Future Climate Change in Madagascar – how gender equality can help

Akany Avoko Faravohitra

Chocolat Madagascar is one of our key suppliers of chocolate. Grown in the North-West of the island in the Sambirano valley region Madagascan Cacao is renowned for its fine fruity flavour notes and has won many International awards.
Whilst many small artisans source beans direct from farmers in this region, we prefer the Raisetrade (1) model where the cacao is processed into chocolate in the Chocolaterie Robert factory in the capital of Antananarivo.          

This adds a greater variety of jobs, keeps more of the money in the country, and offers higher skilled employment. Not to mention the pride that comes with producing and exporting a finished product. We consider Members of the Chocolat Madagascar team such as Neil Kelsall and Nicolas Randrianarimalala as personal friends.

Over recent months I have been studying Sustainability and Climate Change to better understand how to do ‘the right thing’. For we live in one the most important eras to have ever have lived – a narrow window when we still have chance to shape our future climate.

Nicolas visits lick teh spoon

But this small and fledgling Madagascan export industry faces many challenges in the coming decades. Madagascar is listed as one of the 16 countries most vulnerable to climate change. A report from the World bank and African Development bank (2) details many of the challenges.

“Madagascar faces significant risks imposed by an increasingly variable and changing climate. Cyclones, droughts and floods are all recurrent occurrences in the country, affecting food security, drinking water supply and irrigation, public health systems, environmental management and development prospects overall.

In a country of predominantly rural and vulnerable population, climate change is expected to disproportionately affect farmers (about 80% of the population) and make their livelihoods even more precarious. Malagasy smallholders, especially female-led households, are particularly at risk owing to their high dependence on rain-fed agriculture, chronic food insecurity, physical isolation and the lack of access to social safety nets.

In urban settings, an unplanned and rapid expansion of informal settlements and the increasing frequency and intensity of weather events is a risk-multiplying equation. While the rural poor are expelled from their land and climate-induced migrants seek alternative livelihoods in cities, urban plans and building codes are not in place and new settlements sprout in areas prone to flooding, landslides or cyclones.”

Oil cans

“Madagascar is blessed with a population of 25 million, of which 64 percent is less than 25 years of age: an increasingly urban, young and relatively literate workforce. Despite the country’s development potential, political instability and poor economic growth has led to current poverty rates among the highest in the world (rank 158 in the HDI in 20161 ).

In 2012, only 30 percent of Malagasy people lived above the national poverty line and only 10 percent above the international poverty line . Such poverty rates and a fast growing population (2.8 percent increase per year) put pressure on the already limited capacity to deliver basic services and on natural resources. Close to 80 percent of Malagasy live in rural areas, where they remain highly dependent on subsistence agriculture and where poverty rates are nearly twice as high as in urban areas.

Extreme poverty concentrates in the South of the country, whereas the central region has lower poverty rates. The incidence of extreme poverty is highest among female-headed rural families (20 percent of all households ) that are more vulnerable as they own less productive assets (E.g.: on average they cultivate just over half the acres of land that male heads cultivate and own almost two times fewer small livestock). Gender-related barriers affect women’s capacity to cope with shocks, including climate-induced ones. In 2010, when agricultural conditions worsened, women experienced higher rates of unemployment as they experienced more difficulty in securing off-farm jobs (female-headed households also have one year less schooling on average).”

The report highlights that due to gender barriers women are likely to be worse affected by climate change.

This is not unique to Madagascar and is common across the world. Writer and environmentalist Katharine Wilkinson has an informative TED talk (4) on results of project Drawdown which looks at best practices to reverse Climate Change.

I paraphrase Katharine here…

“Drawing down emissions depends on rising up. Gender equity is a key solution to our planetary challenge.” Wilkinson says. “Women produce 60% of food In poor countries as small holders. Forests are often cleared to produce more land for agriculture. Increasing agricultural yield in these smallholdings is key”.

Katharine goes on to say “130 million girls are still denied their basic right to attend school. Education can mean options, adaptability and strength. With more years of education we typically marry later and have children later. This isn’t why girls should be educated but it is one meaningful outcome. Access to family planning is also key as a side effect to curb population growth and allow choice and reduce strain on the planets resources”.

According to project Drawdown this could lead to 1 billion less people on the planet by 2050 and avoid 120 billion tons of emissions in 30 years. On this basis gender equity is equivalent to wind turbines in reducing global emissions and is in the top 10 ways to combat climate change.

The MAVA plantations in the Sambirano valley are under the expert guidance of French born agronomist Thomas. There is a ten year plan to improve yields and revive the plantations as can be seen in our film of the plantation tour (3). Sustainability and a long term view is at the heart of Chocolat Madagascars approach to plantation management. But it is a huge task and one that will need to adapt to the challenges of future climate change.

So why should this matter to us?

A report from US Aid (5) highlights the problems facing Madagascar’s famous biodiversity.

Madagascar is one of the world’s highest priority countries for biodiversity conservation due to its exceptional species richness, high number of unique plant and animal species; and the magnitude of threats facing these ecologically, culturally, and economically valuable resources.

Widespread and abject poverty, exacerbated by high birthrates and unsustainable land management practices, is the ultimate driver of the array of threats facing Madagascar’s rich biodiversity. Extreme poverty inhibits human growth opportunities and severely limits economic development. Rapid population growth is increasing demand for land and natural resources while environmental degradation, largely stemming from slash-and-burn agriculture, fuelwood collection, and unsustainable harvesting of wildlife, is destroying biodiversity resources and rendering many areas less productive for other uses.

Illicit logging, illegal fishing practices, and unsustainable harvesting of threatened plants and animals for illegal wildlife trading further intensify the grinding poverty facing the country and jeopardize the relevance and effectiveness of Madagascar’s government institutions.

Without effective governance to protect natural resources from misuse, local populations increasingly disregard environmentally sound livelihood practices that have lasting long-term benefits, in order to meet immediate basic survival needs and prevent outsiders from appropriating their natural resources with impunity. As a result increasing numbers of Malagasy are trapped in poverty and are at high risk for becoming still poorer as natural resource stocks are permanently depleted.

In the past 20 years Madagascar has been struck by 35 cyclones, 8 floods and 5 periods of severe droughts (a three-fold increase over the previous 20 years), causing $1 billion in damages and affecting food security, drinking water supply and irrigation, public health systems, environmental management and quality of life.


What will the future climate in Madagascar be like?

The Climate Links fact sheets summarises many of the future climate forecasts for Madagascar (6)

Average temperature will increase 2.5° – 3°C by 2100. Rainfall will reduce overall, particularly during the dry season and in inland areas, and increased amounts of rain will fall during the rainy season (December – February) by 2065. Projected changes in rainfall are less certain for the north, with some models suggesting drier conditions and others suggesting wetter conditions.

By 2100, the frequency of cyclones is projected to decrease over the Indian Ocean, particularly at the beginning of the cyclone season. However, cyclone intensity is projected to increase by almost 50 percent, with landfall tracks shifting northward.

The report goes on to detail the devastating effects of climate change on fisheries, coastal ecosystems and Human health.

The delicate cacao growing regions in the Sambirano river delta are likely to be affected. One of the effects not mentioned in the report, but one I believe may affect the Sambirano region agriculture is observed in another climate vulnerable region, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, that of increased salinity in the soil due to sea level rises. (8)

So what can we do to help?

When faced with such predictions it can seem almost overwhelming, like staring into a bright white spotlight and not being able to move.

But picking one aspect of tackling climate change and linking it to the United Nations Sustainability goal number 5 of Gender equality (7) there are practical ways to help.

UN Sustainable development goals

Supporting companies such as Chocolat Madagascar, who from our own 2016 visit clearly support women in higher skilled and management positions, is one way. Whilst buying cacao beans direct from farmers cooperatives and paying a higher price is better than an impersonal international commodity trade. Where chocolate is also made in the country of origin, supporting the Raisetrade model by buying direct from Chocolat Madagascar and working with them, is in my opinion a more effective way to help Madagascar escape the poverty trap and meets more of the UN Sustainability goals.

Bean Sorting MAVA plantation

Much of the achievements in escaping global poverty have been achieved through trade, particularly in India and China. Whilst this is a gross simplification, helping the Malagasy people’s industry is surely a better way to go, and there are precious few examples like Chocolat Madagascar that are producing a finished world class product!

Factory Tour Chocolat Madagascar

The Factory Team

Chocolat Madagascar -Chocolaterie Robert Factory – Antananarivo

There are local Malagasy projects to support vulnerable girls. One such project we financially support each month is the Akany Avoko Faravohitra (8) children’s home in Antananarivo. This home is run by Chocolat Madagascars export manager Nicolas’s wife Hanta who is a trained social worker.

Housing around 40 girls and and a boy, the home helps young girls who find themselves homeless or in need of help. There is no formal social care in Madagascar and projects like this rely on charitable donations. The home provides a stable environment allowing the girls to attend school and vocational skills such as basket weaving and hairdressing.

It is possible to support the home through Charities such as Small Steps for Africa (9) run by Charlotte Baker.

If every chocolatier or chocolate company that uses Malagasy cacao were to sponsor this home or similar projects around Madagascar it could make a big difference.

Supporting gender equality around the world is one positive way we can tackle climate change and work towards a brighter future for Madagscar.


1. www.raisetrade.com

2. Madagascar

3. MAVA Plantation tour 

4.TED Talk Empowering Women

5.Madagascar US Aid

6. Madagascar Climate

7. UN Development Goal – Gender Equality

8. University of Exeter – The Science of Climate Change – case study Mekong Delta

9. Small Steps for Africa 

10. Akany Avoko Faravohitra 

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