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Friday, 21st May 2021

There is Never One Answer: How SEED is Tackling Famine Through Emergency Aid and Long Term Mitigation

By Lisa Bass

When I tell people that I live in Madagascar, reactions range from ‘Is that a real place, I thought it was just a film?’ to ‘I know….lemurs!’ Whilst Madagascar is indeed the only place in the world where you can find those loveable lemurs, what is missed about Madagascar is the poverty and challenges that its people face with grit, determination and kindness every day.

Unlike Mauritius, it’s smaller and more famous neighbour, Madagascar is huge, and at twice the size of the UK, it is the fourth largest island in the world. It is also arguably the poorest, with Madagascar being the only country in the world poorer now than it was 50 years ago, that hasn’t gone through civil war or natural disaster. It has less hospital beds (2 per 10,000 as compared to 254 in the UK), women are more likely to die in child birth (335 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 7 in the UK) and where children have on average only six years of school and only 17% of children in Anosy enrol in middle school.

Mothers and children at a rural health clinic in Madagascar, March 2021.

Recent years however have brought new challenges, and Madagascar is now the fourth country in the world most vulnerable to climate change.

2021 is Madagascar's worst drought since 1981

We see the changes in weather and seasons every day in the south of the island. This year is the 5th year out of the last six where we have had drought, and 2021 is Madagascar’s worst drought since 19811. Drought makes daily living difficult, and for some impossible. There is no household water, the wells runs dry and then the rivers run dry. There is no water to drink, to wash in or for crops. Famine follows drought, and this year we have seen this across the southern regions as the ground was too parched to plant at the beginning of the year, so there is simply nothing to harvest now.

In 2021, Madagascar is facing it's worst drought since 1981, severe food insecurity, and the economic and health impacts of COVID-19

In the villages where SEED have been working for 20 years, we saw the approaching drought, famine and crop failures, and this year, we had COVID-19 and the economic hardship and health fears that this has brought. As a team we were keen to continue our long term development projects, but we also knew we would need to redirect our support into some short term, emergency provision to help people through the coming months, and we were also keen to explore more long term, climate resilient support to communities.

With SEEDs emergency provision, over the last year we gave handwashing training to over 16,500 people, built 191 handwashing stations, made over 1,500 radio broadcasts and trained 159 health workers in COVID-19 mitigation protocols. Currently we are providing food across 41 villages to over 700 children and their families who are suffering from the most severe forms of malnutrition. This is urgent, emergency short term support. 

This year we also began our work in how to tackle drought and famine in the longer term. In January we began to work with 45 families to pilot insect farming in on their land. Insect farming has been tried in the north and we teamed up with Dr Cortni Borgerson to learn all we could before piloting this in the southeast where it had never been tried. We received money from the Darwin Initiative, and our team began to train families in composting, growing the host bean plants, cooking the insects which colonised them and growing beans again from the seeds taken from the bean plants. This then had the potential to add to the protein intake of families struggling to survive on a single meal of cassava each day through farming and eating insects, but as the bean plants were local and grew well in sand, they could also harvest and regrow the beans. 

Three months on and the pilot has been a huge success. The families grew 2,769 bean plants and although the insects weren’t expected to colonise them until they were two metres tall and around 2-3 months old, already 75 plants had insects living on them. The families were overjoyed, and all are looking at expanding their bean plants, and insects stocks, as soon as they have seeds. 

Cooked sakondry insects, providing a much-needed alternative protein source for families in the pilot project

Word has also spread in the village and others outside the original 45 families have approached us and want to try – so the team have worked with them in planting on communal land so that anyone can harvest insects from there. Outside of the village, the team have also had questions about expanding to insect farming, not only giving us hope to expand the project when funding allows, but also opening up a market for the insects from those who are already farming.

Madagascar has some deep seated challenges, and some such as climate change that are newer. However, by looking at insect farming to supplement farming and fishing, we hope to increase families resilience to the challenges they face, and in the future, when they face famine, they will have more options then short term food aid to feed their families.