Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa, ranking 143rd out of 177 countries in the 2007 United Nations Human Development Index.
Its government aims to halve poverty levels over five years as part of the 2007-2012 Madagascar Action Plan.
Over three-quarters of the population are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, leaving them particularly vulnerable to environmental shocks.
Cyclones regularly hit the north of the country and changing climate and seasonal drought severely affect the south.
Over the past 35 years, at least 46 natural disasters have affected more than 11 million people.
A 1996 World Bank report states: “The most striking features of poverty in Madagascar as identified by the poor are isolation and powerlessness. The poor lack the means of communication with all but their own immediate community.”
Whilst radio coverage has increased dramatically in the south since 1996, poverty and illiteracy still severely limit people’s access to information and ability to make their voices heard.
The Androy region
Located in the Tulear Province, the Androy region makes up the most southerly point of Madagascar. It has a harsh dry climate and is a remote part of the island. Androy suffers from a lack of services and infrastructure; access to healthcare and education are among the lowest in the country.
The region is typified by dry “spiny forest” but much of this has been cut to clear space for agriculture and provide wood for fuel, construction and charcoal production.
The Antandroy (literally, people of the thorns) are agro-pastoralists whose subsistence activities have traditionally centred on livestock and the cultivation of crops such as corn and manioc.
In some coastal areas fishing has increased in importance as an economic activity. Antandroy culture is generally well preserved, although some traditions are gradually being eroded under pressure from the church and the impact of migrants from other tribal backgrounds.
Agricultural yields are very low as farmers have little access to improved techniques or materials such as seeds, fertilisers or pesticides. Bad roads and restricted access to markets limit economic opportunities in good years but harvests have been poor for many years, affected by drought and high winds.
For many, survival during the hunger-gap – the months preceding the harvest (December to February) when food is at its most scarce – is made possible through the distribution of food aid. Temporary economic migration is another survival strategy, with young men travelling to urban centres as far away as Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo to work as unskilled labourers.
Finding ways to hear and understand people’s experiences is particularly important as these are constantly changing in parallel with environmental change. Recently there has been a renewed focus on southern Madagascar by the government and international agencies and it is essential that new development initiatives are informed by indigenous people’s knowledge and reality.
[A note on currency: in the regions of Androy and Anosy, the currency used is Ariary (AR). In July 2008 1558 AR equalled 1 US$]