A build-up of locust populations in south-western Madagascar could turn into a plague and seriously endanger the livelihoods of 13 million people unless a new campaign is launched to contain the crop-devouring insects, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.
The agency called for a $7.3 million fund to treat 300,000 hectares of locust-infested territory from this November to May next year.
“We must break the locust population dynamics in order to prevent further developments that could affect the island for years and seriously impact on the livelihoods of two thirds of the population, or 13 million people,” said FAO’s Annie Monard, who is coordinating anti-locust operations in Madagascar.
“We must respond quickly to this locust upsurge,” said Ms. Monard. “Preventive control is the best and most cost-effective way of dealing with locusts in a sustainable manner.”
FAO, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have been helping the Malagasy Locust Control Centre (CNA) contain populations of Malagasy migratory locusts following an upsurge in March last year.
In parallel with the emergency campaign, FAO is planning a two-year project funded by the French Development Agency to help Madagascar prepare a longer-term locust contingency plan.
Locusts do not always stay in swarms. In south-western Madagascar they typically live on their own as individuals. But if their population density passes the tipping point, their body chemistry changes and they undergo a behavioural, ecological and physiological transformation.
After these changes, individual locusts begin to concentrate and act as a synchronized group of hopper bands, or wingless locusts, or as adult swarms, moving out en masse to find new food sources. Changes in their bodies allow them to fly over greater distances, up to 100 kilometres a day, as well as making them able to digest a wider range of vegetation and crops.
An adult locust can consume its own weight – roughly two grams – in fresh food daily. A very small part of an average swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 2,500 people, FAO said.