Faravavy, 32, lives in the middle of an arid plain 150km south of Betioke in southern Madagascar. She tries to support herself and her three children by cultivating maize, red beans and manioc, but is unable to grow enough to generate an income or even to feed her family year-round.
“We never have any crops to sell. We eat everything we produce,” she told IRIN.
During the lean season, which runs from October to March – when new crops are planted but not yet harvested – Faravavy and her youngest children go out to the forest to dig up roots. “It’s hard. You have to dig deep to get them out, and they taste very bad if the rains haven’t come yet. I leave at seven in the morning and come back in the afternoon, and we just have enough to eat in the evening. Then the next day, we go again.”
Faravavy’s village, Ankazomanga, used to be close to the forest, but as more trees have been cut down, villagers have had to walk farther and farther to find food. “When I was small, we lived better than my kids do now,” she said. “There was rain and always enough to eat.”
Erratic weather and a locust plague have taken a toll on Madagascar’s rice and maize harvests this year, leaving as many as 4 million people – 28 percent of households – in rural areas food insecure, according to a recent World Food Program (WFP)/Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report. A further 9.6 million people are estimated to be at risk of food insecurity.
The joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission, conducted in June and July by WFP and FAO, attributed the poor agricultural season to a combination of factors including flooding caused by Cyclone Haruna earlier this year, followed by a period of poor rains.
This is what happened in Ankazomanga. “Our fields were flooded in February when cyclone Haruna came. Since then, there has been no more rain,” Faravavy said.
“We used to harvest 15 carts full of manioc. This year, we barely filled up one,” she added, pointing to a small pile of manioc roots drying on her roof. “There, that’s it. That’s all we harvested this year.”
According to the WFP/FAO report, rice production declined by 21 percent this year, resulting in a significant national rice deficit. Maize production is also down and an estimated 28,000 metric tons of maize will need to be imported to meet domestic needs.