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Consecutive droughts and back-to-back cyclone strikes worsen food security outcomes in Madagascar

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Madagascar
  • February - September 2022
Consecutive droughts and back-to-back cyclone strikes worsen food security outcomes in Madagascar

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Through April 2022, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected throughout most of the Grand South as ongoing humanitarian assistance is mitigating worse outcomes throughout the lean season. The 2021/22 season has been characterized by a late onset of rains and poor rainfall performance. In many areas, rainfall improvement in early 2022 was too late for plantings or replantings, particularly as resources were limited given the impacts of consecutive droughts. Severe drought conditions in southern and western parts of the country are expected to result in below-average harvests, pasture conditions, water availability, and labor opportunities. 

    • Worst-affected areas in the southwest will see only marginal seasonal improvements by May. However, these will be offset by reductions in humanitarian assistance, and households are expected to deteriorate quickly into Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, unprecedented during post-harvest months. Poor households are likely to remain in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) throughout the remainder of the outlook period despite additional marginal improvements to food access from cassava and sweet potato harvests – which begin in July. Yields for these crops are also likely to be significantly below average. 

    • Southeastern Madagascar, which saw rainfall improvements from mid-December, has had relatively higher agricultural labor opportunities and is likely to achieve minimally sufficient seasonal improvements for households to maintain Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through the remainder of the outlook period once humanitarian assistance comes to an end. Meanwhile, western and central districts have also been negatively impacted by drought, poor vegetative health, and reduced agricultural labor opportunities, resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through May. Although seasonal improvements due to cassava, sweet potato, and rice harvests are likely to reduce food insecurity in these areas to Minimal (IPC Phase 1), some households may remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). 

    • Multiple cyclones and tropical storm strikes in late January and throughout February destroyed infrastructure, shelter, and crops, displacing hundreds of thousands and worsening food security outcomes in several areas. Tropical Storms Ana and Dumako threatened crops across Analamanga and Antananarivo as well as vanilla-growing areas to the north. Category 4 Cyclone Batsirai and Category 3 Cyclone Emnati both hit southeastern Madagascar, including Mananjary, Manakara, and Farafangana. Crop destruction caused by the cyclones is expected to significantly negatively affect both food and cash crops in Madagascar’s high-producing northern, central, and eastern areas. Based on information from key informants, FEWS NET estimates a more than 30 percent decrease in rice and vanilla production. Worst-affected households in parts of the Atsimo-Atsinanana and Vatovavy Fitovinany regions are currently experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Cyclone recovery is likely to be lengthy, but these areas are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Minimal (IPC Phase 1) by June. Other southern and central areas affected by cyclones and associated flooding, including Ihorombe and Antananarivo are currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, but are likely to improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from June as well. 


    Current Situation

    Progression of the rainy season: Since mid-January, rainfall has improved to near-normal levels in the northern and eastern parts of the country, while multiple tropical storms and cyclones have also increased cumulative rainfall elsewhere. However, across western and central areas, rainfall remains below average following a late onset of rains (Figure 1), and the Grand South continues to experience drought conditions.

    Update on cyclones: Madagascar has been hit by two tropical storms as well as two cyclones so far this season (Figure 2). In early February, central and eastern Madagascar, including Antananarivo, were still recovering from the heavy floods, landslides, and destruction of infrastructure caused by Tropical Storm Ana. Less than two weeks after Ana, the country was hit by cyclone Batsirai which struck Madagascar’s east coast near Mananjary on February 5. Based on an inter-sectoral rapid needs assessment conducted jointly by the government and humanitarian partners, more than 20 people were killed and an estimated 270,900 people have been negatively affected and are in urgent need of basics including shelter, health services, and food assistance. OCHA estimated that nearly 26.8 million USD would be required in the next three months to save lives and restore the most essential services based on impacts from Batsirai alone. According to Meteo Madagascar, widespread flooding from Batsirai was reported, especially in the east, south-east and central highlands, causing waterlogging and crop loss in several areas. Although assessments of crop damage are still ongoing, it is likely that many households have lost at least a proportion of their crops.

    Vanilla, a cash crop in Madagascar and particularly sensitive to winds and excess rainfall, suffered losses in the east along Batsirai’s path. Vanilla growing areas in the north also suffered a major blow from the impacts of Tropical Storm Dumako, which made landfall between Sainte-Marie Island and Antalaha, on February 15. Reports indicate 5,100 people have been directly affected, including nearly 3,000 displaced. Past cyclone experiences indicate vanilla losses are expected to be significant; in 2017, Cyclone Enawo resulted in national vanilla losses of 30 percent.

    Cyclone Emnati then made landfall on February 22, killing at least four people, and negatively affecting a further 72,000 according to February 25 government reports. As there was minimal time between Batsirai and Emnati, chances for soils to drain were limited, leaving them oversaturated and extremely vulnerable to flooding. Emnati, therefore, caused significant flooding and damage to houses and roads as it made landfall in the Fitovinany region. Although Emnati weakened after it made landfall, the weather system still brought heavy rainfall and strong winds to the southeast of Madagascar, including the Grand South, where drought-stricken soils were incapable of absorbing such heavy rainfall. Several roads were cut off because of flooding, fallen trees, or landslides, particularly in the districts of Ambovombe, Farafangana, Ihosi, Midongy, Vohipeno, and Vondrozo.

    Export cash crops: The vanilla cropping season has been significantly affected by cyclones: Sava region, where vanilla is mostly grown, was hit by Tropical Storm Dumako, which resulted in significant crop damage.  In addition, the combined effects of 

    Category 4 Cyclone Batsirai and Category 3 Cyclone Emnati in the eastern region where both vanilla and coffee are grown, have affected production, and losses are expected to be above 30 percent. Prices for most cash crops, including vanilla and coffee, are slightly below-average levels and still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19, which slowed down exports.

    Cropped Area: Maize cropped area in most southern, western, and central parts of the country remains below average due to the late onset of rainfall at the beginning of the season and below-average rainfall performance since. For the southern parts of the country, the situation was worsened by a lack of access to seeds and other agricultural inputs following consecutive drought years. For very poor households whose early crop was affected by dry conditions from October to December, replanting was limited due to lack of inputs. In the north, rice planted area is expected to be near average due to improved rainfall in the north since mid-January. However, at the national level, rice cropped area is below average according to key informants, due to reductions in central Madagascar, including in the Vakinakaratra and Itasy regions. These regions typically produce more than 40 percent of national production and were affected both by early-season dryness and by flooding and crop losses from Tropical Storm Ana and Cyclones Batsirai and Emnati.

    Crop condition and stages: The late onset of rains resulted in late planting across most of the country. Therefore, crops in central, southern, and western Madagascar are delayed in their development (Figure 3). Most are currently between vegetative and reproductive stages, when in a typical year they would be likely to be at maturity now. However, in the northeastern parts of the country where the season started nearly on time, crops have developed normally, though losses were reported due to tropical storms. In the central and eastern cyclone-affected areas, crops have flooded and waterlogged, which is resulting in losses for poor households, as they cannot afford fertilizers needed to manage the impacts of heavy leaching.

    Current crop production: Key informants have reported that the harvest of first season rice, which finished at the end of January, is below average this year due to dry conditions experienced in 2021.

    Livestock herds and prices: While pasture conditions are near average in most northern and eastern parts of the country, southern, central, and western areas experienced significantly below-average rainfall during the October-December period and conditions remain below average. In addition, livestock herds are slightly below average in Southern Madagascar due to the impacts of last year‘s drought and above-average sales as households have been trying to raise income for market purchases during the lean season. Most of these sales are out of desperation, which, coupled with below-average livestock body conditions, has reduced sale prices to below average.

    Macroeconomy, markets, and trade: Market demand remains weak in the current period as income-generating opportunities remain vulnerable to weather shocks and COVID-19 containment policies, reducing income as high food prices reduce household purchasing power. Poor harvest of the early rice is forcing the government to rely on food imports. The ariary has been depreciating since 2021 mainly because of volatility in vanilla and metal prices on the international market and reduced tourism due to COVID-19. Food and transportation costs remain elevated in the current period due to above-average food imports and global increases in oil prices, keeping domestic inflation high. 

    Supply chains: Infrastructure has been badly damaged from multiple tropical storms and cyclone strikes, including roads linking strategic central supply areas from Antananarivo to the Grand South, and those linking Fianarantsoa and the Southeast. Transportation of both imported and local rice, dried cassava, and other key food supplies from Fianarantsoa to the Southeast is therefore reduced. Market functioning across cyclone-affected areas has been negatively impacted by these damaged roads and recovery has only just begun.   

    Staple Prices: Madagascar’s first season of rice was affected by dry conditions in 2021 and poor harvests have been driving increases in local rice prices since December (Figure 4). Typically, the supply gap would be met through increased rice imports, but international prices are also high considering elevated transportation costs, reducing this possibility. In southern and central Madagascar, households typically consume yellow maize, dried cassava, sweet potato, and cowpeas but dried cassava provides the most calories across all cereals. However, the 2021 cassava harvest was poor. Households in the south have already exhausted their stocks and have been relying on market purchase for several months while even households in more productive central areas have still seen smaller than normal reserves. Retail prices for dried cassava continue trending upwards due to this limited supply and remain above average. While maize grain prices in January were below last year’s levels, prices have been rising since December and are expected to continue to do so until the cereal harvest in March/April.

    Humanitarian assistance: Humanitarian assistance is ongoing in most districts in the Grand South, where WFP and partners are targeting more than a million beneficiaries in the drought-affected districts. Both food distributions and cash transfer programs are currently being implemented across the Grand South and will likely cover up to 70 percent of the population in drought-affected areas, providing around 50 percent of kilocalorie needs. Based on the December 2022 IPC Acute Malnutrition analysis, the prevalence of GAM ranged between 5.4 to 9.7 percent in most sampled southern districts covering Atsimo Andrefana, Androy and Anosy regions. The results indicate most of these districts are experiencing Alert levels (GAM  5 – 9.9%), per the WHO classification scale. Similar outcomes are expected to persist through April due to the contribution of humanitarian assistance. In addition, humanitarian actors are providing food assistance to districts affected by recent storms and cyclones, including 1.85 million EUR (more than 2 million USD) released by the Directorate General of European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) to support shelter and food needs, set up mobile clinics and mental health and psychological support to the most vulnerable populations, as well as fund preparedness in response capacities.

    Current food security outcomes

    Currently, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are widespread across the Grand South as ongoing humanitarian assistance is mitigating worse outcomes during the peak of the annual lean season. 2021 own produced staple crops from the main cropping season and from the tuber harvest were severely affected by drought, leaving households with limited reserves moving into the 2021/22 lean season. This has left poor households completely reliant on market purchases to meet their food needs; however, their access to staple grains on the market is negatively affected by weak purchasing power due to reductions in agricultural labor opportunities from consecutive droughts. Poor households in affected areas are mainly living on cash transfers and humanitarian food assistance and limited income from below-average agricultural and non-agricultural labor opportunities.

    Cyclone-affected areas in the east and southeast are currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes due to the loss of key food and income sources that resulted from the widespread destruction of infrastructure, crops, and shelter. Typically, households in these areas have access to food and income through agricultural labor, but due to the impacts of cyclone-related flooding, their sources of food and income have been disrupted. It is estimated that crop losses due to cyclones are over 30 percent, negatively impacting agricultural labor opportunities and associated income.  

    The late onset of rains and below-average rainfall performance at the start of the season extended to the western parts of the country, which normally receive good rainfall. The late rains affected both the start of the season and the quality of cropping conditions in this area and resulted in significant decreases in agriculture labor opportunities, which most poor households rely on to be able to access food via market purchase during the lean season. Although typically a self-sufficient region, households are currently experiencing reduced income and are reducing expenditures on other essential non-food items to save for staple purchases. This loss of income, especially for very poor households already experiencing seasonal food deficits amidst increasing staple food prices is driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    In most northern and central parts of the country where last year’s production was near average, poor households are still consuming their own-produced staple crops and supplementing with market purchases. In these areas, food insecurity is Minimal (IPC Phase 1), although some poor households are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes given recent storms and cyclones.  

    Very poor households in most urban areas are still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 related restrictions and lockdowns in the past two years, which resulted in job losses in both formal and informal sectors. Unfortunately, some urban areas, especially in the central parts of the country, have also been hit by flooding, and very poor households continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as their livelihoods have been disrupted and they have limited incomes for staple purchases.


    Rainfall: October 2021 to March 2022 rainfall is expected to be below average across southern, central, and western areas of Madagascar. Drought conditions are expected to persist across the Grand South, marking the third consecutive year of drought in this area and the sixth poor season out of the past seven.

    Seed availability: During the main agricultural season, seed is expected to remain available on the market. However, in the Grand South, poor households’ access to seed is likely to be limited as supplies are expected to be below average and of low quality, while prices remain significantly above average. Seed and vine distribution programs are not expected to be sufficient for households to meet their own-produced foods requirements. Challenges in accessing seed are likely to continue through the winter cropping season, which starts in June, for households in central, western, and especially southern Madagascar.

    Rice production: The December to February off-season national rice harvest is expected to be below average due to the impacts of below-average rainfall through December. Below-average national harvests are also anticipated for the main rice season – which began planting in December and will begin harvesting in May – due to dryness at the beginning of the season and crop damage caused by multiple cyclone strikes.

    Cassava production: Current drought conditions and further forecasts of below-average rainfall through March are likely to negatively affect winter sweet potatoes and cassava production in the south, where cassava is an important staple crop. Early season dryness in central and western areas will also contribute to below-average national production.   

    Maize production: FEWS NET estimates that the drought conditions experienced in the south, central, and western parts of the country where maize is mainly grown will likely result in national production levels at nearly half the five-year average.

    Cash crop production: Eastern and northern parts of the country, where Madagascar’s main cash crop of vanilla is grown, are likely to receive average cumulative rainfall. However, FEWS NET estimates vanilla and coffee plantations are likely to lose more than 30 percent of their harvests due to the frequency and severity of cyclone and tropical storm strikes in the northern and eastern parts of the country in early 2022.

    Humanitarian assistance: Between February and April 2022, large-scale humanitarian assistance is planned across southern Madagascar, where nearly a million beneficiaries are targeted for in-kind or cash-based assistance. From May to September, humanitarian assistance is not yet planned and funded.

    Conflict: Attacks by Dahalo cattle rustlers and criminal bandits targeting villagers, transportation operators, aid workers, and cash distribution agents in southern Madagascar are likely to follow seasonal trends but persist beyond the typical lean season given reduced production estimates and labor opportunities. However, instances of banditry are not likely to significantly affect humanitarian assistance delivery.

    Livestock conditions and prices: Significant rainfall deficits earlier in the season are likely to result in significantly below average availability of pasture and water for livestock between March and September. After the rainy season ends in April, pasture conditions and water availability are likely to substantially deteriorate to below-average levels, and cattle, goats, and sheep body conditions are likely to be poor, especially in the south. Herd sizes in the south are likely to remain below average due to the impacts of consecutive droughts. Throughout the outlook period, livestock sales are expected to increase atypically, and prices are likely to be below average as households sell at low prices to raise incomes for staple purchases, with worst-affected households in southern Madagascar.

    Agriculture labor demand and wages: Given below-average rainfall performance during the October-December period across the country and the forecast of a similar pattern for the remainder of the season in the Grand South, labor opportunities will likely be below last year and average levels throughout the outlook period. Similarly, agricultural labor and income are expected to be below average in eastern and northern areas of the country due to cyclone impacts, negatively impacting agricultural and migratory labor opportunities. Lower than normal wages are likely given below-average labor demand.

    Rural migration: Seasonal labor migration especially for poor households from the Grand South to northern and eastern parts of Madagascar will likely resume this season with the reduction of COVID-19 restrictions. However, cyclone impacts on cash crop production, especially vanilla, will reduce labor demand and constrain migration.

    Urban labor demand and migration: Migration to urban areas is expected to remain below average as COVID-19-related restrictions continue to discourage it. For those already in urban areas, labor demand is expected to progressively increase above last year’s levels during the outlook period; however, previous influxes of migrants from rural areas have also increased labor supply, likely resulting in below-average income during the outlook period.

    COVID-19-related restrictions: Given the economic impacts of previous lockdowns, the government will likely continue only localized restrictions like curfews, reducing working hours, restricting the number of workers in indoor spaces, limits on travel to and from the capital, and compulsory vaccination but will avoid actions that will further depress the economy. This approach will result in improvements in the performance of key sectors, including tourism, and will lead to economic growth.

    Imports, exports, and national trade balance: Rice imports will remain above normal given lower than normal domestic production of rice, cassava, and maize but prices will continue to increase following international trends. Given the recent conflict in Ukraine and subsequent sanctions on Russia, there is the potential for disruption to global cereal and fertilizer exports from both Ukraine and Russia. The likely magnitude of these disruptions in Madagascar is still being analyzed, as events in Ukraine unfold. The potential impacts are further detailed in the Events that Might Change the Outlook section. Meanwhile, the volume of exports for cobalt, graphite, vanilla, and coffee remains lower than normal due to the absence of additional production investment.

    Exchange and inflation rates: Madagascar’s economy is expected to grow in 2022 with observed increases in global commodity prices and export revenues. However, this recovery also hinges on further injection of foreign direct investment and job creation from textiles, mining, tourism, and agriculture. Following a downward trend since May 2021, the exchange rate is expected to continue weakening due to a negative trade balance and negative investor sentiment. This persistent weakening of the ariary is likely to transmit the effects of high global oil prices to domestic consumers and add pressure on inflation rates.

    Remittances: International remittances are likely to remain high throughout the outlook period; however, these remittances are rarely received by poorer households. Local remittances are likely to slightly increase as the domestic economy is recovering following the relaxing of COVID-19-related restrictions, especially with improved migratory labor opportunities. However, domestic remittances are still likely to remain below average due to the negative impacts of the cyclones. Households are most likely to utilize remittances for daily expenses with little possibility of saving.

    Staple food prices: Below-average expectations for upcoming harvests and domestic supply during the 2022/23 marketing year are expected to result in above-average local rice, cassava, and maize prices. International rice prices are expected to increase to above last year’s prices and near the five-year average due to increases in production costs (energy, fertilizer, and transportation) in major rice exporting economies. Similar trends are expected for imported wheat flour and sugar prices. State procurement and distribution of subsidized rice, wheat flour, sugar, and cooking oil will moderate domestic consumer prices, but will likely remain higher than average given import and transportation costs. Maize prices will continue to track import parity levels during the projection period.

    Domestic trade flow: Domestic trade flows are anticipated to be normal as the movement of domestic cereals between surplus and deficit-producing areas will continue unimpeded and the movement of imported cereals from ports to consumption centers and deficit areas is expected to be facilitated by the authorities. However, cyclone and other damage to roads is likely to slow/hamper the smooth flow of cargo at times. State procurement programs are expected to collaborate with commercial wholesalers and retailers to minimize costs and reduce the rate of price increases, without significant loss of profit for traders.

    Wild food: Wild food availability is expected to be below last year and typical levels. The Grand South is likely to be worst impacted given below-average rainfall and carry-over impacts of last year’s drought and resulting overexploitation of forests.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected to persist in most drought-affected areas of southern Madagascar through April, when currently programmed humanitarian food assistance ends. Based on the December 2021 IPC Acute Malnutrition projections, the levels of malnutrition will likely deteriorate through April reaching Serious (GAM 10 – 14.9 percent) levels per the WHO classification scale in districts in southern Atsimo Andrefana, Anosy, and Androy regions due to depletion of household food reserves, limited food access through markets due to high prices, and increase in the use of unsafe surface water. Typically, households in these areas start accessing green harvests in February and the main harvest begins to flow in March. However, due to the late and poor start of the season, the main harvest is likely to be both below average and delayed across the south, coming online in late April. In Anosy district, rainfall in late December allowed for some crop recovery and additional agricultural labor opportunities, such that harvests and incomes are likely to improve outcomes to Crisis (IPC Phase 3). However, in Atsimo-Andrefana and Androy districts, rainfall was received too late into the season for crop recovery and significantly below-average harvests are expected. Once humanitarian food assistance ends in April in these areas, outcomes are expected to deteriorate to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) through September. Typically, malnutrition levels decrease between June and September as food consumption from main and tuber harvests improves diets. However, this year, the prolonged drought conditions across the south will also negatively impact the cassava and sweet potato harvests from July to September and seasonal improvements in both income and food stocks are likely to be below average. During this time, there is a high possibility that malnutrition levels will increase in worst-affected areas of southern Atsimo-Andrefana and Androy. Drought conditions have also negatively impacted crop production and agricultural labor opportunities in southwestern Madagascar, leading to major losses in incomes key for staple market purchases. Meanwhile, migratory labor opportunities to cash crop producing areas in the east and north are also reduced due to cyclone impacts, further constraining households’ earning potential. As a result, poor households are expected to continue experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through the lean season. Although most households will improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity with the arrival of the harvests, some are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Cyclone-affected areas along the southeastern coast of Madagascar are expected to continue experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through May due to significant crop and infrastructure losses. Inland cyclone-affected areas including high-producing agricultural zones in Amoron’i Mania, Haute Matsiatra, and Menabe, where flooding has similarly reduced labor opportunities and caused crop losses, resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) conditions. Humanitarian assistance targeted to cyclone-affected areas and general cyclone recovery are expected to slowly reduce food insecurity in the coming months and outcomes will improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from June through September. Meanwhile, urban areas are expected to continue slowly recovering from the lingering economic impacts of COVID-19-related restrictions as well as flooding in and around Antananarivo. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will likely persist for poor urban households throughout the outlook period as they continue to face challenges in accessing foods and essential non-food needs due to below-average income and above-average prices.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario. 

    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes

    Additional cyclone strikes in northern and central areas in March

    For vanilla and rice-producing northern and central parts of the country, more cyclones in March would result in significant decreases in national production to below-average levels, further reducing labor opportunities for migrants. For rice, decreases in supplies may trigger price increases which will affect access for poor households. Both impacts would increase the number of households facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes.


    Higher than anticipated increases in key commodity prices

    The ongoing conflict in Ukraine could substantially increase international commodity prices, including fuel, fertilizer, and food, negatively impacting household purchasing power and increasing households facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes.


    The return of COVID-19-related restrictions

    New surges of COVID-19 cases and the reintroduction of stringent movement restrictions would negatively affect labor migration by poor households (particularly those in the Grand South) to northern and eastern regions, reducing household income and increasing those facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes.


    Continuation and/or increase in humanitarian assistance

    The continuation or expansion of humanitarian assistance in response to the drought and/or cyclone impacts would improve households’ access to food hence improving outcomes at the household and area level to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) or Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!).



    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1.

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 2.

    Source: OCHA

    Figure 4

    Figure 3.

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    Figure 4.

    Source: WFP

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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