“We have only had three days of rain since the start of 2020. Just three days,” says Rengimana, a community leader in the village of Antanimainty, southern Madagascar. The climate crisis is no longer a distant threat for Rengimana and his community – it is the reality.
Longer and more frequent droughts, and severe storms, floods, and extreme heat waves are just some of the most alarming effects of global climate change. The climate crisis destroys ecosystems and affects the crop calendar, the economy, and the livelihoods of everyone who depends on agriculture. It’s the world’s poorest communities – who have done the least to create carbon emissions and cause the planet to warm – who are being hit hardest.
Globally, the countries most affected by hunger are also those that are most impacted by extreme climate phenomena – and Madagascar is high on that list. In the country’s Grand Sud region, the worst drought in 40 years is driving a severe hunger crisis. In some areas, there has been almost no rain at all for two years. Additionally, erosion, aggravated by deforestation and slash-and-burn agriculture, has sparked sandstorms during periods of strong trade winds. These winds then destroy crops, and the sand makes it even more difficult to replant.
“The community is suffering from hunger, caused by drought and a lack of drinking water. This has been the case for a long time, but it’s getting worse because of sandstorms,” says Tamasoa, 28, an Action Against Hunger community liaison officer who regularly speaks with community members and takes note of what they need. “The community lives off of agriculture. If you look at the situation, there’s no production, so there’s little hope.”
In Madagascar, where 63% of people make their living as small-scale farmers, hunger grows by the day. Already, an estimated 14,000 people are struggling to survive famine conditions – and that number is projected to double by the end of the year if urgent action is not taken.
“Our soil can no longer grow crops, because of the sand. We don’t even have crops to start off the next season,” says Vorisoa, a farmer and father of six children. The climate crisis is a daily struggle that threatens his family’s survival. He fears for the future.
When farmers can no longer produce, they have no crops to eat or to sell. Without income from their crops, they cannot buy the limited – and very expensive – food available at local markets. It is a vicious circle for vulnerable families who are already living on the edge.
“Nobody has any money. The fruits aren’t fresh anymore; they rot on the stall,” says Aimé, a father of four children who runs a fresh food stall in his local marketplace. “All I want is to be able to sell the goods I bring in the morning.”
The people most affected by Madagascar’s climate crisis are small-scale farmers and herders, as well as single women and young children. With limited access to resources and no social safety net, finding food to eat is a daily struggle.
“We have nothing to eat because of the drought. We live in poverty,” says Tsiharatie, mother of seven children. “Today, we made dried tamarind. You crush the tamarind until it’s a sticky paste. Then you add ash and cook it. We’ll eat it this evening. It’s not healthy at all, but at least we have something warm in our bellies…We have no choice.”
To help farmers cope with their new reality, Action Against Hunger teaches communities about climate change and promotes sustainable, locally-driven agriculture to build resiliency and to improve natural resource management.
Together with our partners, we use an integrated “nutrition + food security” approach and work closely with communities to help them to organize and manage their land. Our teams are helping 4,000 families to set up market gardens and small-scale livestock farming operations. Our aim is to increase food availability by advocating for sustainable agricultural production through training, agroecology, farming cooperatives, and more.
“These communities have experience growing crops, but our goal is to help them improve their techniques, like plot orientation, for example. They still use the same techniques, but we teach them how to improve them,” explains Eric Randrianoro, a technician at Maison des Paysans, one of Action Against Hunger’s local partners.
To help keep their fields healthy, we teach farmers about natural techniques to prevent and manage plant diseases and insect infestations. Our teams also encourage people to use the materials they have around them. For example, we offer trainings on composting, which is new to the region and prevents waste and helps create healthier soil. Finally, we help communities cultivate seeds themselves, instead of having to buy them each year. All of these new skills encourage a better yield, so there are more crops to consume and to sell.
“The project has changed my life,” says Alfred Efahaken, a farmer and program participant. “Now I can sell the products and buy rice for my children. Our harvest helps us to stay healthy.”
In addition to training, we provide equipment and introduce new varieties of fruit and vegetables to encourage a more diverse diet.
“We had already tried out market gardens, but we were using old equipment. Now, we’ve been given new tools, like watering cans, spades, buckets, rakes, etc., and seeds to grow zucchini, carrots, eggplants, tomatoes and napa cabbages,” explains farmer and program participant Samoline Razafimamisoa.
Our programs promote competitive, sustainable agricultural production to ensure food security and provide steady sources of income within poor, rural communities. To complement these market garden activities, we work with local partner organizations to set up Village Savings and Loan Associations, which offer financial management training to mothers of children under five years old.
“Thanks to this training…with the savings system, people can borrow if necessary. This way, the Association has funds for activities like selling goods to create a source of income. Before, this was impossible,” explains Natoziny, president of one of the Village Savings and Loan Associations.
The Associations collect membership fees every week and, at the end of every month, the pooled money is available as a loan to be paid back over three months with interest. Women use these loans as funds for emergencies or as investments in their businesses. Some of the women have started businesses to sell their produce from the market garden program, as well as fish they buy from outside the village or artisan goods made from reeds.
“I’ve really noticed changes now that they have these new sources of income. Especially when it comes to children’s health – now, they can afford to take them to hospital. When they see their child is not well, they can use the money saved to take them to a [health center],” says Claudia Rasoarimalala, who works with one of Action Against Hunger’s partners.
The climate crisis in Madagascar – and around the world – threatens the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable people. While we may not be able to bring rain to end a drought, we can work hand-in-hand with local communities and partners to help struggling families to not only cope, but become more resilient in the face of their new realities.