Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Madagascar food crisis

Madagascar was approaching food crisis in 2009. And then they had a coup. Also, there was a global recession. So international funding dried up, just at the time when a large-scale intervention was needed.

Things continued to get worse. The country has been abandoned by friends, even SADC taking an unfriendly approach. Recent efforts to convince the world that the government is legitimate have been less than successful, partly because the Malagasy leadership seem to have a propensity for shooting themselves in the foot. Oh, and there was some weather. 2010 saw, as USAID's Madagascar Mission Director put it, "two cyclones, two droughts, a coup and a locust infestation".

FAO/GIEWS lists the country as experiencing Severe Localized Food Insecurity:
Food insecurity persists in southern regions, due poor crop production in 2010, tightening market supplies and increasing prices. Localized flooding and the passing of cyclone Bingiza in February have also damaged infrastructure and some crops. Nationally, an estimated 2.25 million people suffer from severe food insecurity.
2.25 million out of a population of roughly 20 million is about 11%, so roughly 1 in 10 people.

Aid agencies are now reporting that Madagascan people, particularly in the perpetually food-insecure south are eating their seeds and cattle have lost 75% of their value. This bad. This is really, really bad. In a cycle of food insecurity, there are many desperate steps people will take in order to survive. One of these is selling off or using up productive assets so that they can eat. That is what is happening here. There are also reports of people eating things that humans would not normally consume, either because they're extremely unpleasant or because they are actually harmful - "people have been changing their eating habits, with many eating red cactus that is usually given to cattle, or tamarind mixed with water and earth" Often they will choose to eat things probably not fit for human consumption before depleting their stocks. At this stage, they are doing both. Most of the people affected are subsistence farmers. They would not be choosing to use up their seeds as food or to sell off their precious livestock unless they absolutely had no choice.

People's livelihoods - their ability to continue to eat and to feed their families in the medium to long-term - are dependent on crops and livestock. If they are choosing to sacrifice that for the sake of eating now, it's a clear indication that the situation is very, very serious. The UN and INGOs generally aim to protect both lives and livelihoods. By this stage of a crisis, there isn't all that much that can be done now to protect livelihoods. Interventions later may help to rebuild the assets of these communities but that will take time and lots and lots of money and in some cases is not even possible.

UNICEF says that 300 000 children under 5 are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. It is already too late to protect the livelihoods of the affected population, but strong intervention now will, hopefully, save lives.

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