Locust Plague Devouring Madagascar, $41M Needed To Combat Infestation
March 28, 2013

Locust Plague Devouring Madagascar, $41M Needed To Combat Infestation

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A plague has gripped Madagascar and a UN body says the country will need $41 million over three years to help fight off the infestation that has gripped more than half of the world´s fourth-largest island.

The plague comes in the form of locusts, a term generally referring to the swarming phase of several species of short-horned grasshoppers. This plague has been increasingly threatening Madagascar´s crop production and long-term food security for more than half of the island nation´s population, according to a report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The FAO said the country will need $22 million by June to fight the plague via a large-scale aerial spraying campaign, and an additional $19 million over three years to bounce back from the national disaster. As of now, the swarm is threatening 60 percent of the island´s staple rice crop, it said.

A locust swarm can wreak havoc on agriculture, consuming as much as 100,000 metric tons of green vegetation and crops per day. The FAO said if the country fails to tackle this problem now, the country will be forced to seek out food-aid on a massive scale later, which could potentially cost millions more than what is needed to combat the plague.

Madagascar, home to more than 22 million people, is also the world´s second-largest producer of vanilla and cloves, the FAO said.

“We know from experience that this plague will require three years of anti-locust campaigns,” Annie Monard, the FAO´s senior locust officer, said in a statement. “Campaigns in past years were underfunded, and unfortunately it means not all locust infestations were controlled.”

The locust plague has been threatening the island nation since at least December, when the country made the call to the UN for aid at that time. The country estimates that the infestation will grow to consume nearly two-thirds of the country by September if no action is taken.

“Failure to respond now will lead to massive food aid requirements later on,” Dominique Burgeon, Director of the FAO Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, said in the FAO statement.

The plague was worsened after Cyclone Haruna flooded rice fields in the southwestern regions of the country last month. The storm left behind the “ideal breeding conditions” that these insects rely on. The country´s government has been able to treat about 75,000 acres of farmland since the six-month rainy season began in October. But an additional 250,000 acres has gone untreated due to limited funding.

Now, the fight strategy calls for a “large-scale” aerial operation, spraying some 3.75 million acres of land through the following year, with operations decreasing gradually over the next three years until the plague has been obliterated, or at least controlled.

The operations would be implemented in respect of human health and the environment, FAO said. The strategy also calls for a locust watch unit that can monitor the situation, as well as aerial and ground survey operations and monitoring control operations to preserve the environment.

The FAO said an impact assessment of the locust crisis on crops and pasture will also need to be conducted each year to determine the type of support needed by farming households whose livelihoods have been affected.