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Madagascar Corn, Rice Production Threatened by Locusts, FAO Says

Corn and rice production in Madagascar may be threatened by a locust plague if the government fails to raise enough money to fight the insects, the Food and Agriculture Organization said.

Groups of immature locusts known as hoppers have been detected in the country’s west as close as 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the capital, Antananarivo, Alexandre Huynh of the FAO said in an interview yesterday. The government needs to stop the insects from swarming and becoming a plague, he said.

Madagascar in November appealed to donors for $10 million to help combat the locusts. While the Malagasy Locust Control Centre has treated 30,000 hectares (74,130 acres) of farmland since the six-month rainy season began in October, it still needs to attend to a further 100,000 hectares, Huynh said.

Rice production in Madagascar, an Indian Ocean island nation of 21 million people, fell 7 percent to 4 million metric tons last year, while corn output dropped by the same margin to 400,000 tons, according to the FAO. The country imported about 171,000 tons of rice in the first 11 months of 2012, the FAO said. Madagascar is the world’s second-biggest vanilla grower, after Indonesia, though that crop isn’t threatened because locusts don’t swarm in the eastern rainforests where the pods are grown.

Madagascar’s corn and cassava crops have already been damaged by Cyclone Haruna that hit the country’s southwestern region last month, according to Care International, the Geneva-based aid agency.

Sensitive Area

At least 23 people died and 16 people are missing after the storm, which also left 12,624 people homeless. The areas around the towns of Morombe and Tulear were worst affected, John Uniack Davis, country director for CARE, said in an interview.

“Agriculture in this area is very sensitive, with only one planting season, so after crop damage from the cyclone, we expect pockets of food insecurity in the future,” he said.

The Malagasy authorities and the FAO estimate that three successive locust campaigns are needed by 2016 to control the pests, Huynh said. To reach this objective, a three-year, $41.5 million program to treat 2.2 million hectares needs to start in September using aerial-control operations, he said.

The threat posed by locusts is aggravated by the fact that the authorities failed to raise enough money in previous years to combat locust hoppers effectively. Donor aid to Madagascar, excluding humanitarian assistance, was halted in 2009 when the country’s government was overthrown in a coup.

Locusts have previously threatened the corn crops in southern Madagascar, a region which is prone to periods of dry weather and unstable crop production.

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