Surviving drought after drought in southern Madagascar

A story of endurance

Volana Rarivosan

Bekily is one of four districts in the Androy region, located in southeastern Madagascar. Agriculture and livestock are the main economic activities practiced by most of its population. In more fruitful times, Bekily produced rice, peanuts and manioc (cassava), which was supplied to markets across the Androy region and beyond.

However, southern Madagascar has fallen on desperate times. A prolonged drought — the worst in 30 years — has affected agriculture in the region, including Bekily. Farmers are struggling to cope and have little hope for good harvests. The cost of food has increased while farmers’ incomes have decreased. People’s access to food is therefore limited.

At household level, the impact of drought was aggravated by COVID-19 restrictions which limited people’s access to alternate employment opportunities or income generating activities.

Vola Berthine, 53, lives in Bekily. She has one child and six grandchildren, for whom she is the sole provider.

“My peanuts, rice and cassava crops have yielded nothing this year [2021] and my livestock are slowly dying due to persistent drought,” said a weary Vola.

Household food stocks had run out. Even the cacti fruit that was a food of last resort withered in the protracted drought.

“To survive, many people have had to sell their land and livestock, at a reduced price, to buy food that has become scarce and expensive,’’ explained Vola. “It is difficult to feed your family when you are in survival mode and the sound of children crying for food makes it more unbearable.”

Vola turned to making cakes that she sells with coffee and tea at the local market. On a good day, she earns about 2,000 Ariary (UD$ 0.50) which allowed her to buy one to two cups of rice for her family.

Vola situation improved when she started receiving cash assistance as part of an emergency response provided by the World Food Programme (WFP), supported by the European Union through the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

After a failed harvest, Vola received 100,000 Ariary monthly (US$ 25) in 2021, which she used to purchase food such as manioc and other necessities to take care of her family. A small portion of the contribution, Vola invested back into her small cake business, which is sustaining her to this day.

“ I was able to feed my family two meals a day as a normal parent would,” said Vola. “The financial assistance gave me strength to take care of my children and not lose hope.”

Left: Vola turns to selling cakes and cups of coffee (WFP/ Tombontsoa Anjarafomenjanahary) Right: Vola receiving cash assistance (WFP/ Tombontsoa Anjarafomenjanahary)

The European Union is among the major donors contributing to WFP’s emergency assistance in Madagascar, providing cash transfers, food assistance and nutrition support.

In the drought-affected southern regions of the island, thanks to donors such as ECHO, WFP has been gradually scaling up its assistance since September 2021 to reach one million people with emergency food and nutritional assistance.

Read more about WFP’s work in Madagascar

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