Madagascar’s economy is dominated by agriculture. The Madagascans, who often operate in subsistence, have long been unable to increase production due to natural limiting factors such as soil erosion, decreasing soil fertility and the consequences of climate change. Today, even food imports can not prevent major famines. Reform plans to improve the infrastructure and make agriculture more competitive have so far not been implemented or only inadequately.
Approx. 75% of the workforce in Madagascar are employed in agriculture, but only around 25% of GDP is generated by the primary sector. The gross value added in agriculture has steadily decreased since 2005 (2005: 25%, 2016: 21%). The largest area of the island is not cultivable, mountains, rainforests, but also the large-scale laterization due to inappropriate land use methods and strong soil erosion make land use difficult. Sisal, sugar cane, tobacco, bananas and cotton are mainly grown in huge plantations for export. The most important product for export is vanilla: Madagascar is the world’s largest producer of the spice. In addition, the production of cloves is important for the world market. 26% of the total export was covered by vanilla, at least 8.4% by cloves. To a small extent, there are also areas for growing coffee and cocoa, as well as litchis. Litchi production has become more important for the smallholder income structure in recent years. As the most important agricultural product for the domestic market, rice, the main food crop, has a large demand for land and water. As an important rice consumer, Madagascar can with production from 3.4 million t to 1.2 million hectares does not cover its rice needs independently.
The shrimp farming, which has risen sharply in recent years, is important for the increase in exports of agricultural products. The prawns are sold worldwide under the “Label rouge” seal, which is equivalent to an organic seal and is intended to guarantee production under environmental regulations. However, the extent to which the export of shrimp makes ecological and socio-economic sense is discussed. Madagascar is a member of NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) and in 2013 launched a new plan “Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program” (CAADP), in which the development of a fair trade label for vanilla and the promotion of fishing are important goals.
Most of the Malagasy people are bound by subsistence farming in persistent shortages and mismanagement. Rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans and maize are grown for personal use, only the surplus is sold on smaller rural markets if necessary.
Agriculture problems affect both export and substantial agriculture:
- Large areas of Madagascar are difficult or impossible to cultivate for agriculture: the natural topography prevents intensive and sustainable management of large areas.
- Due to the continuous overuse of soils, the lack of protective measures and the high soil erodibility as a result of the climate (heavy rain, pronounced dry seasons in the south), erosion damage has assumed a worrying extent. Huge areas, especially in the highlands and in the south of Madagascar, are irreversibly damaged by desertification and Lavaka (= deep erosion canyons; Lavaka is a Malagasy expression for the phenomenon that has found its way into science).
- The often practiced, particularly environmentally harmful slash and burn, in which the farmers clear forests, briefly cultivate crops until erosion or loss of soil fertility prevent further cultivation, and then in turn cut down valuable primary forest stands.
- The missing and often poorly maintained infrastructure, which is also often damaged by climatic events such as cyclones, prevents or hampers economic dynamism in the primary sector within the country.
- The splitting of the still usable cultural areas due to high population growth; almost half of all farmers only have 1 acre (1 acre = approx. 4047 m²) of usable area or less.
- Lack of water, hardly any reserves for the reinvestment of seeds or the purchase of cultivation equipment.
- Child labor in the primary sector, which has a significant impact on the level of education of the population, an increased lack of prospects, etc., not to mention the inhumane exploitation of the weakest in society.
- The inadequate preservation possibilities of the harvest in rural areas.
- Climate change, which is responsible for the extension of drought periods and the increased and increased occurrence of cyclones with a high risk of flooding and a considerable potential for destruction, which can hardly be countered with measures.
- Madagascar’s hardly diversified agriculture, with the main export products vanilla and cloves, promotes dependence on global world market price systems and their directives, so that economic cushioning in the event of price fluctuations is hardly possible. At the same time, the processing of the agricultural raw materials is largely missing in the country itself, which extremely lowers the added value and thus forces the country to increase production in order to generate profitable exports.
The best example of the sudden increase in value on the global market for vanilla was the destructiveness of the cyclone “Enawo” in Madagascar in 2016, which severely impaired the vanilla harvest. 20-30% of the harvest was destroyed. Suddenly, vanilla was extremely expensive at $ 600 per kilo (2013: $ 20 per kilo), but the farmers only got a fraction of it. The market will relax again, but it will become clear how much Madagascar is dependent on the main export product. According to historyaah, the price explosion in 2016/2017 caused by the cyclones also affected the important rice cultivation in Madagascar: since the population also shows culturally extreme dependencies on rice, the rise in the price of the population, which is already extremely poor, has led to a catastrophe in the food supply for many. The price of vanilla remained high in 2019.