Locust Plague Ravages Madagascar

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For three quarters of an hour a giant swarm of locusts streams across the sky above southwest Madagascar.

Along National Route Seven, normally an artery for tourists enjoying breathtaking views of the island's vast open spaces, a 15-kilometer-long (9-mile) swarm clouds the sky.

Travelers today see little more than a natural disaster in progress -- a plague of locusts which has already destroyed half of the Indian Ocean island's crops.

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Madagascar's worst locust plague in 60 years has infested about half of the island, destroying crops and raising concerns over food shortages.

"There's already little rice. Not many people have more than 10 hectares of crops, so after the locusts, there's nothing left for our women and children to eat," said local farmer Zefa Vilimana.

"The cattle have nothing left to eat either, so we're left with nothing once the locusts have been here."

In Ranohira, a village further to the south, Joseph Rakoto has lost half his rice crops since the swarms came.

"We buy pesticides against rice parasites ourselves but it doesn't work against locusts. The government doesn't give us anything," he said.

According to experts, there are currently 100 swarms across Madagascar, made up of about 500 billion ravenous locusts.

They get through around 100,000 tonnes of vegetation every single day.

"They can create a lot of damage, they eat the pastures, and then also the rice and the corn, which is about to be harvested," said Tsitohaina Andriamaroahina from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Andriamaroahina headed a joint scout mission into the plague with UN food agency FAO, ending in April.

"The facts drive me to my knees," he said, frustrated with the scale of the destruction.

Locals often eat the hoppers, which usually occur in moderate numbers in the southern and southwestern parts of the country.

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