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Increasing Southern Madagascar’s productivity to reduce famine now and trigger future transformation

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Increasing Southern Madagascar?s productivity to reduce famine now and trigger future transformation Increasing Southern Madagascar’s productivity to reduce famine now and trigger future transformation

I write this blog from Ambovombe Androy, one of the three districts in Southern Madagascar under a food insecurity emergency. Consecutive years of severe droughts in a region where more than 90% of the population persistently lives in extreme poverty ($1.90 a day per capita) resulted in one of the most acute food insecurity crises in the country’s history. Exceptionally low rainfall caused devastating damages to agricultural production during the main harvest season in 2020 and 2021, with losses of up to 60% in three of the most populated districts. Households ran out of food reserves and seeds to plant the next season, mothers could no longer breastfeed, and many have sold livelihood assets, farm implements, kitchen utensils, and livestock. Thousands have been forced to consume cactus fruits or migrate elsewhere in search of food and assistance.

While other countries in the region experienced similar shocks, the severe humanitarian impacts in Madagascar’s south reveal pre-existing vulnerabilities linked to the absence of infrastructure, poor public services, and very low agricultural yields. These structural weaknesses are further exposed by the failure of traditional measures to sensibly reduce malnutrition. In fact, the crisis response, which mobilized more than $200 million and counting in donors funding has not eradicated the food insecurity. As of January 2022, 1.64 million people were classified in the crisis phase of famine (IPC Phase 3) or emergency (IPC Phase 4), comprising roughly 37% of the surveyed population. Of those, around 334,000 people are estimated to remain in IPC Phase 4, and around 1.3 million people in IPC Phase 3. 

The limited impacts of ongoing responses raise the need to return to first principle and ask how poor households are affected by shocks. In fact, there are two potentially serious adverse ways a supply shock can affect poor households in low-income countries. The first is the drop in income of the people producing food. The size of the income drop is equal to the size of the reduction in yield times the planned value of production. The second is impacts of changes in prices on those who are net buyers or sellers of food. Higher (lower) prices benefit (hurt) net sellers and hurt (benefit) net buyers. But production fall may cause a change in price, which then creates additional income changes that depend on each household’s net sales position. As a result, the price change may be much larger, and this may be compounded by the inelasticity of food demand.

Increasing Southern Madagascar?s productivity to reduce famine now and trigger future transformation
Photo: Henitsoa RAFALIA

Since Amartya Sen's Nobel Prize-winning work on the Great Bengal Famine, economists have recognized that addressing food price variability is one of the best ways to limit the effects of food systems shocks on the poor. And food price stability is built upon a surplus generating agricultural system supported by higher productivity through adoption of high yielding crop varieties. In fact, higher productivity implies that net-producers will have enough food for their own consumption and surpluses to sell at affordable prices to net-buyer. In addition to cheaper food, a surplus generating agricultural sector can ensure adequate nutrition for the population, including its workforce, and increase the amount of disposable income left to individuals and families after the food bills have been paid. A surplus-generating agricultural sector could trigger the economic transformation that Madagascar badly needs. Specifically, surplus production can be used to provide raw material for industry, setting off a positive chain reaction including production, marketing, distribution, and all the other value additions involved. Finally, a surplus generating agricultural sector will shield communities from global food prices crise such as the one currently ongoing. Therefore, a strong agricultural development program that focuses on a relentless pursuit to sustainably increase productivity—based on a package of improved inputs and basic infrastructure—would bring the needed price stability required to build resilience.

Higher productivity will only be possible with greater political ownership. Without committed political leadership at the top and without political will, the best strategies for sustainably increasing agricultural productivity of Madagascar’s Grand South will not take root. The good news is that the Government of Madagascar prepared an ambitious development plan to reverse decades of investment neglect and transform Southern Madagascar under the Plan Emergence Madagascar Sud. The plan seeks to launch several projects, including a pipeline to bring water to the South and rehabilitation of seven hundred kilometers of roads. It will build solar parcs in each district and to fight chronic malnutrition, health centers with a food bank will also be created. The plan also envisages to reinforce security, build a sport stadium, and create a green belt by planting trees to mitigate the impacts of climate change. While these objectives are important, agricultural productivity must first rise – and quickly.


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