In Madagascar’s Capital City, a Plague of Locusts

In Madagascar’s Capital City, a Plague of Locusts

A quick glance at the sky today in Antananarivo, Madagascar, reveals a massive storm cloud rolling through.

On second look, though, it becomes clear that it’s no nimbus cloud but a seemingly endless stream of locusts flying low through the city’s already polluted skies.

Locust plagues have damaged Madagascar’s farmland for the past three years, as in the biblical story, prompting the government in November 2012 to declare a national emergency and allow the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to launch a pesticide campaign in September 2013.

With 1.2 million hectares treated with pesticides, the problem is under better control now. 

But a recent heat wave in the Central Highlands region brought new hordes of locusts to the capital city, where they disrupt daily life for the urban enclave’s some 2 million residents.

This year, the large, flying insects were mainly isolated in the country’s west, where they’ve threatened the livelihoods of farmers whose crops were quickly destroyed by the leaf munchers.

The FAO estimates 13 million people’s incomes are threatened by the invasion, which would require $43.9 million to completely control.

The invasion of farmland prompted fears of food shortages, as it takes only a few hours for a swarm of locusts to wipe out a field of crops.

But in Antananarivo, it’s residents’ health that is at risk, as some catch the low-flying bugs in plastic water bottles to eat, which is dangerous because many are now contaminated by pesticides.

"We always advise the population to not eat the locusts because we are already using pesticides to treat them," Patrice Talla Takoukam, a spokesman for the FAO in Madagascar, told Agence France-Presse in a televised interview.

For now, whether residents are running to catch them or running to avoid them, the locusts are only multiplying.

And the problem will take some serious funding, another $15 million or so beyond the U.N. plan, to get under the infestation fully under control. 

"We need to put our heads together and mobilize our resources," Takoukam said. "If we don’t…. Then our risk is that we’ll continue to have invasions like we have in the past two years."