By December 2021, more than 1.6 million people in southern Madagascar were estimated to have been suffering high levels of food insecurity, with hundreds pushed to leave their homes and migrate in search of more secure livelihoods.
Southern Madagascar food insecurity
Pushed to the limits by environmental extremes
Children under five are among the most vulnerable: between April and June 2021, at least 14,000 were treated for severe acute malnutrition (which is typically the number of total children treated in a year), and around 515,000 were considered to be wasted (thinner than expected) during 2021.
Environmental degradation and climate change have exacerbated the prolonged drought conditions, which in combination with other complex social drivers, have pushed the region into a humanitarian crisis.
Over the past four years, a progressive decrease of rain in southern Madagascar resulted in the country's worst drought in 40 years. This led to severe stress on vegetation, triggering a drastic decline in rice, maize and cassava production. Widespread deforestation in the region has led to severe environmental degradation, which has exacerbated the likelihood of sandstorms that inhibit growth of new seedlings and crops contributing to drying the soil, thus worsening the prolonged drought conditions.
Additionally, pest infestations have impacted the main livelihoods of inhabitants, causing as much as 60 per cent of crop losses in some areas. Finally, the last cyclone season in the north and east of the country severely affected road networks, hindering the delivery of aid to drought-affected households in the south.
Over the past four years, a progressive decrease of rain in southern Madagascar resulted in the country's worst drought in 40 years.
Social drivers have also strongly influenced the food insecurity conditions in the region. Particularly, the measures taken by the Malagasy Government between 2020 and 2021 to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the livelihood crises and food inflation which reached 8 per cent in 2021; this was evident in increased food prices (e.g rice and oil) which further stressed struggling households' finances. All of these aspects have prompted an economic imbalance in an already unstable southern Madagascar, where more than 90 per cent of the population is living below the poverty line.
The southern Madagascar food insecurity is an example of how multiple, complex environmental and social factors can combine to trigger a profound crisis. Many regions around the world are exposed to multiple risks stemming from environmental degradation and socioeconomic and political dynamics, which will be exacerbated by climate change while magnifying its impacts.
Unequal distribution of economic opportunities and limited livelihood options
The continued effects of exploitation by a foreign power
A lack of perception, awareness or preparation in governance relating to risk management and response
Pursuit of economic or developmental interests with a lack of consideration for impacts on the environment
Gases released into the atmosphere by human activities contribute to increasing global warming and climate change
Intentional mass removal of trees, often for resource extraction or changing land use.
A prolonged shortage of water supply, often due to extended periods of insufficient rainfall.
Increasing temperatures in the ocean or atmosphere, for example from climate change.
Through their impacts on natural and agricultural systems, supply chains and economies, disasters can put access to the foods we depend on for survival at risk.
Disasters can force people to move from their homes due to the loss of shelter, livelihoods or the risk of further incidents occurring. People may be temporarily displaced or urged to migrate to other areas.
Disasters cause fatalities both when they occur and in the aftermath with cascading effects on physical and mental health.
Even those surviving disasters when they occur can be at risk of short- and long-term health impacts cascading from pollution or damage of critical infrastructure and livelihood disruption.
Reduction of people’s ability to support themselves or their family, both temporarily or permanently, is an impact that is interconnected with many others, including health and food security.
Ecosystem restoration: Working closely with communities to restore ecosystems, with fast-growing species suitable for the prevailing environmental conditions, can help to reduce food insecurity. Forest and landscape restoration in Madagascar addresses the environmental problems deforestation has caused, going beyond planting trees to regain ecological functions and biodiversity while generating jobs and alternative food sources.
Climate-smart agriculture: Landscape approaches focused on planting what works best in certain environmental contexts rather than designing crops solely based on economic factors can increase productivity and resilience in a changing climate while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Local knowledge is essential to properly understand context, such as soil properties, drought resilience and nutritional needs; thus, community engagement is key.
Inclusive development: Integrating gender issues, such as gender-based violence, into more inclusive development and adaptation approaches facilitates the empowerment of women and girls, who are more vulnerable to food insecurity impacts, to better manage food use in times of hardship and increase the quality of life for their families.
Social protection: Ensuring access to essential care services, income security and security for children in terms of nutrition needs are a priority for building resilience to food system shocks. Support for value chain development, linked to markets, plus work under climate risk insurance for vulnerable farmers in the south are necessary.
Increase access: Access to food and markets is an essential part of food security. Collaboration is needed between local and national governments to provide adequate basic infrastructure, such as roads, that can help people to better access food and aid while allowing more livelihood options.