2022•11•23 Bonn, Germany
Southern Madagascar’s worst drought in 40 years led to severe stress on vegetation, triggering a drastic decline in rice, maize and cassava production. By December 2021, more than 1.6 million people 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.
Around 90 per cent of families in southern Madagascar depend on agriculture, livestock and fishing activities. However, the long drought, sandstorms and pest infestations in the region have led to an almost total collapse of such activities, causing hunger and displacement.
Through extensive deforestation for timber production and infrastructure projects, colonial forces were responsible for cutting down as much as 4 million ha of forest. Colonial cash crop plantations of sugar or coffee became increasingly widespread; which limited the land and labour available for rice cultivation, a staple of the local diet. These colonial decisions made almost 100 years ago increased the vulnerability of the people and environment in southern Madagascar and contributed to the ongoing food crisis.
Although Madagascar covers less than 1 per cent of Earth’s surface, it hosts more than 5 per cent of all known plants and animals on Earth. With little support for social protection or environmental conservation, when hunger strikes, rural communities have to find other ways to survive; such as expanding the practice of slash and burn agriculture or overharvesting trees for charcoal and cooking wood. This increases the deforestation rate in the region. These practices are necessary to ensure the people’s immediate survival, but can negatively impact the environment and society in the long run if protection measures are not put in place.
“Climate-smart agriculture” seems to be one of the best examples of combining sustainable innovations with traditional and local knowledge. Essentially, this means shifting planting and agricultural techniques to those that make sense in the context of the region. For example, in the context of southern Madagascar, crops should be drought-tolerant and highly nutritious, such as cassava, sweet potatoes, pigeon peas or sorghum. Risk reduction and climate adaptation activities have been introduced in projects in order to increase farmers’ adaptive capacity, including by investing in agroecology techniques and improving access to short-cycled crops to lower food insecurity.
The above solutions will only work when interconnected factors such as inequality of development and livelihood opportunities and insufficient risk governance are tackled as well. This can be done by introducing solution packages that enhance inclusive development and adaptation planning, ecosystem restoration and prioritized climate change adaptation governance.