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A locust can consume its body weight — about 2 grams — in a day. Multiply that by billions and you have some idea of the scale of the problem.
A plague of migratory locusts is consuming Madagascar.
It began in April 2012 and now threatens the livelihoods of 13 million people, or about 60 percent of the impoverished nation's population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Here a farmer uses a reed to protect his rice crop from a swarm of hungry locusts. His efforts are in vain.
The locusts have multiplied uncontrollably in recent years and have infested nearly two-thirds of the country, which is off the coast of southeast Africa. More than 90 percent of the population here lives on less than $2 a day.
They might look small, but locusts can eat a lot. A single locust can consume its own weight in food — about 2 grams — a day. A medium-sized swarm can devour up to 100,000 tons of green vegetation in the same time.
Madagascar's Ministry for Agriculture and the UN's FAO launched a three-year aerial spraying campaign in September 2013 to reduce — but not eradicate — the locust population.
Using a combination of chemical and biological pesticides, authorities have been able to control locust populations that had been feasting on more than 2.5 million acres. They are half way to their target.
The locust population has exploded for a couple of reasons. The first one is government inaction. A military coup in 2009 triggered a political and economic crisis in Madagascar. The European Union and the United States suspended foreign aid. The government became too busy and too broke to deal with the plague.
The second is deforestation. The World Wildlife Fund estimates between 500,000 and 740,000 acres of forest in Madagascar are cleared each year. That creates more grasslands, which attracts more locusts.