You may have had the unfortunate experience of having your seaside vacation interrupted by a thunderstorm, or worse, a hurricane. Imagine if such a storm were responsible for wiping out not just your vacation, but your family’s income and food supply for the coming year. This, while unthinkable for us in the developed world, is a menacing possibility each year for families in Madagascar, an island nation of 22 million in the Indian Ocean.
With 3,000 miles (4800 km) of coastline, it’s hard for Madagascar to avoid being a stop on the itinerary for cyclones sweeping through the Southern Indian Ocean. I recently spent time here with CARE documenting some of their disaster risk reduction programs.
A cyclone, as a hurricane is called in the Indian and southern Pacific Oceans, can destroy acres of the rice paddies that produce Madagascar’s staple crop. But what if farmers could harvest their crop before the storm arrives? CARE has introduced a newer, improved variety of rice to farmers in Madagascar, one with a shorter growing season. This allows farmers to get their crops out of the field and into the warehouse before a cyclone destroys it. Below, CARE beneficiary Trinidah Totodola grows new rice stalks under a diffusing net in her rice paddy in Fenerive Est District.
Farmers have also been encouraged to diversify the crops they grow, particularly investing in tubers, which grow underground and are not as susceptible to damage from storms and cyclones. Below, Suzanne Laure displays a harvested yam from her garden in Atsinanana Region, Madagascar. Yams, which are different from sweet potatoes, have a short growth period, grow deep in the ground, and do not easily rot from flooding.
This yam weighed in at 12.5 pounds (5.75 kilos)!
All of these programs are implemented through CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA). These small groups of farmers come together each week, pool their resources, and save and borrow from each other in the process. Access to finance has allowed villagers to diversify their income as well, starting small shops and services outside the agricultural industry. Below, the Vononoa VSLA (which means “We are ready” in Malagasy) regularly buys and warehouses rice during times when it plentiful, selling it back to their own members at below market price during the off-season.
Thanks to the programs that CARE is now carrying out in coastal areas of Madagascar, “We are ready,” has become the unspoken mantra of all farmers taking part in these initiatives. They can all be confident they’re one step ahead of the cyclone.