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Georg-August Universitat Gottingen (2016)

Livelihoods on the edge : farming household income, food security and resilience in southwestern Madagascar

Hänke, Hendrik

Titre : Livelihoods on the edge : farming household income, food security and resilience in southwestern Madagascar

Auteur : Hänke, Hendrik

Université de soutenance : Georg-August Universitat Gottingen

Grade : Doktorgrade 2016

Southwestern Madagascar is not only one of the “hottest biodiversity hotspots” globally, but also a food insecurity hotspot with severe levels of poverty and undernourishment. Large parts of the regional forest have been lost in past decades, and many of the endemic species are at the verge of extinction. At the same time, the research region is among the most underdeveloped parts of Madagascar, which is itself one of the poorest countries globally. Thus, there is the dual challenge of safeguarding the livelihoods of one of the poorest rural communities while preserving the unique biodiversity. Acknowledgment of this dual challenge gave rise to the SuLaMa project (Sustainable Land Management in southwestern Madagascar) the present dissertation is a part of. Within southwestern Madagascar, the SuLaMa project region is confined to the Mahafaly Plateau, consisting of the coastal littoral in the west and a limestone upland in the east. Three chapters comprise the core of this dissertation. The first chapter investigates the insurance function of livestock to cover food expenses during a drought year with failing annual crops. In rural Madagascar, zebu cattle are the most prominent herded animal, livestock numbers are high, and the heads of cattle a household owns is a strong indicator of both prestige and social status. Given the high sociocultural value of zebu cattle in Malagasy culture, many authors and development actors question the economic rationale of zebu herding. Empirical micro-level data on the actual role of livestock herding in terms of household economics is missing, though. We intend to narrow this knowledge gap by analysing the economic importance of zebu herding in the Mahafaly region. The analysis takes into account (i) the general role of animal husbandry and (ii) non-cattle related livelihood strategies that can buffer smallholder households against the effects of severe droughts and associated crop failures. To do this, we conducted a longitudinal survey as well as a recall survey covering the “lean” or “hunger” season (12/2013-05/2014). The results show that households generated less then 5% of total cash income from food crop sales, and spent on average >50% of their total cash income on food purchases. Proceeds from the sale of livestock accounted for >45% of cash food expenditures on average. In sum, we documented a substantial insurance function for zebu herding, but – even more importantly for the poorest households – also for small ruminants, i.e. goats. The second chapter investigates causal links between regional hunger, poverty and environmental degradation, including feedback loops, among these factors. Despite a large number of regional rural development programmes in the research region, little effective progress in terms of agricultural income or well-being among farming households was observed. Anecdotally, the research region is being called a “project cemetery”. At the same time, environmental degradation and the loss of biodiversity are frequently cited as problems of the region. Why is southwestern Madagascar apparently locked in such a catastrophic socioeconomic and ecological state ? The second chapter presents a causal analysis of the above-mentioned situation from a social-ecological systems perspective, including an analysis of potential social-ecological traps. Specifically, we have analysed interactions between seasonal rainfall, agricultural production, household income, and strategies to cope with widespread hunger. The study is based on high-resolution survey data and longitudinal interview data covering all of 2014. In addition to our primary data sources, we incorporated results from previously published studies on the Mahafaly area focussing on current data from the SuLaMa project. The causal analysis makes use of the tools of systems analysis, particularly using causal loop diagrams to assess crucial social-ecological interactions. We found a complex interplay of pronounced seasonality in income generation, recurrent droughts and crop failures, high agricultural investment risks, and governance failures on several levels. This interplay results in a gradual depletion of environmental assets, livelihood impoverishment, and hinders capital accumulation, as well as sustainable agricultural intensification. Several social-ecological traps and their interactions entrench the Mahafalian smallholder population in deep poverty while the productivity of the environment gradually declines. The study provides new insights into the causes of persistent poverty and continuing loss of environmental assets on the landscape level. Finally, we propose key leverage points to unlock current traps and facilitate more sustainable development in southwestern Madagascar. Among these leverage points are, in particular, income sources that are not based on arable agriculture. The first and the second chapters suggest that alternative income sources beyond arable agriculture are crucial for a regional sustainable development. The third chapter builds on this conclusion and analyses the potential of plant oil produced from the seeds of the cactus pear (Opuntia spp.) as an alternative income source. Cacti of the genus Opuntia are highly abundant in the region, particularly as living fences on private farmland in the littoral of the Mahafaly area. Highly priced seed oil can be extracted from the seeds of its fruit. To investigate the economic potential of seed oil production – and/or the local commercialisation of Opuntia seeds for seed oil production, we inventoried Opuntiae in field hedges through GIS analyses, and estimated the amount of seed oil that can be produced per household based on in situ sampling and laboratory analysis. To assess the socioeconomic impact of a potential large-scale project of regional Opuntia seed oil production, we conducted interviews with 51 farming households as to preferences for the utilisation of Opuntiae and Opuntiae products, including human consumption and utilization as animal fodder. We found five different Opuntia varieties belonging to at least three different species.

Mots clés : livelihoods ; arid areas ; resilience ; livelihood diversification ; resilience ; social-ecological systems ; Opuntia


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