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Southern Madagascar’s third consecutive drought is driving severe food insecurity into 2023

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  • Madagascar
  • February 2, 2022
Southern Madagascar’s third consecutive drought is driving severe food insecurity into 2023

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FEWS NET estimates that between 1.5 and 2.0 million people in Madagascar, concentrated in the Grand South, are currently in need of humanitarian food assistance, driven by multiple consecutive droughts. Extremely poor harvests are expected in southern Madagascar, as significantly below-normal rainfall at the beginning of the 2021/22 season resulted in drought conditions across much of the country. Anticipated below-average crop and livestock production and reduced labor opportunities are compounding already poor food security outcomes throughout the Grand South. Meanwhile, very high staple food prices and previous consecutive years of drought in southern Madagascar have exhausted many households’ capacity to cope, and humanitarian assistance is slated to end in April 2022. Urgent food assistance in Madagascar must be scaled up and maintained through early 2023 to prevent a widespread deterioration to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in the Grand South. 

The onset of the 2021/22 rains was delayed by up to a month in southern areas. From October 2021 to mid-January 2022, southern Madagascar saw 70 percent or less of normal rainfall, with localized areas receiving less than 45 percent of normal rainfall. Severe drought conditions have emerged throughout the Grand South, which has now experienced three consecutive droughts and poor rainfall in six of the last seven seasons. Compounded effects have resulted in record low vegetative greenness values (Figure 1). Heavy rainfall in the second half of January has somewhat reduced rainfall deficits in the south and improved conditions in the rest of the country; however, below-average rainfall is forecast to continue across the south through March.

Because of these inadequate rains, planting for the 2022 cropping season has been severely limited in the Grand South and many poor households face challenges accessing seed, which are limited in supply and quality; prices are also significantly above average. Some cultivation was possible during January, with the observed improvements in rainfall, but overall cropped areas remain significantly below-average across the region. At national level, early season rainfall impacts in other areas of the country have also been concerning and are anticipated to result in somewhat below-average national production for both main season and off-season rice, cassava, and maize. However, significant food security impacts are not expected outside of the Grand South.

Throughout southern Madagascar, crop production as a percent of total income for poor and very poor households is typically very low. These households tend to rely heavily on market purchases to meet their food needs, utilizing income earned through local and migratory labor and through the sales of products gathered from local forests. Local labor demand is expected to be below average due to low cropped areas, poor seasonal performance, and because many middle and better off households – who normally hire labor – are no longer able to do so after drawing down on household reserves during previous droughts. Labor migration from the Grand South is currently at near-normal levels and is expected to increase after planned humanitarian assistance ends in April, as people attempt to expand their income in response to the drought and reduced assistance. However, it is unlikely that income from migration and domestic remittances will reach pre-pandemic levels, as labor demand in urban areas is low, and largely being met by existing supply. Wild food availability in the Grand South is significantly below last year and the five-year average given below-average rainfall, carry over impacts of last year’s drought, and the overexploitation of forests. Furthermore, income from livestock-related labor, as well as from livestock sales, is likely to be low given poor livestock conditions and reduced herd sizes after consecutive years of drought.   

Staple food prices remain elevated across the country, further limiting household purchasing power. Dried cassava prices are 25 percent above last year, and as much as 3 times above the five-year average; maize prices are 50 to 100 percent above average. Prices of all staple foods are expected to remain high due to lower domestic production for the 2022/23 marketing year. Throughout the year, livestock sales in the south are expected to be above normal among those who still hold livestock, as these households will likely need to sell animals, even at low prices, to generate cash to buy food.  

Between February and April 2022, large-scale humanitarian assistance is planned across southern Madagascar, where nearly a million beneficiaries are targeted for in-kind and cash-based assistance. While this assistance is expected to mitigate the severity of acute food insecurity through the lean season, many still face food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Furthermore, households in the Grand South are unlikely to see meaningful seasonal improvements, therefore, widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to emerge across the region from May until the next harvest in 2023. Large-scale humanitarian assistance, including food, water, nutrition interventions, and livelihoods support, is needed immediately through early 2023. In the absence of a scale-up of external support to this region, the 2022/23 lean season will begin early and be even more severe than the current lean season.


Figure 1

Figure 1


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