Madagascar battling worst locust plague since 1950s

Locusts threatening livelihood of 60% of population, and have already destroyed a quarter of Madagascar’s food crops

MDG Locusts in Madagascar

A locust swarm in Madagascar’s Isalo national park. Photograph: Tiphaine Desjardin/FAO

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At least 1.5m hectares (3.7m acres) could be infested by locusts in two-thirds of the country by September, warns the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Findings from a damage assessment indicate that rice and maize crop losses due to locusts in the mid- and south-western parts of Madagascar vary, on average, from 40% to 70%, reaching up to 100% in some plots.

Madagascar’s agriculture ministry declared a national disaster in November. The food security and livelihoods of 13 million people are at stake, about 60% of the island’s population. Around 9 million people depend directly on agriculture for food and income.

“We don’t have enough funds for pesticide, helicopters and training,” said Alexandre Huynh, the FAO’s representative in Madagascar. “What is extremely costly is to run helicopters [needed to spray pesticides]. We have to start in September, and we have two to three months to prepare. We need $22.4m [£15.1m] but we are quite short of that. Discussions are going on with donors.”

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Bugs are the food of the future: Says the United Nations

Dung beetle (Shutterstock)

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By Agence France-Presse

Beetles, caterpillars and wasps could supplement the diets of billions of people globally and help feed livestock, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Monday, calling for more investment in edible insect farming.

“One of the many ways to address food and feed insecurity is through insect farming,” the report said, pointing out that insects were “nutritious, with high protein, fat and mineral contents”.

“Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint,” it said.

But the authors admitted that “consumer disgust remains one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries”.

It suggested that the food industry could help in “raising the status of insects” by including them in new recipes and putting them on restaurant menus.

The report also called for better regulation and mechanisation for using insects as feed — an industry that at present “cannot compete” with traditional sources of feed.

“The use of insects on a large scale as a feed ingredient is technically feasible, and established companies in various parts of the world are already leading the way,” it added.

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