Smart agriculture as a weapon against drought in Madagascar

Smart agriculture as a weapon against drought in Madagascar

By Miriam Gathigah

She lives in the village of Tsarampioke, in the Anosy region, which is one of the three in Madagascar most affected by the drought, along with Androy and Atsimo Andrefana.

"Most of the farms are dry, but ours remained green and alive because we dug wells that provide us with water for irrigation," he told IPS.

Thanks to timely interventions, her life story changed from despair to one of hope as she continues to harvest a variety of crops on her father's farm. Some of their sweet potatoes are already on the market.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) approached Rakotomalala along with other vulnerable people in affected southern districts, where at least 80 percent of the inhabitants are farmers, to train and encourage them to diversify their crops, as most grow corn. Madagascar has a population of 24 million.

“There are 16 of us in my group, all relatives since the ownership of the land is collective. It is a large field, more than 0.80 hectares ”, he said.

Although her way of watering is unsophisticated and involves dripping using containers that hold five to 10 liters of water, it works - and her carrots, onions and cornflowers are all in bloom.

“We focus on the problems that make it difficult for farmers to withstand the ongoing drought and, through simple but effective strategies, farmers will have enough to eat and sell,” said Patrice Talla, the FAO representative for the four island countries. of the Indian Ocean - Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles.

Experts like Philippison Lee, an agronomist working in the Androy and Anosy regions, point out that southern Madagascar suffers from three main problems, "drought, insecurity, as cattle theft increases, and locusts."

FAO estimates that more than 20 percent of the 24 million people live in high-risk areas exposed to natural hazards such as droughts, floods and locust infestations.

As an agronomist, Lee studies the many ways that plants can be cultivated, genetically modified and used even in the context of adverse and even devastating weather patterns.

Talla explains that the ultimate goal is for farmers to embrace climate-smart agriculture by diversifying and planting more drought-resistant crops, including cassava and sweet potatoes, and seeking alternative livelihoods, such as fishing. .

“Madagascar is an island, but the Malagasy population does not have the culture of eating fish. We are working with other humanitarian organizations that train the villagers in fishing methods, as well as providing them with fishing equipment, ”he reported.

"Madagascar is facing a great calamity and in order to boost the agriculture sector livestock must be addressed within a broader development agenda," he added.

The representative of FAO said that it is necessary to review the national budget allocation, which is less than 5 percent, well below the 15 percent recommended for this purpose. Southern Madagascar is also characterized by poor infrastructure and poor access to markets.

According to Talla, the inability of farmers to adapt to climate change is more of a development issue "because there is a lack of a national vision to advance the agriculture agenda in the south."

The agronomist Lee says that farmers lack cooperative structures, “and this denies them bargaining power and they cannot access credit or subsidies. This is largely left to humanitarian agencies and is not sustainable. "

Although FAO is currently working with farmers to form cooperatives, and there are some examples in various districts in the south, including Rakotomalala and his relatives, Lee says distance remains a problem.

“I would have to travel many kilometers before finding a town. Most of the population is scattered over the vastness of the land and when a group is found, they tend to be relatives, ”he says.

Lee noted that farmers in Africa grew up thanks to cooperatives and that this is an issue that Malagasy farmers must embrace.

There he stated that some steps were taken in the right direction as FAO is collaborating with the government to draft the Country Programming Framework, which is a five-year program from 2014 to 2019.

The framework concentrates on three elements, intensify, diversify and make the agricultural sector more resilient.

"Only 10 percent of the agricultural potential of the south is being exploited so the goal is to diversify by incorporating more crops, because most people in the north eat rice and those in the south eat corn," explained Talla.

According to the representative, the third element, resilience, is paramount as it focuses on building the capacity of communities - not only in the face of climate change but also in the face of other natural hazards, such as cyclones that are common in the south of the island.

"FAO is currently working with the government to formulate a resilience strategy, but it is also trying to reach out to other stakeholders," he adds.

Given that irrigated agriculture is almost non-existent in the country and corn requires a large amount of water, various interest groups continue to call for the construction of wells to cover the water deficit, although others claim that it is expensive and unfeasible.

"It takes $ 25,000 to build a well and the chances of finding water are often 50 percent because one in two wells is useless," Lee said.

Translated by Álvaro Queiruga
Inside photo: Despite the drought, some fields in southern Madagascar remain green and healthy because farmers adopted smart climate practices. Credit: Miriam Gathigah / IPS

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