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An atypically severe upcoming lean season anticipated in southern Madagascar

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Madagascar
  • October 2020
An atypically severe upcoming lean season anticipated in southern Madagascar

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Drought in southern areas, and subsequent crop losses and lower labor opportunities, is driving high needs. In October, available information points to area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, with some worst-affected households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), already occurring in the lead up to the typical lean season. Large-scale assistance is anticipated between November and January and, in the presence of this assistance, many beneficiaries will be able to minimally meet their food needs, driving Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes at the area-level. However, it is likely some poor households will still be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4), and area-level outcomes would be more severe in the absence of this assistance.

    • National rice and cassava productions in 2019/20 were near the five-year average while that of maize decreased because of rainfall deficits that affected main producing areas of southern Madagascar in early 2020. Agricultural labor is currently near average at the national level because of near normal beginning of the 2020/21 rainy season, but below normal in the south where seeds are less accessible due to the below normal production in the previous season. Non-agricultural labor, particularly in urban areas and in touristic areas, is below normal as result of COVID-19 pandemic, which limited opportunities.

    • Main food supplies were disturbed during the COVID-19 emergency state in Madagascar both for locally produced and imported staple food. Supply has returned to near-normal levels, but as traders remain mistrustful about the evolution of COVID-19 and anticipate higher prices in the peak of lean season in February, the volume of staples sold at markets remains below average and prices are above normal.

    National Overview

    Current situation


    During the second quarter of 2020, the Institut National de la Statistique (INSTAT) reported that export revenues had fallen by 30 percent compared to the second quarter of 2019, driven by a drastic fall of revenues from mining exports (-70 percent) and from textile exports (-20 percent), but also a sharp reduction in tourism (-100 percent). The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions is driving these trends, affecting the domestic and international economy since the first quarter of 2020. Moreover, some large international mining companies, like Ambatovy, have temporarily stopped their production.

    Public health emergency

    There were 16,968 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Madagascar by the end of October, with 26 new cases confirmed, on average, per day since the end of September, an increase of five percent in one month. All regions are now affected with the majority of cases found in Analamanga (11,896), Antsinanana (907), Alaotra Mangoro (680) and Diana (537). Movement restrictions and curfews related to COVID-19 have been lifted across the country, allowing for free movement, the ability to work freely, and for markets to function during their normal hours. Limited international flights were allowed starting October 1st.

    Rice production in main producing areas

    Preliminary analysis of the NVAC/EPASA (Rapid Crop and Food Security Assessment) carried out in main producing districts for the 2019/20 cropping season shows severe drought impacts in southern producing areas like Betroka and Taolagnaro with more than 50 percent decrease in rice production compared to last year, a moderate impact of floods in Alaotra Mangora region leading to a 20-30 decrease compared to last year, and a slight decrease of production in Vatovavy-Fitovinany and Analamanga regions with five to 10 percent decrease compared to last year. Conversely, rice production increased in southern highlands near Fianarantsoa due to expanded cropped areas and favorable rainfall.

    Rice imports

    During the last five years, Madagascar imported on average around 400,000 metric tons (MT) of rice per marketing year (MY) to meet local demand and preference, and to fill localized gaps. Imported rice volumes are highest from November to April. India and Pakistan supply close to 80 percent of the imported rice in Madagascar. In the second half of MY 2019/20, January to June 2020, Madagascar imported about 200,000 MT, near the five-year average and the previous year. The most significant quantities were imported in January, February, and May 2020 (45,000 to 70,000 MT per month), to cover gaps from the extended lean season in southern Madagascar and the COVID-19 impacts in urban areas where the government sold imported rice at subsidized prices and distributed to very poor households.

    Food prices

    In September 2020, prices of staple food in monitored markets were above five-year average and last year prices due to below-average stocks, except in Antananarivo. The atypical difference was notable for tuber prices in the south where stocks from usual sources have depleted and markets were supplied from farther districts like Ihosy, Andonaka, or Fianarantsoa. Compared to August 2020, prices remained stable in Antananarivo, Ambovombe, Tsihombe and Toamasina, decreased in Amboasary and increased in Ihosy, Fianarantsoa and Toliara I. Since August, local rice prices at the national level have continued to increase slowly.

    Labor conditions and opportunities

    With the massive decline in mining, textile, and tourism activities, many people lost their jobs and are currently unemployed. Large scale mining formally employs mainly middle households and the slowdown of their activities has impacts on the local economy. With the reduced purchasing power of these employees, local markets and local demand for informal labor from poor households (laundry, cleaning, etc.) has also reduced. Some employees have turned to agricultural activities in rural areas to access food and income. This phenomenon is concentrated in Moramanga and Toamasina where Ambatovy operates.

    Livestock price

    In the Tulear livestock market, cattle and goat prices are above the five-year average with increased demand from urban and surrounding rural areas where traditional ceremonies are taking place after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. However, goat and sheep prices are decreasing in districts impacted by the drought like Ampanihy, Bekily, Amboasary, and Ambovombe due to poor conditions and over-supply as dryness reduced pasture and water availability, particularly in rural areas.



    The most likely scenario for October 2020 to May 2021 period is based on the following national level assumptions:

    • 2020/2021 rainy season:  NOAA projects a weak to moderate La Niña as the most likely ENSO state between November and January. Typically, La Niña conditions drive above-average rainfall over southern Africa, though given the forecast for no significant SIOD event and considering that a weak La Niña has historically not been associated with a consistent deviation in seasonal rainfall over much of Madagascar, the most likely forecast is an on-time and average November to March main rainy season.
    • Cyclone season: Between December 2020 and March 2021, an average number of cyclones strikes (estimated at 1-2) are anticipated to hit Madagascar, given that historical trends point to no evidence of increased or reduced cyclone activity.
    • Staple food prices: According to FEWS NET’s integrated price projections, locally grown cereal prices like local rice and maize will likely continue to increase between October and February and decrease from March through the end of the outlook period with the start of harvests. In Antananarivo, the effects of COVID-19 restrictions on local rice prices are decreasing, bringing these prices to near their last year and five-year average levels, a trend that is anticipated throughout the outlook period. In Fianarantsoa, however, prices will likely remain 50 percent above average throughout the outlook period because of the slightly below-normal supply following below-average local production. In the south, both dried cassava and maize prices will also likely remain elevated throughout the outlook period due to below-normal stock from lower local production. As for imported rice, like other imported commodities, prices will likely remain elevated at 20 to 30 percent above average throughout the outlook period particularly in Toamasina and Tulear, because of increased international prices and continued depreciation of the MGA.
    • Cropped areas/staple production estimates: Most better-off households stored a large part of their main rice harvest to sell at higher prices during the lean season. Inter-season rice harvested in August/September from large irrigated areas of western Madagascar will also likely contribute to meeting needs. As for maize, many farmers will likely prefer planting other crops instead of maize because of the risk of FAW infestation. The green maize harvest, starting in January, will likely be below average despite the favorable near-normal rainfall. Finally, for tubers, cassava will likely be harvested and consumed little by little starting in February; on the other hand, early sweet potato harvests in fertile areas, including in the south, in March/April will likely be near normal.
    • Cash crop exports: Following the global economic impacts of COVID-19, the demand for vanilla exports, a key cash crop and main foreign exchange earner for Madagascar, is below average. While production is above average, the quality is relatively poor, and buyers are expected to seek cheaper vanilla prices in other countries. Overall, small producer income and government revenue from this source will likely be below average.
    • Rice imports: Demand for rice imports will likely be at the highest seasonal levels from October 2020 to April 2021 because of the lean season. However, internationally, following the evolution of FAO food price index, cereals will likely become more expensive during this period. Therefore, between October 2020 and May 2021, rice imports will likely total around 150,000 MT, half of the five-year average and unlikely to cover demand resulting from below-average local production.
    • Macroeconomic context: Government revenue and access to foreign exchange reserves will likely continue declining and reach below-normal levels. Meanwhile, the value of MGA will likely depreciate further until the second quarter of 2021, due to below-average mining and textile exports, reduced tourism, and increasing import needs. Currency depreciation will drive up prices of imported goods, namely rice.
    • COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions: Based on past trends and in the absence of a vaccine, the total number of COVID-19 cases is likely to continue increasing throughout the projection period. No restrictions are expected to be re-implemented in Madagascar, though, except limitations on flights to and from abroad and the large gatherings. Passenger limitations on public transportation will likely continue, increasing transportation cost in the medium term and reducing poor households’ movements and migrations.
    • Rural and urban labor demand and wages: Lower labor demand is expected in urban areas because of the effects of COVID-19 on non-agricultural activities. Nevertheless, wages will likely remain near typical levels because they are already low and infrequently vary. However, agricultural labor demand linked will likely remain near average because of average forecasted growing conditions. Agricultural labor wages will likely be below average because of increased labor availability in rural areas as people remain hesitant to return to urban areas following the restrictions implemented in March.
    • Migration and remittances:  Labor migration will likely start again with restrictions on inter-regional travel lifted but will remain below average with higher transportations fees, remaining sanitary check points, and fear of moving to urban centers. Remittances, from family members back to poor, largely southern families, will also reduce.
    • Humanitarian assistance: WFP emergency humanitarian assistance will be distributed in the eight districts of southern Madagascar between November 2020 and January 2021, consisting of an unconditional distribution of a 15-day ration to approximately 255,000 people and an unconditional transfer of 100,000 MGA to about 65,000 people. These distributions will likely be combined with nutritional supplementation program for all households with vulnerable people like Pregnant and Lactating Women and child under 2, among beneficiary households. In addition, Bekily district will benefit from full coverage of the nutritional supplementation program. CRS and ADRA’s assistance will target 250,000 people in Beloha, Ampanihy, and Bekily districts. On the government side, humanitarian assistance under the African Risk Capacity (ARC) insurance program which will likely target around 90,000 people in the districts of Beloha, Ampanihy, and Ambovombe with unconditional and conditional cash transfers between October and December 2020.

    Most likely Food Security Outcomes

    Generally, at the national level, staple production and food supply is near normal and food prices remain near average, allowing most poor households to meet their basic food needs and support Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity from October 2020 through May 2021. Nevertheless, populations in some specific areas face food insecurity. Some districts in the south affected by the dryness which led to below normal production will likely be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during the outlook period, including two districts in MG23 and MG22 and some of urban areas where prices remain largely above normal after COVID-19, including Fianarantsoa I and Toamasina I. Poor households throughout the country working in the tourism sector have experienced significantly reduced income since the March 2020 international travel ban and are borrowing money and turning to local tourism, which earns them less income. This population is therefore expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity from October 2020 to May 2021. Additionally, small-scale vanilla farmers in North: Vanilla, Clove, Coconut Tree (MG02) are reportedly consuming wild food collected in the forest and selling non-productive assets to reimburse debts incurred at the beginning of the year due to relatively low vanilla prices. This population will likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity throughout the outlook period.

    In the MG 26: Anosy cassava, maize and livestock, food security situation has deteriorated very quickly after the end of the harvest due to dryness in early 2020 was severe and reduced staple production by half. Therefore, the area is facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity in October 2020 and between October and January 2021 as planned humanitarian assistance will likely not cover more than 25 percent of population. With the severity of lean season, the area will likely remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity situation between February and May 2021.

    In the Extreme south: cassava, maize, and livestock rearing livelihood zone (MG 24), FEWS NET HEA Outcome Analysis suggested that very poor households faced a survival deficit (consumption deficit) in October 2020. Household stocks have dried out since September 2020 so poor households complement their daily ration of dried cassava with more wild food. With an acute malnutrition prevalence based on MUAC between eight and 10 percent in September 2020, it is expected that the zone is experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity in October 2020. Between October 2020 and January 2021, very poor households in the zone will likely continue to face slightly reduced food gaps. The GAM prevalence based on MUAC is expected to slightly increase during the lean season to above 10 percent. With planned humanitarian food assistance distributions for the period November to January, the area will likely experience Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) acute food insecurity between October 2020 and January 2021. In February and March, outcome analysis shows that very poor households in the area will likely face severe deficits again with the peak of the lean season, particularly with large-scale assistance distribution ceasing in January. In February, market purchases and wild food consumption will peak, and maize prices will likely increase in before declining at the end of March with the arrival of early harvests. GAM prevalence will likely increase in February/March and the area will likely experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity again between February and May 2021.

    As for the Southwest: cassava and small ruminants (MG 23), very poor households, particularly those in Ampanihy, are reducing the frequency of their daily meals, most often to once a day. Less diversified diets composed of cheaper foods such as cassava leaves accompanied by dried cassava are observed, complemented with wild foods to meet energy needs. Two thirds of households in the five most drought-affected communes of the district have poor food consumption score (FCS) according to an EFSA in September 2020. In addition, poor households are accumulating debt, selling land, and engaging in illegal activities. The GAM based on MUAC was above 10 percent in October in Ampanihy with increasing admissions to MAM and SAM treatment centers, resulting in the district experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity in October 2020 with a significant portion of households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Between October 2020 and January 2021, food consumption will likely improve given the food assistance distribution planned for November to January as well as more labor opportunities for very poor households. Acute malnutrition prevalence based on MUAC will likely remain below 15 percent and the district will likely experience area-level Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) acute food insecurity between October 2020 and January 2021. In February and March 2021, food consumption of very poor households will likely further deteriorate, and wild food consumption will increase. Very poor households will likely start to sell their assets and animals. With an expected GAM prevalence near 15 percent, the district will likely face a Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity from February to May 2021.

    Events that might change the outlook

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

    areaeventimact of food security outcomes
    Urban areasRe-implementation of COVID-19 restrictions (restricted inter-regional travel, curfew)Decreased movement of people between regions as well as the limitation of labor migration and remittances will lead to a deterioration of food security in urban areas to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the learn season.  

    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report. 


    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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