Crops And Cactus: Madagascar Drought Crisis

Nearly 200,00 people are facing hunger in southern Madagascar due to crop failure. The United Nations World Food Programme and its partners are providing much-needed assistance.

Life is extremely tough in Berano, a village in southern Madagascar. The land is poor at the best of times but now the situation is even worse due to poor rains. Most people here are farmers. Picture the landscape - sisal plantations stretching as far as you can see, small wooden huts built on sandy soil, small fields protected by hedges of cactus. They say that three quarters of land in this area has been overtaken by sisal, cactus and other spiny plants. This makes it all the harder for people to grow the food they need. 

“In November, I finished planting and it stopped raining,” says Edwige (55) who cultivates manioc and sweet potatoes. “I should have harvested in February but I lost everything. I planted once, then a second time, both in vain. My seeds stock is now depleted. I have no other option but to eat cactus fruit and wild plants.”      

Food prices have gone up in the local markets. A kapok or can of rice now costs 500 ariary (about US$ 20 cents). Edwige cannot afford to buy more than two kapoks a day. This is simply not enough to feed her family of ten.      

In the Androy, Anosy and Atsimo Andrefana regions of southern Madagascar, the poor rain between September and December last year caused widespread crop failure. As a result, nearly 200,000 people – among them 40,000 children – are in the grip of severe food insecurity.   

WFP and local non-governmental organization MIARY are running a food-for-assets programme for 900 villagers in Berano. Community members work at clearing the cactus for arable land. Among them is Edwige who, in return for her labor, receives a family ration of maize and pulses every 10 days. 

The initiative is implemented in coordination with the National Office for Disasters and Risk Management. In the short-term, it gives drought-affected families a reprieve from hunger. In the longer term, food -for-assets helps boost agricultural production.

Switzerland and other donors have been vital in maintaining this programme in southern Madagascar. However, WFP needs US$3 million to keep it running until the lean season is over at end April.