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Forest loss and deforestation compounding crises in Madagascar

The Emergency

An unrelenting drought in southern Madagascar is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine. Over 1.1 million people are in high acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above) due to insufficient rainfall, rising food prices and sandstorms. A sustained deterioration in food insecurity is expected in the Grand South of Madagascar from April to December 2021. This is an exceptionally worrying forecast.

Children with acute malnutrition are four times more likely to die than healthy children. According to data from Madagascar’s nutrition surveillance system and United Nations agencies, some 74,000 children across the southern region are acutely malnourished. Approximately 12,000 of these children have severe acute malnutrition, an alarming increase of 80% compared to the last quarter of 2020.

“Children have abandoned schools, 75% of the children in this area are either begging or foraging for food [roots, leaves, and seeds], whatever they can find.”

Lola Castro, Regional Director for Southern Africa & Indian Ocean States, World Food Program

While humanitarian agencies like Doctors Without Borders are calling for “an immediate and massive increase in food aid for people in southern Madagascar“, Health In Harmony is working a few hundred kilometers to the north beside rainforest communities in Manombo Special Reserve (near Farafangana), in an emergency mindset to forestall severe hunger.

Climate Shock

Madagascar is one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, with significant impacts to the health of its population, and today’s nutrition crisis is linked directly to Madagascar’s climate shocks. Rains that normally come from November to December, were completely absent. Drought conditions have persisted into 2021 and this – combined with COVID-19 lockdowns – means people cannot move freely and therefore have very few survival options.

Famine and Covid-19 are both driven by deforestation of Madagascar’s Tropical Rainforests. So what can we do?

Communities in the Manombo Special Reserve in Southeastern Madagascar have designed and started implementing solutions to address the driving forces behind deforestation. They have also already started reforesting sections of the reserve.

All this has been accomplished since HIH Madagascar started working in the area in mid-2019, largely in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Agricultural graduation (Mar 2021); photo by Aina Eric Andrianarisata

One major priority rainforest communities originally identified was addressing the lack of nutritional support in the region. HIH Madagascar hired an agriculture team to start teaching community members new techniques that would succeed, taking into account the changing climate and landscape.

It has been an extremely popular program in the region – after trainings began in mid-2020, the team has already trained almost 2,000 community members! Those trained can then return to their communities to begin vegetable gardens and rice plots, and they are able to teach friends and family the new techniques.

Communities expect three rice harvests this year, as opposed to just one, thanks to the updated techniques and their hard work.

Comparison of agricultural techniques in rice fields (old on left, new on right)

Creating a strong agricultural foundation not only improves people’s food security, it also supports their ability to withstand and avoid climate shocks. Communities no longer need to rely on foraging for a dwindling supply of root vegetables or hunting for food in the forest.

This work also supports Madagascar’s rainforest integrity, and the native species that reside in the forest (including 8 species of lemurs).

Photo by Kelsey Hartman

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