Disasters threaten economy, food security and unique biodiversity of Madagascar

Storms a Disaster for Vanilla, Country's Key Export

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (April 25, 2007) - The six major tropical storms that hit Madagascar back to back over the past several months have wreaked havoc on the island nation's economy, food security and unique biodiversity. Without immediate assistance, thousands of people may face long-term hunger, dire poverty, and deteriorating health, CARE warns.

The storms destroyed crops just before they were to be harvested. Rice, the staple food here, was especially hard-hit. Vanilla farmers also were dealt a crippling blow.

"The food crisis is about far more than just hunger," said Nick Webber, CARE's country director for Madagascar. "The growing pressure to find sufficient food after the destruction and devastation risks jeopardizing family economic livelihoods and compromising the country's ecosystem. Maintaining good health, continuing children's education or even securing credit will be difficult if not impossible for many."

This latest crisis comes on top of a four-year drought in the southern part of the country. With average rural incomes of only about $120 per year, Madagascar's farmers have very slim resources to fall back on for food, if it is even available where they live.

Hundreds of thousands of Madagascar's farm families will not survive without immediate help. They will need significant food aid until the end of this year, as well as rice and vegetable seed stocks to replant their fields in the new growing season about to begin.

Vanilla, the flavoring used in everything from soft drinks to ice cream, is a hidden casualty of the storms. The crop normally accounts for more than half of Madagascar's export earnings. An estimated one-third of the crop has been destroyed, and the next harvest cycle is three years away. This threatens the livelihoods of more than 80,000 farmers and their families.

Didier Young, CARE's disaster relief specialist in Madagascar, explains: "The destruction means vanilla farmers will be unable to make any money. Many of them, like the others, will soon face severe food shortages without sufficient humanitarian assistance."

With so many people scrambling for food, Madagascar's unique flora and fauna suffer as farmers gather wild plants or seek shoreline seafood or rare tropical hardwood to sell to buy food. "The loss of the rice harvest in many parts of the country now puts even greater pressure on the shrinking pockets of Madagascar's unique, prized biodiversity as farmers desperately try to earn money to feed their families," Young said.

Media Contacts:

Johannesburg: Kenneth Walker,, +27 11 234 1221, +27 (0) 82 336 8312
Atlanta: Lurma Rackley,, (404) 979-9450