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Locusts devastate crops and farmland, threatening Madagascar’s population with widespread hunger. (Josef Niedermeier Image Broker / Newscom)

A Locust Plague in Africa

Swarms of locusts are blanketing the island nation of Madagascar

By Tyrus Cukavac | April 4 , 2013
<p>PHOTO: Billions of locusts have infested roughly half of this poor African nation. (Thomas Marent / Visuals Unlimited / Corbis) </p><p> MAP: Madagascar is home to some of the world’s most unique animal and plant life. (Jim McMahon) </p>

PHOTO: Billions of locusts have infested roughly half of this poor African nation. (Thomas Marent / Visuals Unlimited / Corbis)

MAP: Madagascar is home to some of the world’s most unique animal and plant life. (Jim McMahon)

The country of Madagascar is facing a nationwide pest-control problem. Billions of locusts have infested this island in the Indian Ocean. Experts say the small, winged insects have been flying in mile-long packs.

“You don’t see anything except locusts,” says Alexandre Huynh of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “You turn around, there are locusts everywhere.”

Although locusts do not attack people, such a huge number of insects can devastate crops and farmland. Experts worry that the locusts will destroy rice crops and pastureland needed to raise livestock. People in Madagascar rely on these resources for food.

The FAO estimates that the insect infestation could cause 60 percent of the population to suffer from famine (a dangerous shortage of food).

A COUNTRY IN NEED

The locusts have come at a time when people in Madagascar are already struggling to make ends meet. The country is considered impoverished, or poor. Seventy-seven percent of its more than 22 million citizens live on less than $1.25 per day, making it difficult for them to buy enough food to survive.

The food shortage isn’t a problem just for people. The country is home to some of the world’s most unique animal life. Many different species of animals, such as lemurs, can be found living in the wild only on Madagascar. The locusts threaten the food supplies of many of these rare species.

Ninety percent of the country’s plant species can be found nowhere else in the world. Scientists are worried these rare plants are also in danger, as locust swarms can eat through entire fields of vegetation.

INSECT INVASION

Last fall, officials sprayed insecticide (bug-killing chemicals) on the farmland to keep the locust population under control. But in February, a windy weather event called a cyclone washed away much of the insecticide. The cyclone also left thousands of people homeless and destroyed important crops.

Currently, the locusts are infesting half the country. But the tiny terrors could spread across two thirds of the island by September if no one takes action. Some experts estimate that the swarms could harm Madagascar for up to a full decade.

“The last [infestation] was in the 1950s, and it had a duration of 17 years, so if nothing is done, it can last for 5 to 10 years, depending on the conditions,” Annie Monard, an FAO locust control expert, told the BBC news organization.

The FAO is urgently requesting $22 million in aid from the international community to fix the immediate problem. It intends to start spraying insecticide across the country. The FAO says an additional $19 million will be needed to keep the country safe from future plagues.

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