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Scale-up of food aid expected to alleviate food insecurity during the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Madagascar
  • December 2023
Scale-up of food aid expected to alleviate food insecurity during the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through May 2024
  • Key Messages
    • In the Grand South, significant humanitarian food assistance is expected to maintain Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes until the main harvest begins between March and April. In the portion of Toliara II district located in the MG23 Mahafaly Plain livelihood zone, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to continue through the peak of the lean season. Toliara II is not expected to receive significant humanitarian assistance, and compared to the rest of the district this area is more remote, had poorer staple crop harvests, and faces greater security challenges more akin to the neighboring Betioky district. In Ampanihy, Betioky, Beloha, Betroka, Tshihombe, Bekily, Amboasary, and Ambovombe, further deteriorations in acute food insecurity are no longer expected, as at least 25 percent of the population are expected to meet at least 50 percent of their kilocalorie needs with humanitarian food and cash assistance. Most households have now exhausted their stocks of roots and tubers and will have to meet the rest of their minimum food needs through increasingly expensive market purchases with below-average agricultural incomes.
    • In the most isolated districts of the Grand Southeast, Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected through the peak of the lean season in March. Ongoing and planned levels of humanitarian assistance in Befotaka, Ikongo, and Nosy Varika are assessed to be sufficient to mitigate worse outcomes, as at least 25 percent of these districts’ population will meet at least 50 percent of their kilocalorie needs with humanitarian food or cash assistance. Outside of these districts, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected. The off-season rice harvest that began in December is seasonally improving household food stocks and access to agricultural labor opportunities. Crop cultivation for the main agricultural season and production and sales of cash crops are also ongoing. However, due to the limited hiring capacity of wealthier households unable to afford wages after successive years of weather shocks, incomes from agricultural labor and cash crop production remain below-average. Poor households will likely engage in charcoal sales, petty trade, or informal mining to supplement their incomes, though heightened competition will restrict potential earnings.  
    • The start of the rainy season between November and December was slightly delayed in the Grand South, likely due to the ongoing strong El Niño. In the Grand Southeast, the rains generally arrived early to on time. As of December 31, rainfall data indicates that cumulative precipitation was below average in southern, southeastern, and western Madagascar (Figure 2), with the most significant deficits in western Madagascar and western Betioky. Climate forecasts indicate that the overall number of cyclones across the entire country is expected to be lower than average until January, and below-average specifically in southern Madagascar until April, attributed to the positive decaying Southern Indian Ocean Dipole (SIOD) event. Despite the decreased likelihood of cyclone impact, the potential for catastrophic damage persists in the event of an intense cyclone strike. It is still early in the cyclone and rainy seasons for the Grand South and Grand Southeast, so close monitoring of rainfall totals and distribution will be necessary to assess the severity of impacts on cropping conditions for the 2023/24 main agricultural season.

    Current Situation

    Figure 1

    Onset of Rains Current as of December 31st, 2023
    Shows map of Madagascar with various colors indicating the timeliness of when the rainy season officially began. Cooler colors indicate an early start to the season, grey indicates an on time start, and warmer colors indicate a late start.

    Source: USGS/EROS

    Seasonal progress: Due to the ongoing strong El Niño (see the October to May Food Security Outlook for further information), the start of the rainy season in the Grand South was delayed by up to twenty days and began in early December. In the Grand Southeast, the rainy season officially began in most areas either in early October or early November (Figure 1), which was slightly early to on time depending on the zone. 

    Figure 2

    Preliminary CHIRPS Season Precipitation Percent of Average (1981-2020) Nov 1-Dec 31, 2023
    Shows map of Madagascar with various colors indicating how precipitation compared to average. Cooler colors indicate above-average rainfall and warmer colors indicate below-average rainfall.

    Source: NOAA

    Rainfall was generally average across the Grand South and Grand Southeast until December when deficits began to accumulate. As of December 31, rainfall data indicates that cumulative precipitation was below average in southern, southeastern, and western Madagascar (Figure 2), with the most significant deficits in western Madagascar and western Betioky. It is still early in the rainy season for the Grand South and Grand Southeast, so close monitoring of rainfall totals and distribution will be necessary to assess the severity of impacts on cropping conditions for the 2023/24 main agricultural season. Amidst below average and erratic rainfall in the Grand South and Grand Southeast, most households are in the process of cultivating main season crops, having completed planting activities in advance of the rainy season. In the Grand Southeast, households are also harvesting their off-season rice crops. 

    In northern and central Madagascar, the arrival of the rains typically occurs between late September and early October. This season, the start of the rainy season was generally early to on time in these regions and the rainfall received was sufficient for rice cultivation. Many rice paddies that had dried out during the successive years of drought are now operational.

    Food prices: In the Antananarivo and Tuléar markets, prices for local rice and manioc have been seasonally increasing since October. Prices reached their seasonal peak in November as stocks declined. The newly harvested off-season rice crop has increased local supplies and temporarily decreased prices until the next main harvest in March. Imported rice is also available to purchase at markets for when household rice stocks are exhausted between January and February. 

    Employment opportunities: Poor households in most parts of the country engage in agricultural labor activities such as planting, weeding, and harvesting activities to earn income. In the Grand Southeast, these opportunities are at their seasonal peak during the off-season rice harvest and during the cultivation period for main season crops such as maize, cassava, and rice. During this time of year, many households in southern Madagascar would send a household member to temporarily migrate to the north and east regions for more lucrative labor opportunities. However, high and rising transport costs are limiting the ability of poor households to take advantage of these opportunities. 

    Cash crops: In the eastern and southeastern parts of the country, yields of cloves, vanilla, and lychee are below average due to the slow speed at which some cash crops can recover from the damage caused by successive years of intense cyclone strikes. In the regions of Antsinanana, Analanjirofo, Vatovavy, Fitovinany, and Atsimo Atsinanana, which are among the leading producers, a large proportion of the clove and lychee plantations were destroyed over the past three years. Many farmers have replanted to renew their plantations. It is important to note that it takes several years for a clove tree to start producing fruit.

    Livestock: Pasture regeneration is ongoing in the Grand South and Grand Southeast, though it is delayed in many areas due to the late arrival of the rainy season. Seasonal improvements in livestock body conditions have been similarly delayed. Herd sizes remain below average due to the threat of livestock rustling (locally referred to as dahalo attacks). Despite government efforts, attacks seasonally increased between October and November in rural areas and in major towns. Due to the increasing scarcity of zebus and goats, bandits have also attacked household food stocks, though this is less common. Meanwhile, livestock prices have begun to seasonally decrease across the Grand South, though prices remain higher than normal due to below-average market supplies of cattle and goats.

    Humanitarian assistance: Significant humanitarian food assistance is ongoing and will continue through March when the main season harvest begins. Assistance is expected to be targeted at areas of the Grand South and Grand Southeast that are remote and were hardest hit by successive years of weather shocks. Humanitarian assistance data available at the SAMS cluster level indicates that significant humanitarian food and cash distributions are expected in Ampanihy, Betioky, Beloha, Betroka, Tsihombe, Bekily, Amboasary, and Ambovombe in the Grand South, and in Befotaka, Ikongo, and Nosy Varika in the Grand Southeast. FEWS NET assesses that at least 25 percent of the populations in these districts will meet at least 50 percent of their kilocalorie needs through humanitarian food and cash assistance, and that area-level outcomes would be at least one IPC phase worse in the absence of such assistance. FAO, WFP, and numerous humanitarian actors are also distributing seeds and agricultural equipment in several zones.


    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Madagascar showing the timing of the agricultural cycle.

    Source: FEWS NET


    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Madagascar Food Security Outlook for October 2023 to May 2024 remain unchanged except for the following:

    • Significant humanitarian food and cash assistance is expected across the Grand South and in the most isolated districts of the Grand Southeast through the peak of the lean season in February 2024. 

    Projected Outlook through May 2024

    Grand South: 

    Most households have now exhausted their stocks of roots and tubers and will have to meet their minimum food needs through increasingly expensive market purchases. In the portion of Toliara II district located in the MG23 Mahafaly Plain livelihood zone, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to continue through the peak of the lean season. Toliara II is not expected to receive significant humanitarian assistance. Compared to the rest of the district, the area in MG23 is more remote, had poorer staple crop harvests, and faces greater security challenges more akin to the neighboring Betioky district. Households in this area will likely have to reduce meal frequency and portion sizes or consume atypically high amounts of wild foods. Others may sell any remaining productive assets to try and mitigate their consumption gaps. Significant humanitarian assistance is expected to maintain Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes in Ampanihy, Betioky, Beloha, Tsihombe, Bekily, Amboasary, and Ambovombe until the main season harvest arrives at the end of March. At least 25 percent of the population in these districts are expected to meet at least 50 percent of their kilocalorie needs with humanitarian food and cash assistance. While agricultural labor opportunities are seasonally increasing, wages are expected to be below average due to the limited hiring capacities of better-off households after several years of successive weather shocks. 

    Grand Southeast: 

    Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected through the peak of the lean season in the most remote districts of the Grand Southeast. In Befotaka, Ikongo, and Nosy Varika, at least 25 percent of these districts’ population will meet at least 50 percent of their kilocalorie needs with humanitarian food or cash assistance and acute food insecurity outcomes would be at least one IPC phase worse in the absence of such assistance. Based on recent information from key informants, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist in Midongy-du-Sud through May. Current food availability is relatively better and food prices are generally lower in this district than in neighboring Befotaka. In the rest of the Grand Southeast, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected throughout the rest of the scenario period. The off-season rice harvest that began in December is temporarily improving household food stocks and access to agricultural labor opportunities. However, for poor households, stocks are only expected to last through January. Ongoing main season cultivation activities are also providing additional labor opportunities, though wages are below average due to the limited hiring capacity of wealthier households after years of successive weather shocks. Many households will likely capitalize on the lychee, jackfruit, and mango season to supplement their food consumption or generate additional income to pay for food purchases. Others will likely engage in charcoal sales, petty trade, or informal mining to supplement their incomes, though heightened competition will restrict potential earnings. Once main season crops are harvested starting in March, improvements to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in Befotaka, Ikongo, and Nosy Varika. Anticipated below-average agricultural production and incomes from agricultural labor, coupled with the necessity to repay debts accumulated during multiple consecutive years of severe cyclone strikes, are expected to result in difficulties for many households in meeting their essential non-food needs.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Madagascar Food Security Outlook Update December 2023: Scale-up of food aid expected to alleviate food insecurity during the lean season, 2023.

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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