LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A locust plague threatens to bring a serious food crisis to Madagascar, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned on Wednesday, appealing for at least $22 million to fund an emergency control campaign.
The FAO expects locusts will have infested two thirds of the southeast African island nation by September, and estimates the insects could cause losses in rice production amounting to a quarter of national demand. Rice is the main staple in Madagascar, where 80 percent of people live on less than a dollar a day.
The effects of the locust plague could severely affect the food security and livelihoods of 13 million people, or nearly 60 percent of the population, the FAO said.
“If we don’t act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert an extended crisis,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in a statement.
Based on a 2003-2005 locust plague in the Sahel region of Africa, the FAO calculated that intervening only when the situation reaches a crisis point cost roughly the same as 170 years of prevention. But donors have provided less than half of earlier funding requests for the control operation in Madagascar.
A recent FAO mission to study the impact of the plague - the worst to hit the country since the 1950s - found that rice and maize losses due to the locusts range from 40 to 70 percent of the crop in some areas, with 100 percent losses on certain plots. A more detailed analysis will be available next month, it added.
Getting the supplies and personnel in place to launch a large-scale anti-locust campaign in September requires funding to be allocated by July, the FAO said.
The locust situation must be monitored throughout the contaminated area and targeted aerial operations carried out, otherwise undetected or uncontrolled locust populations will breed and produce more swarms, it said. If that happens, the plague would last several years, doing more damage to local people, and controlling it will be longer and more expensive.
The FAO is seeking more than $41.5 million for the complete programme needed to combat the locust plague over the next three years. It will include better monitoring and analysis, further spraying, and actitivities to mitigate the impact of the control operations on health and the environment.
Madagascar's ministry of agriculture declared a national disaster in November, and requested assistance from the FAO to tackle the locust plague.
Cyclone Haruna worsened the situation when it hit southwest Madagascar in late February, not only damaging crops and homes, but also providing ideal breeding conditions for locusts for longer than usual.