26 June 2013

Locust Plague in Madagascar Continues Unaverted.

First off, Happy Independence Day! 53 Years since Madagascar achieved independence from France in 1960. To celebrate on this blog I want to call your attention to an underreported and critically underfunded crisis that is happening here right now.

I'd always imagined a locust plague, have never witnessed one, to be a huge cloud of millions of locusts that fly through an area eating their way before moving on and soon dying. Crop lost but that's it. Unfortunately, that isn't how these things work at all. Well, you can get the cloud, and it could be up to a hundred miles long, but if the plague isn't fought, if the locusts aren't stopped, they just keep breeding and multiplying and each year the plague continues. It doesn't just end.

Madagascar has been swarmed with locusts since early this year. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has been issuing warnings since August 2012. They have been trying to raise funds to be able to monitor and eradicate the insects but unfortunately got nowhere near the $11 million they required then.

The swarm has now grown to plague proportions.  According to a recent FAO mission "in parts of the country rice and maize losses due to the locusts vary from 40 to 70 percent of the crop, with 100 percent losses on certain plots." About two thirds of the island is affected, over half its population, and mostly poor subsistence farmers who have no fallback form the loss of their rice harvest. Given a still intransigent strongman in power and political and economic isolation, this problem can't be solved with market substitutes either.

At least today I can say that  Bloomberg and some other international media are finally picking up the story, because the window on keeping this from being a protracted, multi-year devastating tragedy beyond what it already is is closing. "“If we don’t act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said. “This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert an extended crisis.”"

Is the international community going to come to the aid of those in need here, or just go on pretending Madagascar is an uninhabited island filled with talking cartoon animals?

08 June 2013

Dispatches from the Great Island - Take 5

Just a quick post to re-boot this blog.

I arrived in Tana a couple days ago. I will be in Madagascar through August. One more summer to get to know this island (well, as the last two nights reminded me as I was trying to find more blankets - it's winter here)! While I am settling in and waiting for my bags to arrive (hopefully they are two days behind me...) I realized that there is plenty of interest going on that should have been utilizing this space for.

View from my balcony at Niaouly Hotel overlooking the East end of Avenue de l'Independence

Over the last year, I've been settling into a PhD program at Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. During that time I finished up my thesis from Wisconsin and have been a co-author on two papers that stemmed from work around Ankeniheny-Zahamena. Id like to let you all know what that was about, but for an introduction to the field work that was involved, you can see this post. Hopefully, those posts will be able to function as a wonderful epilogue in lieu of the second chapter that never materialized.

I have begun work on a new project that will be in Maroantsetra. You can check out Dr. Chris Golden's website for tons of information about the area and the work that he has conducted there. I'll be collaborating with him and his team to expand efforts to take a deeper look at forest management institutions and access to forest resources.

I made a quick trip there in January with a couple of faculty members. Ill try to update briefly on my initial impressions from this first trip. I will be looking at issues of access to land and forest resources as they relate to conservation, people's livelihoods, and health outcomes. Ill try to provide some real-time impressions of what some of the points of contention are around Makira Natural Park. You can bet that the REDD funding mentioned in that article is going to be one, but I'll be very interested in what local people think on all things forest and farming.

Madagascar's political crises continues - it's high time to get caught up on some links. For a start, you should definitely be aware of the financial consequences, as presented by the World Bank.

That should take us through the summer. If there is anything in particular you'd like to see here, let me know.