UN helping Madagascar increase crop output to reduce costly imports

UN helping Madagascar increase crop output to reduce costly imports

Local farmers receive rice seed for planting
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping Madagascar boost its local food supply, particularly rice, to avoid importing large quantities at high prices to meet the country’s food needs for this year.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping Madagascar boost its local food supply, particularly rice, to avoid importing large quantities at high prices to meet the country’s food needs for this year.

“Every year, Madagascar imports about 200,000 tonnes of rice for consumption. This year, the gap is estimated at 270,000 tonnes, and that will present a challenge,” said Marco Falcone, FAO’s Emergency Coordinator in Madagascar.

“Importing rice at international prices means paying 70 per cent more than current local prices, and that isn’t expected to change,” he added.

As part of its efforts to help country increase crop production, FAO launched a $500,000 emergency Technical Cooperation Project in July that provides rice seed, bean seed and fertilizers to some 6,000 farmers and their families. These households are among those hardest hit by cyclones that in recent months wiped out 80 per cent of the last harvest.

The off-season planting in July and August could boost production, Mr. Falcone explained, since farmers in Madagascar traditionally only plant in the main rainy season, which starts in November.

“Madagascar could be more than self-sufficient in rice,” said Mr. Falcone, adding that the country could also become a major exporter to the Indian Ocean islands of Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius, as well as to countries in eastern and southern Africa.

But increased rice production alone would not be enough to tackle the chronic poverty and malnutrition in Madagascar.

“Malnourishment in Madagascar is aggravated by people’s dependence on just one food – rice – which provides calories but not many nutrients or protein,” said Mr. Falcone. In addition, the country’s drought-prone south produces no rice at all. Getting rice to the south, and transporting it among the various isolated areas there, are issues that need to be addressed.

FAO noted that at the same time that rice and beans are being planted in the regions hit by cyclones, the first sorghum harvests are being reaped in the south with support from the agency and other partners.

Although sorghum disappeared as a main food crop in Madagascar in the mid-1990s, FAO has reintroduced the crop, as well as short-cycle maize – which with the shorter growing period is less vulnerable to dry spells – to boost the local food supply.