Another lean season in the Deep South
In the Grand Sud region of southern Madagascar, the “lean season” usually comes in September or October. This is the time of year when the rains are minimal, the fields and grasslands dry up and the herds of zebus survive on whatever scraps they can find in the arid lands. thorny forests and savannah grasslands. Sometimes called the kereor hunger, this is the time of year when cattle rustling and conflict increase and food shortages intensify.
The kere comes every year to the poorest parts of southern Madagascar, but food aid groups warn that the 2022 kere looks particularly dangerous. Humanitarian groups have warned that food insecurity is approaching an “emergency” phase on the Integrated food security phase classification scale, the second most serious category. Among the hardest hit areas are the districts of Betioky and Ampanihy in the Atsimo-Andrefana region.
The map at the top of the page illustrates the magnitude of the challenge in southern Madagascar. It describes abnormalities in the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a measure of how well plants absorb visible light and reflect infrared light. Drought-stressed vegetation reflects more visible light and less infrared than healthy green vegetation, and this can be detected by satellites. This NDVI anomaly map, based on data from the Landsat program, compares vegetation health between September 2021 and September 2022 with the average for the same period from 2000 to 2015. Brown areas indicate where plant health or “greenness” was below normal. Greens indicate more widespread and abundant vegetation than normal.
The NASA Harvest program, with international partners from the GEO Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) initiative, has developed several tools, including the Agmet Earth Observation Indicators, to monitor environmental factors relevant to food security. The graph above shows the data for this tool. Based on NDVI observations, the health of the 2022 maize crop in Atsimo-Andrefana was the worst the region has seen in the past five years. Crop health in the previous two years was almost as bad. Corn is normally harvested in mid-April.
Three consecutive years of drought have strained subsistence farmers. Swarms of army worms and locusts damaged crops. Yields fell as rainfall fell to half normal in parts of the Deep South. The maize harvest in southern Madagascar has been particularly hard hit, with the 2022 crop dropping by 70%. In some areas, too the rain also exacerbated the problems. In 2021 and 2022, several tropical cyclones brought winds and rains that damaged many crops and put additional pressure on farmers.
Planting for next year’s maize and pulse crops usually starts in October in southern Madagascar, but the timing depends on the onset of the rains. “La Niña is currently present, which generally brings above-average rains to much of southern Africa, and forecasts indicate that the rains will start on time,” said Christina Jade Justice, NASA Harvest researcher. . “However, there are still significant soil moisture deficits from consecutive below-average seasons that will still need to be overcome. High fertilizer, seed and gas prices could also cause problems for farmers.”
NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin using data courtesy of Ritvik Sahajpal/University of Maryland/NASA Harvest, and Landsat data from United States Geological Survey. Story of Adam Voiland.