In February of this year, farmers in Madagascar’s southwestern province of Tulear were hit hard by a natural disaster. A cyclone caused major flooding, destroying forty per cent of their crops. Now, swarms of locusts have arrived, threatening food security in a region already among the poorest in the country.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO, the cyclone not only damaged crops and homes; it also provided favourable conditions for locusts to breed. About half of Madagascar is now infested by billions of the plant-devouring insects. FAO estimates that about two-thirds of the island will be invaded by locusts by September if no action is taken.
The National Anti-Locust Centre has not been able to carry out necessary prevention work for several years, mainly due to a lack of funds. FAO is trying to raise US$41 million to respond to the current emergency and to implement a three-year campaign to prevent future infestations.
Mr. Tsitindry is a 52-year-old farmer in Fenoarivo, a community about 100 kilometres south of Tulear city. He usually earns a reasonable living from his seven hectares of land. He says, “When the rains were good, I could produce 100 bags of rice and 70 bags of beans.” He sold his crops and bought what his family needed. He also managed to save enough money to buy four cows.
But the cyclone flooded and completely destroyed Mr. Tsitindry’s rice and maize fields. He had to sell two of his cows to raise money. He lost the other two to thieves. Mr. Tsitindry planted vegetables once the water receded, but now these plants are at risk from locusts. He says: “Every morning we all go into the fields and clap to frighten the insects away … we all stay to make sure the locusts don’t come back and eat the leftover crops.”
Dieu Donne Hajasoa is a technical adviser at an information centre for farmers and fishermen in St. Augustin, a fishing village 35 kilometres from Tulear city. He says, “In the last weeks we’ve had many farmers from the remote villages coming here to ask for help.” The authorities in Tulear do not have the resources to help. Farmers need advice on how to clean up their fields, and pesticides to treat the locusts.
The World Food Programme, also known as WFP, says that over 50,000 people in the region were affected by the cyclone. WFP reached 32,000 people with emergency aid, and more than 13,000 are now enrolled in food-for-work projects.
CARE International and WFP set up one such food-for-work project which enables people to earn food for their families by cleaning up Tulear city. But the program will last only one month.
Clementine Claudette and her eight children are among the 3,500 beneficiaries of the CARE project. While her husband tries to replant maize, she receives food in return for work. The project will end soon, but it will be four months before her family can harvest a crop. Mrs. Clementine says, “We’ll try to live off little jobs, like transporting wood to the city and making charcoal.”