- With food shortage threatening to tighten its grip in Madagascar, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is helping Southern African island boost its food supply, particularly rice, to avoid importing large quantities at high prices.
Madagascar's annual rice imports are estimated at 200,000 tonnes. With shortfall expected to reach 270,000 tonnes this year, FAO Resident Emergency Coordinator Marco Falcone warns this could pose a serious challenge. Mr Falcone says importing rice at international prices means paying 70 per cent more than current local prices, a situation that is unlikely to change.
As part of its efforts to help country increase crop production, FAO launched a US$ 500,000 emergency technical cooperation project in July that provides rice seed, bean seed and fertilisers 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 Indian Ocean islands of Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius, as well as to countries in eastern and southern Africa.
However, increased rice production alone would not be enough to tackle chronic poverty and malnutrition in Madagascar, where malnourishment is compounded by dependence on just one food - rice - which provides calories but not many nutrients or protein.
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