Madagascar: Sleeping in the field to protect the rice (AllAfrica, IRIN)

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The price of rice in Madagascar has doubled in the past two years. Residents of the capital, Antananarivo, often skip their usual breakfast of rice, or eat maize or cassava instead. Tiana Randrianirina sells rice in Antananarivo’s market. He says, “At almost 2,000 ariary (US$1) a kilogram, rice has become a luxury item.”

Despite good harvests in the last two years, poverty levels in rural areas have jumped over the last five years. The upcoming rice harvest is vital for farmers’ survival. But some farmers near the capital, and in the Middle West and Vakinankaratra regions, have already had the bitter experience of waking up to find that their first rice crop of the season has disappeared. Their entire harvest had been stolen by thieves in a single night.

With the next harvest approaching, farmers have started to spend the night in their rice fields, guarding their crop. This drastic measure has become a necessity: farmers will do anything to avoid losing their crop overnight.

The night-time thieves can cover several hundred square metres per night. They appear to operate in large groups. They are well-organized, with farmers reporting losses of up to half a tonne of paddy rice per night. Stealing such a large amount takes time. So the thieves avoid detection by starting at the centre of a field. They do not even bother to harvest the rice at the edge of the field.

Farmers are now organizing themselves to stand guard in turn. In regions where farmers have been victimized, small groups of men now operate as watchmen. One farmer says, “We feel somewhat lonely and can only count on ourselves, because we cannot ask the police to watch over our crops every night.” For now, these nightly vigils are their only means of protection.