Madagascan farmers need urgent help to stop hunger levels spiralling: UN

 20 Nov 2016 - 17:37

Madagascan farmers need urgent help to stop hunger levels spiralling: UN
A farmer harvests rice at a rice paddy at Ambohimanambola near Antananarivo in this 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Thomson Reuters Foundation

ROME: Farmers in drought-hit southern Madagascar urgently need support to prepare for the December and January planting seasons, and prevent the region’s already serious hunger levels from spiralling, U.N.  agencies said on Friday.

Some 850,000 people - about half the population of the island nation’s south - are hungry and urgently need help, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) said.

Last month, the agencies warned that some 20 percent of households in the affected areas were experiencing emergency levels of hunger. “Emergency” is phase four of a five-point scale used by food agencies, where five is famine.

Hunger levels could deteriorate further if the next harvest fails, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.

“The planting season offers a small window of opportunity for local farmers to restore agricultural production,” Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO’s director-general said.

“Thousands of families are already facing hunger. Missing the planting season now will result in a serious food and livelihood crisis, and render their situation even more desperate,” he added in a statement.

Drought has hit maize, cassava and rice crops in the south of the African island nation, and food prices have risen.

Many families are eating less often, consuming vital seed stocks, and selling off their animals, agricultural tools and even land to survive.

Food stocks from the last harvest ran out in August and the next harvest is not due until March.

FAO said it would start distributing sweet potato and cassava cuttings as well as drought-tolerant seeds next month, targeting some 170,000 farming families in the most food-insecure districts of the south.

WFP said it is helping the same families with food or cash aid so they can feed themselves until the next harvest.

Both agencies say they urgently need funds to meet all the needs.

“As I saw recently in the south of Madagascar, farmers are in a dire situation,” WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin said.

Some 90 percent of Madagascar’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and almost half of children are chronically malnourished or stunted - which can impair cognitive function and physical health - according to the U.N. agencies.    

(Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Ros Russell)