Madagascar: Farmers hit hard by drought (BBC Afrique)

| December 19, 2016

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A few months ago, Tema planted sweet potatoes. When she returned to her field to check on the crop, nothing had grown. The 49-year-old farmer has nothing to eat and will have to rely on last year’s meagre emergency reserves to feed her 10 children.

Tema lives in the village of Sampona, in southern Madagascar. Like many other local people, in times of need, Tema picks the fruit of the red cactus by the roadside. But she says it’s becoming more difficult to find the fruit, since many people now rely on it. She explains, “We search for two hours and we find almost nothing. It takes almost four hours to find the right amount to eat. Our stomachs have become accustomed to this. We have no choice.”

Half the population in the region lacks food or food reserves, and is hungry. Famine threatens almost a million and a half people. Some choose to sell their most valuable assets, while others sell their livestock for food.

Drought has caused many wells to dry up. Water is a rare commodity—even a source of speculation. The price of water has doubled. People are sometimes forced to walk for kilometres to get well water.

Maka is a 16-year-old who is the only boy in his family. It’s his job to find water for everyone.

He says: “There is no water where we live. So we have to come here [to the well] to find it. It takes us two hours of walking. And sometimes, we find nothing. It takes us time to fill the cans. The water we carry lasts the whole family just two days.”

It has not rained in Tsihombe Region for several months. Reho Ziry remembers the last time it rained in his area, which was more than a year ago. He says, “Normally the rainy season runs from November to March. The last time it rained was in January [2016].”

For most families, aid distributed by humanitarian agencies is the only source of food. This is the case in the town of Analapatsy, where UN agencies have strengthened their emergency efforts.

This year, maize production in Madagascar dropped 80% from 2015, according to a report by the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Cassava is the staple food in Madagascar and production has fallen by 50%.

Rice production has also fallen in several regions. Harvests have decreased by up to 60%.

In 2016, farmers were hit by both drought and El Niño.

Mamy Razafindrakoto is a spokesperson for the World Food Programme in Amboasary. He explains, “This year [drought] is worse because of El Niño, which is a cyclical phenomenon. The effects of climate change will intensify drought, particularly in the south.”

Climate experts remain hopeful that there will be enough rainfall in the near future for better harvests in March 2017. But if production remains as low as the past three years, Tema and others like her will again be facing hunger.

This article is based on an original story broadcast on BBC Afrique: