Madagascar – a race to avert the world's ’first climate change famine'   

Energy & Climate Change, Natural Environment

Aid agencies are scrambling to raise US$108 million to get food aid and seeds to southern Madagascar by October, to avert famine during the lean season between harvest and planting next year’s crops, writes Karen Thomas.

Farmers in southern Madagascar are struggling with a four-year drought – the most prolonged spell without rain in 40 years. Aid groups describe this as “a catastrophe”.

Johannesburg-based UN World Food Programme spokeswoman Shelley Thakral told The Environment that southern Madagascar is facing “the world’s first climate-change related famine”.

Southern Madagascar has an arid climate but drought has ravaged the last four years’ harvests of rice and maize, that make up islanders’ diet staples. The country has a tropical climate, rains falling during the hot, wet season from November to March.

Aid agencies say 28,000 people are in crisis – classed at risk levelIPC 5, agency-speak for the most acute level of food insecurity – double the number reported in April. If the rains fail again, up to 1.3 million people will be in danger.

The drought is forcing land workers to walk for two or three hours to collect water.Many families have sold all their household goods to buy food and firewood, and are foraging for plants and even insects to feed themselves.

Climate change is bringing more frequent tropical cyclones to Southern Africa. In 2019, Cyclone Idai hit northwest Madagascar, bringing torrential rains and flooding. But extreme weather in the south is mostly sandstorms, damaging the region’s soils and weakening its coastal buffer defences. “These are making the community ever more vulnerable,” Thakral says.

Madagascar’s main income comes from farming and from tourism, the one hit hard by drought, the other by Covid halting international travel. “The end result is a country sinking further into hunger,” Thakral says.

“We regard this as a climate-related humanitarian crisis. There are no major conflicts in Madagascar. The country’s mounting food insecurity is directly related to the four-year drought. People are really under pressure, and the water-management challenges are only adding to that. We have a short window to get seeds to Madagascar and to plant them, in the hope that the rains will arrive in time to grow next year’s food crops.”

November to January is Madagascar’s planting season.

Share this article

Become a member

Whether you are studying, actively looking to progress your career, or already extensively experienced, our membership will add value and recognition to your achievements. We can actively help you progress throughout your career.

Become a member

View our events

We organise a wide portfolio of UK and international thought leading events, providing an industry recognised forum for debate, CPD and sector networking. These events also support our policy work and inform key initiatives.

View our events