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Drought blights farms, increases hunger, in Madagascar
January 14, 2018, 12:30 pm

A series of droughts aggravated by the recent El Nino weather phenomena have left close to a million people struggling to cope in southern Madagascar, the island nation to the south east of Africa.

Prolonged drought is increasing the risk of malnutrition and could cause deaths in children younger than five, half of whom already suffer from stunting, said a spokesperson for Madagascar’s Ministry of Environment

In the south of the island, where many people farm for a living, the rainy season is getting shorter and shorter. Rains that once stretched from October to March now fall only between December and February.

The El Nino event — a warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific that often causes drought in southern Africa — has aggravated already dry conditions, driving hunger not only in Madagascar but across southern Africa. Though the El Nino effect has now officially ended, many areas in Africa continue to be devastated by harsh weather conditions.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), nine in 10 people in Madagascar live on less than $2 a day. The organization estimates that there are over 850,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, including 391,000 children. Poverty is even worse in the dry south, where the lack of water has left farmers without crops.

In Madagascar, despite rich biodiversity and diverse agricultural products, 76 percent of the population falls below the minimum dietary energy requirements of 2,133 kcals per day. The prevalence of chronic malnutrition among children under five years of age is among the highest in the world while the prevalence of poverty in rural areas is above 80 percent. Limited financial resources and investment in agriculture and in rural areas is among the chief causes of poverty and food and nutrition insecurity in Madagascar.

Jean-Benoît Manhes, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Madagascar, called the situation a "silent crisis", which gets little attention because of the island's lack of geopolitical significance. "(It's) a French-speaking island in an English-speaking region. With a (something like a) cyclone you can take nice before and after photos," he said. But with drought, "it just gets a little bit dryer each year."

Meanwhile, families are surviving on whatever food is available. "There's no food and people are hungry. We only eat cactus seed and fruit. We cook it and boil it with water," said Rafoava Ravaonimira, 65, a resident of one village. “It is heart-breaking for a mother to choose which of her children she can feed and who would have to go hungry on any day,” she said.

A new financial agreement, signed between the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Madagascar, is expected to sustainably improve incomes and food and nutrition security for 320,000 Malagasy rural households in eight regions located in the southern part of the country. The total cost of the program is US$250 million, including a $26.5 million loan and $26.5 million grant from IFAD. The program is to be implemented over a period of 10 years in order to provide stable and predictable financing to producers.

By supporting Madagascar’s national systems for agricultural development, it is hoped the program will contribute toward achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) help concentrate investments in selected production hubs that facilitate agricultural services provision, products aggregation and access to market; strengthening and supporting farmers.


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