Madagascar is classified as a least developed country and is also a low-income, food-deficit nation. More than 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and over 50 percent of children under three years of age suffer retarded growth due to a chronically inadequate diet. Chronic food insecurity affects about 8 percent of the population, while another 50 percent experience transitional food insecurity, particularly during the lean season.
Subsistence farming is especially risky in disaster-prone Madagascar. Over the past 35 years, at least 50 natural disasters, including cyclones, drought, epidemics, floods, famines and locust infestations, have been reported, affecting more than 11 million people.
The worst recent disaster – cyclone Ivan – affected 330,000 people when it struck north-eastern Madagascar in February 2008. However, the country is hit by serious storms almost every year, including a few in early 2009. The eastern coastal and southern regions are the most exposed to seasonal food insecurity.
Insufficient and irregular rainfall in three regions in southern Madagascar in late 2008 and early 2009 had a devastating impact on last year's main harvest, leaving many vulnerable families in need of assistance.
Meanwhile, purchasing power has decreased in many parts of Madagascar, especially in rural areas where farm incomes cannot keep pace with increasing prices for basic necessities. In addition, political instability is exacerbating the already precarious situation for many vulnerable households.
WFP’s food aid distributions target the most vulnerable, including the elderly, orphans and other vulnerable children, pregnant and nursing mothers, underweight children under the age of five, and people living with HIV/AIDS and their households. In total, WFP assisted around 1.3 million beneficiaries in 2009.
- School meals: WFP carries out a school feeding programme across the southern regions of Madagascar, which has the highest illiteracy rate in the country (55 percent) as well as being vulnerable to recurrent drought and food insecurity. School feeding helps to keep children in class in a region where boys are often withdrawn from school to tend cattle and girls to marry. This activity contributes to the 'Education for All' objectives elaborated in the Madagascar Action Plan 2007-2011. In collaboration with the government, WFP started a school meals programme in five vulnerable southern districts, expanding WFP assistance to a total of 170,000 children in 883 schools during the 2008/2009 school year. WFP is expecting to expand the programme further in 2010, reaching around 215,000 children in 1,200 schools. The programme also includes meals for the teachers and the cooks.
- Food for Work: Families that provide at least one volunteer for WFP community projects receive weekly food rations to take home. WFP involves people in the construction and restoration of basic rural infrastructure and development projects, and the rehabilitation of damaged agricultural land near their homes, helping the volunteers to learn new skills to improve their lives.
- Nutrition, TB and HIV/AIDS: WFP provides preventative supplementary feeding to malnourished children and pregnant/breastfeeding women at mother-and-child health clinics in food insecure areas. Supplementary feeding is also undertaken for orphans and vulnerable children, people living with HIV/AIDS and TB patients attending specialized care centres run by partners.
- Disaster response: WFP provides assistance to communities affected by natural disasters, including cyclones and droughts. WFP pre-positions food aid in strategic locations prior to the cyclone season so as to enable a rapid response should a disaster strike. This is an absolute prerequisite to provide assistance given the poor condition of the road network during the rainy season.