Madagascar: Farmers and fisherfolk try to rebuild after cyclone (IRIN)

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Cyclone Haruna devastated parts of Madagascar in February, 2013. Farmers and fisherfolk who live in coastal areas were badly affected. It may take many years to rebuild their lives. Their first priority is finding food for their families.

Mrs. Faravavy is a 32-year-old mother of three who farms a plot of arid land in southern Madagascar. Agriculture is her family’s only means of survival. She grows maize, red beans and cassava, but admits she is now unable to grow enough to feed her family year-round.

She says: “Our fields were flooded in February when Cyclone Haruna came. Since then, there has been no more rain. We used to harvest 15 carts full of [cassava]. This year, we barely filled up one.”

Mrs. Faravavy’s family, like many others, is suffering from a combination of rapidly changing weather patterns, the cyclone, and a recent locust plague. She now forages in a nearby forest for alternative sources of food.

Mrs. Faravavy remembers that when she was a child, her village was next to the forest. But as trees have been continually felled over the years, she’s had to walk farther and farther to reach it. Recently, Mrs. Faravavy has had to take her smallest children to the forest, where they dig up roots to supplement the family’s diet.

She remembers, “When I was small, we lived better than my kids do now. There was rain and always enough to eat.”

A recent report by the United Nations’ World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that rice and maize harvests in Madagascar have been ruined this year. The report says that four million people in rural Madagascar face food insecurity. Almost ten million more are at risk.

Madagascar’s annual cyclone season hits last from November to March. It is estimated that 60 per cent of Indian Ocean storms affect the island nation. But a lack of preparedness continues to wreak havoc on small-scale farmers and fisherfolk. It’s often difficult to rebuild their lives before the next cyclone hits.

Along the west coast of Madagascar, fishermen are still reeling from the effects of the cyclone. Thirty-nine-year-old Melau Feaucre Johanison says, “I lost all my tools, including the nets and boat.”

Many families were displaced by the flooding caused by the heavy rains which accompanied Cyclone Haruna. Coastal areas were drenched for several days before the cyclone made landfall. An estimated 50,000 island dwellers were made homeless, and were unable to return to their homes until three months after the storm. They are beginning anew, but with the knowledge that the next cyclone season is nearly upon them.

Mr. Johanison is saving to buy new fishing equipment. In the meantime, he is borrowing so he can provide for his wife and six children.

He says, “It’s very hard, as most of the money we earn goes towards feeding the family. A new [dug-out canoe] costs up to 100,000 ariary ($44 US), and that is without the sail.” At their current rate of saving, Mr. Johanison estimates it will take two or three years before the family’s livelihood returns to pre-storm levels.

But it is not just farmers and fisherfolk whose livelihoods have been devastated. Vance Leonce is a 61-year-old mother of eight who used to earn a living collecting algae and oysters. But Cyclone Haruna stripped the oyster beds. She says, “I can’t say when I will be able to get back to the life I had before. There is nothing in the sea anymore.”