More than a quarter of households in rural areas of Madagascar are suffering food shortages because of poor harvests this year. Many growers have seen their crops decimated by locusts or damaged by cyclones or flooding, while others blame a long period of poor rains. In total, around 4 million people are affected across 20 regions of the country, mainly in the south.
The extent of the island’s food crisis has been revealed in a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in conjunction with the World Food Programme (WFP). These UN agencies have warned that families are struggling due to low yields of rice and maize and the situation could get much worse during the lean season at the end of the year, when a further 9.6 million people could be at risk of food insecurity.
Malnutrition rates already high
Madagascar already has the highest rate of stunting among children due to malnourishment, with around half of under-fives stunted. The WFP runs a school feeding programme in parts of the country to address the problem, though it has been struggling to keep this funded.
With a national deficit of rice and maize, UN agencies are planning to increase support programmes. Extra assistance will include a three-year locust control programme, where locust populations are being mapped using aerial surveys and will be treated from this month with the large-scale spraying of insecticide.
To improve food security for the most vulnerable communities, the WFP and FAO have also been offering food packages and supplements to children, and pregnant and nursing women. Projects to improve water irrigation and farming methods have also been underway, including the promotion of short-cycle crops and diversification. Some communities have been provided with new plants such as papaya trees and vegetables, to help provide fruits and extra food to keep families going through the lean season. Trees have often been planted as part of food-for-work schemes. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, one mother of three said that by earning money through one of these schemes, she had managed to buy two goats. These animals are now her best insurance for “when we run out of food completely”.