The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned in a news release that an additional 9.6 million people are at risk of food insecurity. A joint assessment conducted in June/July by the two Rome-based agencies said the poor agricultural season was due to a combination of factors: erratic weather conditions last year, cyclones early this year – causing flooding – followed by a period of poor rains. Another factor was the devastation caused by a locust plague that both damaged crops and discouraged farmers from planting. The south of the island – already a chronically food-insecure area – has been particularly badly affected. The production of rice – the country’s staple – declined by 21 per cent this year, resulting in a national rice deficit of 240,000 metric tons for the 2013/14 marketing year. Maize production in 2013 will also not satisfy domestic requirements, according to the agencies, and an estimated 28,000 metric tons of imported maize will be required to help bridge the deficit. The joint UN report calls for swift locust control measures to avert further destruction of crops, preventing a potentially larger impact on national production in 2014.A three-year locust control programme, run by FAO and the Government of Madagascar, started on the island at the end of September with aerial surveys to identify and map out locust populations. Procurement of pesticides, vehicles and equipment for survey and control operations is in progress and spraying is expected to start by late October. The aim is to reduce locust populations through the treatment of more than two million hectares of infested land. “Food is the main expense for about one-third of households, which spend up to 75 per cent of their budget on food purchases,” says the report. “These figures are likely to rise as prices increase, while wages have not been adjusted to the current inflation rates.” WFP and FAO are joining together to assist vulnerable communities through, among other measures: provision of food assistance to the most vulnerable people with special emphasis on the needs of children, pregnant and nursing women; construction or rehabilitation in the south of the island of community infrastructure such as irrigation canals, dams and water catchment systems; and provision of adequate support to farmers to increase the production of staple crops such as rice, maize and tubers.