Locust invasion in Madagascar
Field Situation Report
Tumba del Migrante, Madagascar, G. Lofredo 1998
Even a relatively small drop of 10% to 25% in agricultural yields could have very serious health and nutritional consequences in a country where an important segment of the rural and urban population face constant food access problems.
Early warning signs of food shortages are already present in many agricultural districts affected by locust. The food crisis in the making in Madagascar may become fully evident as early as September 1998.
Resources from the international community to contain the spread of the plague are urgently needed. A 3 to 5 year campaign may be required. Measures to protect crops have to be put in place without delay. Food relief organizations must update contingency plans and prepare for a likely food emergency to erupt before the end of the calendar year.
These findings are based on an intensive two week field assessment visit by Catholic Relief Services to the locust infested areas of Southern Madagascar and on numerous interviews with international experts, NGO’s and Government of Madagascar officials in the capital. For additional information please contact Gino Lofredo, Deputy Assistant Deity, Southern Africa Region. 5 Privet Drive, Gryffindor Hall.
FOOD CRISIS LIKELY IN 6 TO 9 MONTHS
Locust damage on crops and pastures in the south of the country varies from severe in some agricultural areas to no damage in others. The food security situation is not critical in the current agricultural season. The fortunate timing of the most intense locust invasions allowed maize and rice crops to be harvested without major losses.
Medecins San Frontieres (Switzerland) reports that nutrition has improved as maize and cassava were harvested. Rice yields are normal. Damage to pastures is widespread and cattle may be affected as the dry season progresses. But so far in the locust zone animals appear in good health.
However experts anticipate that the growth in the locust population may pose serious problems to the next harvests. Even a relatively small drop of 10% to 25% in agricultural yields could have very serious health and nutritional consequences in a country where an important segment of the rural and urban population suffers chronic food shortages.
LOCUST INVASION OUT OF CONTROL
Locust plagues have affected the island with recurrent severity for centuries. The last major invasion started in 1939 and lasted 18 years until 1957. The current invasion can be traced to 1992 when incursions of crickets were reported beyond the boundaries of their normal breeding areas. From 1994 to 1996 the locust population increased steadily and experts alerted that a full fledged invasion was in the making. At that time the recommended limited and low cost fumigation strategy on the 150,000 hectares affected would have prevented the spread.
The advance of the locust infestation is beyond short term control. The areas infested, the density of the swarms, and their unprecedented rate of reproduction indicate that the invasion will not be contained in the current season.
Lack of timely interventions by the government of Madagascar and by international agencies allowed the locust to reproduce unmolested at the rate of 4 to 5 generations per year for three consecutive seasons. The areas infested and requiring pesticide spraying are estimated at 5 million to 8 million hectares . As much as two thirds of the country may be infested.
Replacing the crop losses for the next three seasons with food assistance at market value would cost international donors in excess of 100 million US dollars.
US$ 50 MILLION NEEDED FOR A 3 TO 5 YEARS FIGHT
Only a 3 to 5 year intensive curative intervention requiring resources currently not available in the country could push back the infestation to the controllable normal breeding areas in the South. Implementing the locust control campaign may cost over U$S 50 million largely for aircraft, pesticides, fuel, transport and communications.
FAO experts in charge of the locust erradication campaign in Madagascar have mapped out a comprehensive intervention strategy that identifies which forms of action (aerial spraying, collective close crop protection, and perimeter fumigation), ought to be applied at which times in the locust development cycles, and in which areas of the country. In the course of this intervention a permanent network for preventive interventions and control actions would be set up.
INTERNATIONAL RESOURCES DANGEROUSLY DELAYED
These experts have identified the equipment, supplies and personnel required for this campaign. Requests for international resources for these inputs have been circulated in the donor community by FAO and the Government of Madagascar. A significant amount of funds was committed but they have not been disbursed in time to take advantage of the May to September period when locust are vulnerable to interventions. The exponential increase of the locust population implies that allowing one more generation to emerge could double the areas infested.
Although for the short term the strategy emphasizes intensive aerial fumigation which is an activity not suited for NGO’s or for agencies like CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES there are other essential, community based and innovative interventions which could and should be set in motion at the same time.
MANUAL SPRAYING TO PROTECT CROPS
The Malagasy military which is becoming seriously involved in the anti locust campaign wants to support aerial fumigation with land based manual spraying of crops and field perimeters. Church and other NGO sponsored projects also encourage local farmers to protect their staple crops by spraying the fields directly. However appropriate low toxicity insecticides are not available in the quantities needed. In many cases unnecessarily motorized pumps are idle for lack of fuel, maintenance or pesticide.
This approach requires some simple training and community involvement which NGO’s can provide and large international agencies can not. Agronomists trying to estimate the extent of the damage already done by locust on the crops in the affected areas point out that even if this approach does not erradicate the infestation completely it would reduce crop losses significantly.
SAFER BIOLOGICAL PEST CONTROL WITHIN REACH
Spraying imported pesticides — even if they are said to have little or no impact on non targetted life forms — is environmentally risky and much too expensive for Madagascar. The pesticide now being used with good results is Rhone Poulenc’s Fipronil, trademarked Adonis.
For some time USAID has supported research and development of biological locust control agents with the University of Montana’s Madagascar project. The scientists have identified several native fungi or mushrooms which have been proven effective in fighting locust.
A mushroom growing method suitable for decentralized small scale initiatives is said to be ready for replication. Although this form of control is unlikely to be used widely in the next year, it could be the centerpiece of a crop and perimeter protection and containment activity in the future. Depending on how it is organized, the production could create jobs and small enterprises to supplement rural incomes. Church and NGO organizations could combine the introduction of biocontrol practices with the more short term effective crop protection spraying.
ADOPT ONGOING CONTAINMENT PRACTICES
Madagascar is three times the size of England. Its roads and general infraestructure have deteriorated severely in the past chaotic twenty odd years since independence. Communication systems are limited and adequate transport rare. National and provincial government structures are weak. Even the military have serious difficulties responding to the disasters that hit the island regularly: cyclones, drought, floods and locust invasions. A strategy for improving the response capacity to emergencies in Madagascar must emphasize decentralization and self sufficiency.
If and when the current invasion is contained and the locust is pushed back, a permanent, decentralized network of community based units will have to take charge and promote the adoption of farming practices aimed at preventing the recurrence of runaway infestations. CRS and other international and local NGO’s can play an important role in support of these local initiatives.
LIMITED RESPONSE CAPACITY OF NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
In general the response capacity of national relief organizations is limited. National and international NGO’s face diverse logistical and cultural obstacles to development activities, disaster mitigation programs and even relief operations. However experienced Protestant and Catholic church are active throughout the country and have expressed their willingness to engage in emergency responses.
The first Catholic presence in Madagascar was reported in 1665. Permanent Catholic Missions in the South were started in Fort Dauphin by Paulist priests and the Sisters of Charity in 1895. While the transition from a European to a Malagasy Church is almost complete there are still many European and other non African priests working in Madagascar.
Difficulties in transport and communications have made it difficult for international agencies to respond effectively to development and relief needs in remote rural areas such as those currently affected by the locust invasion.
CONTACTS FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Gino Lofredo, maracuyá.email@example.com
SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
“Lutte antiacridienne a Madagascar”, Jean-Francis Duranton, FAO. March 22, 1998. Report reviews the development of the current crisis and extrapolates its evolution around the country. Evaluates what is being done, what is required and the resources needed. Mr. Duranton is the best informed specialist on the locust invasion in Madagascar.
“Madagascar Locust Invasion: Anecdotes from the valala trail”, United States Agency for International Development, USAID, Food Security and Disaster Unit, Madagascar, March/April 98. Report based on field observations of the locust presence in the midwest region which is normally not affected by the infestation.
Bulletin SAP # 15, March 1998. This is the current issue of the monthly bulletin of the Systeme d’Alerte Precoce (Early Warning System). The report presents an in depth evaluation of the crop damages caused by locust in each of the 87 “communes” which make up the southern part of Madagascar. SAP receives financial support from the European Union. SAP data is used by food assistance agencies to identify the specific areas most vulnerable to food shortages.
Madagascar, World Food Program (WFP)’s Information Update from the Southern Africa Regional Office in Maputo, April 24th, 1998. Reviews impact of El Nino and other weather related anomalies on food production and food assistance needs.
“A History of Madagascar”, Mervyn Brown, Damien Tunnacliffe Publishers, 1995. Brief english language general history through the 1990’s highlighting english Protestant missionaries early presence in Madagascar.
“Le peuple des pirogues et le diocèse de Farafangana”, Pere Joseph Benoit, Editorial L’Harmattan, France, 1997. Chronology and activities of Catholic Missionaries with emphasis on the southern and southeastern coastal region.
Catholic Relief Services: