Madagascar needs more than $41 million to end locust plague

Half of the country infested by locusts - food production seriously at risk

Rome, 26 March 2013 - Madagascar needs more than $22 million of emergency funding by June to start fighting a severe locust plague that threatens the country's next cropping seasons and the food security of more than half the country's population, FAO said today. The agency underlined, however, that a three-year strategy is needed - requiring an additional $19 million.

Currently, about half the country is infested by hoppers and flying swarms - each swarm made up of billions of plant-devouring insects. FAO estimates that about two-thirds of the island country will be affected by the locust plague by September 2013 if no action is taken.

In view of the deteriorating situation, the Ministry of Agriculture of Madagascar declared a state of locust alert and a public disaster for the whole country on 27 November 2012. In December, the Ministry of Agriculture requested technical and financial assistance from FAO to address the current locust plague, ensure the mobilization of funds as well as the coordination and implementation of an emergency response.

The emergency funding that has to arrive by June will allow FAO, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, to launch a full-scale spraying campaign for the first year.

Nearly 60 percent of the island's more than 22 million people could be threatened by a significant worsening of hunger in a country that already has extremely high rates of food insecurity and malnutrition. In the poorest southern regions, where the plague started, around 70 percent of households are food insecure.

The plague now threatens 60 percent of the country's rice production. Rice is the main staple in Madagascar, where 80 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar per day.

The locust swarms would also consume most green vegetation that might normally serve as pasture for livestock.

From start to finish

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

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

"Campaigns in past years were underfunded, and unfortunately it means that not all locust infestations were controlled," said Monard. She compared it to not uprooting the roots of a weed, in which case even more weeds come back.

Current national efforts

The national Locust Control Centre has thus far treated 30 000 hectares of farmland since the six-month rainy season began in October 2012, but some 100 000 hectares that need to be treated haven't been, due to the government's limited capacity.

In late February, the situation was made even worse by Cyclone Haruna, which not only damaged crops and homes but also provided optimal conditions for one more generation of locusts to breed.

The first year of the FAO strategy to control locusts would rely on large-scale aerial operations. Some 1.5 million hectares will be treated in 2013-14, which declines to 500 000 hectares in the second year and 150 000 hectares in the third and last year of the strategy. All the operations will be implemented in respect of human health and the environment.

The strategy also includes:

  • establishment and training of a Locust Watch Unit inside the Plant Protection Directorate, for monitoring and analysis of the locust situation over the whole invasion area;
  • aerial and ground survey operations;
  • monitoring and mitigation of locust control operations to preserve human health and protect the environment;
  • training in pesticide and spraying operations management.

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

Photo: ©FAO/Yasuyoshi Chiba
Locust swarms blotting out the sky in Southern Madagascar