Travelling on foot to villages in the Malagasy countryside, where we carried out focus groups with farmers and their families. Here, the black rat is a major threat to public health and food security.
Photo by Kathryn Scobie.

By Kathryn Scobie, Xavier Lambin, Sandra Telfer, Mendrika Fenohasina Rasahivelo, Rova Raheliarison, Minoarisoa Rajerison, and Juliette Young.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; please check back for a link to the full paper.

Across the globe, rodents (e.g., mice and rats) are major pests, causing devastating damage to agriculture, spreading disease, and threatening native plants and animals. The crops lost to rodent pests could feed hundreds of millions of people, whilst tens of thousands of people are killed each year by the diseases which rodents carry. Unfortunately, despite the untold damage rodents cause, humans have not yet found a way to control rodent pests effectively and sustainably. Increasingly, however, research is showing us that to control rodents we need governments, scientists, and local communities to work together.

The plague is perhaps the most infamous disease that rats spread. One of the countries the plague worst affects is Madagascar. There, black rats carry fleas that can spread bubonic plague to humans via their bite. The black rat is now ubiquitous in Madagascar and government and community control efforts have failed to effectively manage the rat population.

To kickstart a collaborative approach to rodent control in Madagascar, we interviewed government workers, scientists and other experts from the health, agriculture and environment sectors, to understand their perspectives on the rodent problem. We also spoke to farmers and their families to understand the impact rodents have on their daily lives.

We found that people affected by rodents were all concerned with rats’ impact on food security, nutrition and human health, and we encountered widespread support for the development of rodent control strategies. However, we also encountered many different attitudes towards how rodents should be controlled, which can create frustration and conflict. We show that rodent control policies should incorporate scientific data and local ecological knowledge. Such policies should respect the needs of the people involved and should link to broader targets, such as protecting human health and livelihoods. Control programmes will surely benefit from a collaborative approach, in which different stakeholders work together to achieve shared goals, and which foster open and transparent communication with local communities.

This study thus contributes to literature on rodent control in Madagascar and collaborative approaches within public health interventions more generally.