Madagascar needs more than $22m 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, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The agency is trying to raise US$41m to respond to the current emergency and implement a three-year campaign to prevent future infestations.
Ignacio Leon-Garcia, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Regional Office for Southern Africa (OCHA-ROSA), told the UN humanitarian and news analysis service, IRIN that the insects were threatening food supplies among the country’s most vulnerable and that the three-year action plan was “the more cost-effective way to respond to the locust outbreaks, before they increase in scale later on.”
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.
FAO said nearly 60% of the island’s population of more than more than 22m 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% of households are food insecure.
The plague now threatens 60% of the country’s rice production. Rice is the main staple in Madagascar, where 80% 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.
Since the start of Madagascar’s political crisis in 2009, the National Anti-Locust Centre (CAN) has not been able to carry out necessary prevention work, mainly due to a lack of funds. The Malagasy Ministry of Agriculture declared a national disaster in November 2012.
In December, the Ministry requested technical and financial assistance from FAO to address the current locust plague, ensure the mobilisation 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. About 2.2m hectares of both natural vegetation and croplands are earmarked.
International donors provided US$7.4m to combat the locust outbreak in 2010-2011 – half of what was needed. In 2012, funding fell back to 26% of the required amount.
Many fear a return to the locust infestations of 1997, which cost the government and international community $60m for the treatment of four million hectares over four years.
Farmers in the southwestern province of Tulear have been hit hard, first by floods and now by locusts. In February the region was hit by cyclone Haruna. According to World Food Programme (WFP) figures, Cyclone Haruna affected over 50,000 people in the region. After reaching 32,000 people with emergency aid, more than 13,000 are now enrolled in food-for-work projects. In Tulear city, where the markets now have food again, these programmes will become cash-for-work projects, starting in May.
“In the last weeks we’ve had many farmers from the remote villages coming here to ask for help,” said Dieudonné Hajasoa, a technical advisor at the ITAFA (Ivotoerana TAntsoroka ho amin’ny FAmpivoarana), an information centre for farmers and fishermen funded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in St. Augustin, a fishing village 35km from Tulear city.
“The farmers need advice on how to clean up their fields, and they need pesticides to treat the locusts. Of every 25 hectares, at least 10 were destroyed by the floods. It took a week for the water to go down. Then, a week later, the locusts came, leaving about 2 hectares of crops.”
Donors suspended all but emergency assistance to Madagascar in 2009, after President Marc Ravalomanana was deposed in a coup d’etat. More than three-quarters of the population now live on less than $1 a day, according to government figures – up from 68% before the political crisis.