, 2011. ©FAO/Yasuyoshi Chiba

Madagascar is in the midst of a locust plague and it’s threatening the food security of more than half the population. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, says it will take three years to bring the locusts under control, but it needs emergency funds to do so.

The word “plague” sounds bad enough. But the FAO says this one is “severe.”

“The situation is a very serious one because it is what we call a plague now. That means most of the locust population are present as groups and bands of hoppers or as swarms of flying adults,” said Annie Monard, an FAO senior officer and coordinator of the locust response.
The locusts have spread far and wide.

“The infestation [is] extending now over half of the country and probably soon over two-thirds of the country,” she said.

And they have a voracious appetite. They eat natural vegetation, including pastureland. That could deal a major blow to cattle herders. And the locusts devour all types of crops.

Monard said, “Of course there will be a major impact on food security.”

Under normal conditions, locusts are present in the southwestern part of Madagascar only. However, despite warnings from the FAO that their numbers were increasing, not enough was done to prevent the current plague.

“We first alerted on the situation in April 2010 and there were two successive locust control campaigns, which were carried out. But unfortunately without all the funding, which was needed, it was not possible to stop the development of that plague at an early stage,” she said.

Conditions for the locusts got better and better and then received a big boost from Cyclone Haruna in late February. The FAO says the storm not only damaged crops but created ideal conditions for the locusts to breed.

In the southern regions where the plague started about 70 percent of the households are reported to be food insecure.

The FAO says it needs $22 million dollars in emergency funds to begin a three-year control campaign.

“It is not possible to go back to a quiet situation before three years. It’s necessary to do that progressively because of the development of that plague, because of the extension of that plague,” said Monard.

What’s more, Monard said that the $22 million is needed no later than June. She says time is needed to prepare the first stage of the locust control campaign that would begin in September. The effort would coincide with the beginning of Madagascar’s rainy season.