Locust Invasion Of Madagascar: Time Running Out

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 26, 2013 03:04 PM EDT

A severe locust plague has swarmed Madagascar, resulting in the need for over $41 million to battle the insects, according to a statement from the Food and Agricultural Organization on Tuesday March 26.

According to the organization, $22 million alone would be needed by June to combat the destruction of the local food supply caused by the insects. The locust plague, which the agriculture ministry called a national disaster last November, could affect approximately two-thirds of Madagascar by September 2013, according to the FAO.

"We know from experience that this plague will require three years of anti-locust campaigns," says senior officer and coordinator of the FAO locust response Annie Monard. "We need funds now to procure supplies and to timely set-up the aerial survey and control operations."

Madagascar is already troubled with high rates of malnutrition and hunger in its southern regions, which is where the plague first started. According to the FAO, almost 60 percent of the country's 22 million residents could suffer greater malnutrition due to affected rice production. Additionally, the locusts could devour green vegetation that normally supports livestock.

"Rice is the main staple in Madagascar, where 80 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar per day," the organization said.

The Food and Agricultural Organization's strategy would involve a large-scale spraying operation. One and a half million hectares would be treated during the first year, followed by 500,000 in the second year and 150,000 hectares in the third and final year. The agency stated that it would remain cognizant of the environment and human health during the spraying. Other efforts would include locust watch unit, aerial and ground survey operations as well as monitoring control operations.

Current national efforts at controlling the locust population have involved the treatment of 30,000 hectares of farmland, which is about 100,000 hectares short of the total amount needed.  According to Monard, previous campaigns were underfunded, resulting in inadequate control of the infestation.

"Failure to respond now will lead to massive food aid requirements later on," says director of the FAO Emergency and Rehabilitation Division Dominique Burgeon.

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