– October 21 2021
Families struggling for food in Madagascar
Madagascar is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years, leaving hundreds of thousands of families suffering from acute hunger.
The ground is bone-dry, the shrubs shriveled and the fields are bare in southern Madagascar as the region endures four years without rain. This is the worst drought in 40 years, and it has left hundreds of thousands of families suffering from acute hunger.
Severe hunger is an annual occurrence here, but the current food crisis has reached levels never before experienced. Experts blame the severity and frequency of droughts in this island country on climate change.
Soavelo*, 27, is a single mother of three children: six, three and one years old. She says she sold coffee and local bread for a living before life became so hard. She also planted maize and beans in her small field and kept a few chickens that she relied on for eggs.
As the drought prolonged, she watched her income dry up. Her customers asked for credit as they could no longer afford to pay cash for the coffee and bread, so she stopped selling. Week by week, she sold her chickens to feed her family until she ran out. She could only give her young children one meal a day.
“This is not the first time I am experiencing drought,” says Soavelo. She sits on the ground with her three children outside their house in Ranonda, a remote village in southwest Madagascar. “When I was a child, there was a drought, and we often slept hungry, but it was not this severe. Seeing my children so hungry is painful."
Most residents in southern Madagascar make a living from small scale agriculture and livestock farming. A combination of successive poor harvests, drought and the COVID-19 pandemic has drove food prices up four times the usual price at the local market, forcing people to sell their surviving livestock and belongings to buy food.
In some areas, families have resorted to eating raw cactus fruits, leaves, termites and locusts. About 1.3 million people are affected by high levels of food insecurity—730,000 of them are children. In the last three months, an estimated 14,000 people have been suffering from famine. This number is expected to double by the end of 2021 if they do not receive urgent food support.
The UN warns that half a million children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition as the island nation edges towards famine.
Soavelo says she had exhausted all possibilities of finding food when emergency assistance from SOS Children’s Villages in Madagascar came to her community in May 2021.
Response to crisis
Soavelo is among the 1,600 families in the six most-affected communities in Androy and Atsimo-Andrefana to benefit from the emergency program. The program targets households headed by women and those with many children. The families received rice, cereal and beans for over two weeks and joined a cash-for-work project.
Five times a week, Soavelo joins a group of people who are constructing a road that will join Ampakabo and Ranonda to Anarabe in Betioky. The workers receive 15,000 Ariary (four dollars) per week, the equivalent of 20 cups of rice or 33 pounds of cassava.
“I am a single mother, and I do not rely on anyone to raise my children,” says Soavelo. “Since I have been working on the road construction, my children no longer sleep hungry. I do not worry about food. Before this help came, my children were really suffering. They always told me to go find them food. I felt sad and sometimes I cried seeing them like that."
The cash-for-work program provides short-term employment on labor-intensive projects to unskilled or semi-skilled vulnerable men and women so that they can meet their most urgent needs. The beneficiaries themselves identify activities that will benefit the larger local community.
At the construction site, Soavelo has found an opportunity to revive her business by selling cups of coffee and bread, which earns her a little more money.
Without rain, however, Soavelo no longer has hope that she will replenish her depleted food stocks any time soon. When the construction work ends, “I might have to abandon my land and move to nearby towns in search of food. Without farming and seeds for the next planting season, there is little hope here,” she says.
*The name has been changed to protect privacy.