Access to food for the people of Madagascar remains unreliable because of the impact of natural disasters, which routinely strike the island State, and continuing political tensions, a United Nations report warned today.
The joint Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) mission tasked with assessing crop and food security in Madagascar underscored the effect a run of cyclones on the east coast in 2008-2009 and several years of drought in the south has had on the country’s crops.
In addition, the political crisis – involving the resignation of President Marc Ravalomanana in early March, amid a dispute with the mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, who now leads the country – combined with the global economic recession has had repercussions for public finances, exports, tourism, unemployment and the national currency, and a knock-on effect on the agricultural sector, according to the FAO-WFP report.
The report noted that food production varies widely across the Indian Ocean nation with good rainfall benefiting the 2008-2009 harvest in the centre, north and west of the country, as well as favouring rice-growing areas with an estimated 8 per cent increase in paddy production to over 4 million tons of rice.
However, the drought devastated the south, home to some of the country’s poorest communities, has caused national maize, sweet potato and cassava production to slump.
The production of maize in the province of Taliara in the south, which contributes 30 per cent of the national total, is expected to halve next year, and its sweet potato harvest, around 20 per cent of the national total, will slump by around 20 per cent, according to the report. In addition, cassava production in the area will fall by 15 per cent.
The report stressed that the amount of cereal required by the country, including cassava and sweet potato, will exceed total cereals availability by about 206,000 tons. Although commercial wheat and rice imports would normally cover the shortfall, a Government announcement of its intention to import 150,000 tons of rice to be sold at moderate prices could unsettle free-market trade.
Commercial interests are likely to “wait-and-see” how market prices react to Government imports, which could lead to delays or breakdowns in stocks, causing a price explosion during the lean season – beginning in September-October – reminiscent of the timing of events that led to the 2004-2005 food crisis.