22 July 2011

Madagascar: Economic Sanctions Worsening Hunger, UN Expert Warns

Photo: Tomas de Mul/IRIN
The nutrition programme is being implemented at 6,000 centres across Madagascar.

An independent United Nations expert said today it is time to reconsider the economic sanctions imposed on Madagascar following the 2009 political crisis, warning that they are aggravating an already dire situation in which one in two inhabitants of the country is food insecure.

"All food security indicators are in the red," Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said at a press conference in the capital, Antananarivo, as he concluded his official mission to the Indian Ocean island nation.

"The result is that Madagascar today has one of the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world, with levels comparable to those of Afghanistan or Yemen," he stated.

Madagascar has been subject to economic sanctions ever since the political crisis that erupted in 2009. Mr. De Schutter said the decision to suspend Madagascar from the African Growth and Opportunities Act by the United States has cost at least 50,000 jobs in the textile sector, which had accounted for half of Madagascar's exports.

In addition, the European Union has halted programmes that were ready to be signed before the political crisis, suspending all development aid channelled through the Government.

"The total loss in expected aid is estimated to be about 600 million euros," said the expert, adding that while humanitarian aid by donors channelled through non-governmental organizations has significantly increased, the nature of this assistance does not allow for a sustainable reduction of poverty levels.

"It's high time now to reconsider the sanctions regime," Mr. De Schutter stated. At the same time, he added, the country's transitional authorities must not use the sanctions as a "pretext for inaction to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe for its population."

He noted two "promising dynamics" that had been launched prior to the crisis: the development of high performance ecological agriculture and land reform aimed at securing access to land for the population.

"Madagascar has a unique potential for ecological agriculture," he said. "We know that the system of intensive rice cultivation, a pure Malagasy invention, allows to double, triple or even quadruple yields.

"A national strategy to support this type of ecological production could make the large island self-sufficient in rice in thee years, whereas it is currently importing annually 100,000 to 150,000 tons of rice. But for this to happen, the authorities must decide to act," he stated.

"Similarly, the process of securing land titles also appears to have stalled," Mr. De Schutter said, noting that before the crisis investors were eager to acquire the best lands of the island. But today, investors are scarce, "chilled by the political conflict," and the land certification process has slowed down. "What used to be a race is now moving forward in slow motion," he said.

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