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Press Release 98/20

MADAGASCAR FACES WORST LOCUST THREAT FOR 40 YEARS; STAPLE RICE CROP AT RISK


Rome, March 24 -- The worst locust infestation for four decades is posing a serious threat to Madagascar's staple rice crop, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

FAO said that its experts on the ground in the south of Madagascar reported heavy infestation of the African Migratory Locust covering an estimated 10 million hectares. They were warning that, if previous patterns are repeated, when the dry season starts in May and the prevailing wind swings round to the south west, large swarms may move north towards the fertile irrigated farmland of Madagascar's central plateau. The rice crop on the plateau will not be ready to harvest until July.

Earlier this year FAO launched an international appeal for US$12 million to fight the locust threat. Response to the appeal has been positive, with more than US$8 million promised by donors so far. This followed earlier, smaller appeals issued last year when first signs of the locust population starting to grow dangerously were detected.

FAO is coordinating multilateral and bilateral donor assistance in close collaboration with the Government authorities, in an attempt to bring the outbreak under control. Through FAO, five fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter for aerial spraying, pesticides and international locust experts to start a control programme have been provided. FAO is also coordinating efforts to monitor and minimize environmental side-effects caused by the spraying.

The Madagascar Government has now drafted in the army to take the lead in control operations, working alongside the agriculture ministry's plant protection service in combating the locust threat.

Although there is a substantial national and international effort under way, it may take several years to control the plague. In the immediate future, emphasis may have to be placed on protecting crops rather than on strategic control aimed at ending the plague. The last major invasion by the African Migratory Locust outside the southern part of the island occurred between 1939 and 1957.

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Video material can be obtained from the Radio & TV Branch, Gillian Hazel,
telephone: 39 6 5705 5980 or mobile 0347-3584974


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