Near-Biblical Locust Plague Threatens Madagascar: $41 Million Needed to Combat Insects

First Posted: Mar 28, 2013 11:48 AM EDT

A plague of locusts has swept across Madagascar, destroying crops and causing millions of dollars-worth of damage. Now the country says that it will need $41 million invested over three years in order to help fight off the infestation that has grasped more than half of one of the largest islands in the world.

Locusts are usually composed of one of several species of short-horned grasshoppers. During their swarming phase, the mass of insects can eat as much as 100,000 metric tons of crops per day. If Madagascar fails to tackle the current issue, it could face devastating future consequences and expenses.

The near-Biblical swarm is currently threatening about 60 percent of the island's staple rice crop. If officials are unable to stop the cloud of insects in time, it's possible that the island will need to face enormous food aid expenses in the future. Currently, the island needs $22 million by June in order to employ large-scale aerial spraying, and an additional $19 million over three years to recover from the national disaster.

"We know from experience that the plague will require three years of anti-locust campaigns," said Annie Monard, the Food and Agriculture Organization's senior locust officer, in a statement. "Campaigns in past years were underfunded, and unfortunately it means not all locust infestations were controlled."

The current infestation has been compounded by a series of factors. The plague has been threatening Madagascar since December, but little aid has been given to the country. After Cyclone Haruna flooded rice fields on the island, ideal breeding conditions were left for the insects. In addition, 250,000 acres of farmland has been left untreated for locusts due to limited funding--a recipe for disaster.

Currently, the FAO says that it will need to conduct an impact assessment of the locusts' effects on crops and pasture each year in order to determine the type of support necessary to combat lingering issues. Thousands of people's livelihoods could be affected by the current swarm.

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