Commentary: Madagascar and world need insecticides

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Elimination of powerful pesticide use replaced with all organic farming could result in the situation of Madagascar where the country’s vegetation is being devoured by millions of locusts.

Those entomologists who have investigated the Madagascar situation report the country needs more than $22 million of emergency funding, mainly for insecticide applications by June, to fight a severe locust plague that threatens the country's next cropping season and the food security of more than half the country's population, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The FAO stressed that control of the locust plague will require three years of intense management under a three-year strategy using pesticides along with other control measures. The three-year cost is estimated at $41 million.  

“Currently, about half the country is infested by hoppers and flying swarms—each swarm made up of billions of plant-devouring insects,” according to FAO.  The organization estimates that about two-thirds of the island country will be affected by the locust plague by September 2013 if no action is taken

Looking at the forthcoming disaster, the Ministry of Agriculture of Madagascar declared a state of public disaster for the whole country on Nov. 27, 2012. In December, the ministry requested technical and financial assistance from FAO to address the current locust plague. The emergency funding will allow a full-scale insecticide spraying campaign for the remainder of 2013.

“Nearly 60 percent of the island's more than 22 million people could be threatened by a significant worsening of hunger in a country that already has extremely high rates of food insecurity and malnutrition. In the poorest southern regions, where the plague started, around 70 percent of households are food insecure.

“The plague now threatens 60 percent of the country's rice production. Rice is the main staple in Madagascar, where 80 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar per day. The locust swarms would also consume most green vegetation that might normally serve as pasture for livestock,” the FAO explained.

"We know from experience that this plague will require three years of anti-locust campaigns. We need funds now to procure supplies and to timely set-up the aerial survey and control operations," said Annie Monard, FAO senior officer and coordinator of the FAO locust response. Second and third generation locusts can survive without continued control programs.

The FAO doesn’t generally like to talk about the pesticide use necessary to control pests or how the lack of money by farmers to buy insecticides leads to reoccurring problems.

“The national Locust Control Center has thus far treated 30 000 hectares of farmland since the six-month rainy season began in October 2012, but some 100 000 hectares that need to be treated haven't been, due to the government's limited capacity,” FAO reports.

Those in the world that don’t have plagues of insects on a regular basis are the ones quick to suggest banning pesticides because they might contaminate the environment, even though pesticides have been proven to be safe, effective and not an environmental concern when properly used.

I wonder if so many farmers use conventional crop production pesticides in the U.S. that insect populations are kept under control so much that neighboring organic farmers don’t have to deal with high insect populations.

The U.S. agricultural industry has sophisticated scouting by ag professionals to recognize early emerging problems and who jump into action with control strategies; this knowledge of scouting does not exist in Madagascar or other third-world agricultural-based economies. But FAO officials know that monitoring and analysis followed by aerial and ground spraying is necessary.

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