As a plague of locusts threatens to decimate Madagascar’s crops, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has sent out an urgent appeal for $22 million to save next year’s planting season.
The FAO believes there are currently one hundred locust swarms ravaging Madagascar’s already embattled crop plantations, each containing around 500 billion locusts that together have the ability to get through 100,000 tonnes of vegetation a day.
“If we don’t act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” FAO director general Jose Graziano da Silva is quoted as saying.
“This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert an extended crisis,” he added.
The FAO estimates that by September two thirds of the country could be affected by the plague.
To put that in real terms, the FAO suggests that the food security and livelihoods of 13 million people depend on next year’s crops, and nine million of those people rely directly on agriculture for food and income.
So, to allow the swarms to endanger Madagascar’s crops is to risk the very food stability of this already devastatingly poor nation.
Unfortunately, the locust swarms have already decimated large swathes of last year’s crops.
The country’s rice and maize losses range from 40 to 70 percent of the crop, with certain plots seeing their entire crop destroyed.
The FAO suggests the locust plague in Madagascar could have been stopped earlier if the world’s governments had fully heeded the FAO’s previous calls for funds, which date back as far as 2011.
Then, the FAO calculated it would need $14.5 million in order to stop the locust plague spread. It received only half that amount.
Now the FAO says it will need $22 million for immediate action and estimates that it will need more than $41.5 million over the next three years in order to adequately deal with this crisis.
“Preventive control measures normally cost $3.3m per year for the 10 affected Sahelian countries. So intervening only when the situation reaches a crisis point cost roughly the same as 170 years of prevention,” the FAO estimates.
The funds, which must be secured by July, will be used to mobilize and equip personnel for a new campaign starting in September to coincide with the new planting season.
This effort will allow the FAO to monitor the swarms and, after assessing where control measures are needed, deploy targeted aerial spraying campaigns across the affected one and a half million hectares of land.
Left unchecked, the problem could escalate to the point where 630,000 tonnes of total rice production would be lost. That’s about 25% of Madagascar’s total rice demand.
In a country where 80% of people subsist on less than a dollar a day, and rice is the cornerstone of their diet, the potential loss of this crop could be devastating.
The FAO stresses that a failure to act now would create conditions for an infestation and potential loss of food stability that could last several years and ultimately end in widespread famine — this is in a country where, according to the last available figures, upwards of 70% of the total population already suffers from malnutrition.
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