Over the last 15 years, Madagascar has suffered extreme cycles of drought, cyclones and floods, year in and year out. In 2008 alone, there have been three cyclones that displaced more than 330,000 people, and in the wake of these disasters, both food and seed reserves that were not destroyed have been largely consumed.
The price of rice, the country’s main staple, has until now remained shielded from prices that have skyrocketed internationally, thanks to relatively strong local production. But there is concern that this year’s rice production, once the main season and off-season crop are harvested by October, will not sustain the population through the lean season. To meet food needs until the next crop in March, Madagascar would have to import rice at what is expected to be sustained high levels, at a price 70 percent higher than current local prices. It is estimated that some 270,000 tonnes of rice will have to be imported to meet food needs.
In July FAO launched a Technical Cooperation Programme project worth US$ 500,000 with immediate effect, supplying some 5000 farmers and their families with bean and rice seed to be used for the off-season planting. The goal is to boost not only this year’s agricultural production, but to work toward re-establishing the country’s seed systems by training farmers in quality seed multiplication.
FAO is targeting sixteen regions in the country’s southeast, an area particularly hard-hit by the most recent cyclones. FAO is also distributing fertilizers and tools, such as rotary hoes and spades, to farming families.
FAO is also aiming to launch a wide-scale analysis of the Malagasy market system, marked by striking imbalances that leave the rice producing areas immune to price increases, and subject in fact to price decreases, while other areas are forced to pay much more.
In the longer-term, Madagascar could become not only self-sufficient in production of rice, the staple crop, but become a rice exporter to islands in the Indian Ocean and countries in eastern Africa. FAO is supporting proposals that would achieve this through effective water control measures, while in the south other drought-resistant crops, such as short cycle maize and sorghum, could help to diversify the national diet and ease reliance on rice.
Until recently, the south was a major producer of maize. But with rainfall becoming ever more scarce, FAO and partner ICRISAT, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, have reintroduced sorghum, a drought-resistant and nourishing crop suited for harsh dry climates. Short-cycle maize, less vulnerable to dry spells, is also being introduced.