Madagascar: locusts spread north towards main agricultural areas
Adult locust swarms - made up of millions of insects on the move - devour the plants they settle on, leaving just the stalks. Local rice crops are crucial to the food security of the island's 15.5 million people, 75 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Cereals make up approximately 55 percent of the average diet and rice consumption for 1997/98 is projected to top the 1.7 million tonne mark.
Experts on the ground in southern Madagascar have reported that more than 5 million hectares are heavily infested. This is five times the area estimated to have been infested in February 1997.
The Government has drafted in the army to take the lead, in collaboration with technicians from the Ministry of Agriculture's Plant Protection Service. But the terrain is rugged and there are few roads. So far, only 10 percent of the 5 million infested hectares have been sprayed. Locusts breed five times a year, and can multiply their numbers by five to ten with every new generation.
Top priority now is to spray as many hopper bands as possible. These are groups of locusts that are not yet mature enough to fly. At this point, although they may cover vast areas, they can be treated with much less insecticide than that necessary for swarming adults. Areas where large hopper bands occur are sprayed from the air in strips a kilometre apart. The pesticides are effective for three weeks, during which time the moving insects will encounter a sprayed strip of land. Smaller hopper bands are sprayed by teams on the ground with back-pack spraying units. Once the locusts are mature and take to the air, blanket spraying is the only answer.
7 April 1998