See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Adapting to Extreme Climate Change in Mali and Madagascar

Forest in the Kayes Region in Mali CC-NC-2.0

Forest in the Kayes region of Mali CC-NC-2.0

Mali and Madagascar have faced many similar challenges over the past five years. Political turmoil punctuated by coup d'états that saw the removal of their president-elects before the end of their terms. As a consequence, both economies had steep dives in terms of GDP. Today, Madagascar and Mali are both trying to rebuild their broken political systems via newly elected executive branches.

A lesser known challenge that both countries face is their struggle against extreme climate change. Fragile countries are often more vulnerable to extreme weather, but that adage could not be more evident than in the recent evolution of the ecosystem in Madagascar and Mali.

An undeniable impact

In Mali, the forest is slowly given way to the Sahara desert in the north. The Kayes region is symptomatic of the seemingly unstoppable progression of the desert in a region that used to host a buoyant forest and is now home to vast areas of sands and rocks.

Adrien de Chaisemartin and his colleagues from the McKinsey's Johannesburg office reported on the impact of climate change in the Malian region:

Mali is a mostly dry nation, subject to frequent droughts. Increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall tell of a shift in climate zones as the desert moves south over productive land. In these regions, farmers dependent on agriculture and livestock already face trying periods of drought and have few options to overcome them. Many are moving to the cities, others to the country’s less arid south.

Kayes region  in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Kayes region in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Here is how they assess the current situation and the potential economic loss for the country:

The climate zone shift—the combined effect of rising average temperatures and declining average rainfall—has already pushed the country’s agroecological zones to the south over the past 50 years, with average rainfall down by about 200 millimeters and average temperatures up by 0.5°C over the same period. [..] The pessimistic high-change scenario could involve losses of about $300 million annually (some 15 percent of the value of agriculture and livestock); the optimistic scenario, losses of $120 million annually (6 percent)

In Madagascar, the impact of climate change was even more dramatic. Following two consecutive cyclones (Giovanna in 2012 and Haruna in 2013) that made landfall on the island and displaced at least 100,000 people, the southern region was plagued by a locust invasion. How those events are related is explained by Emmanuel Perrin on maxisciences [fr]:

Le cyclone Haruna a touché l’île de Madagascar. Or, son passage a créé les conditions d'humidité favorables à la prolifération de criquets migrateurs. Les autorités n’ont pas réagi à temps et, aujourd’hui, leur population atteint 500 milliards d’individus, estime une récente mission de comptage.

Cyclone Haruna hit the island of Madagascar and its landfall has created the humid conditions that favors the massive proliferation of locusts. The authorities did not react in time, and today their population reached 500 billion in the most recent estimates.

Locust invasion in down town Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

Locust invasion in downtown Fianarantsoa, Madagascar

The World Food Programme states that 60 percent of rice production will be affected by the locust invasion. Cyclone Haruna's direct impact was also dramatically felt by southern farmers as 6,351 hectares of their crop fields were flooded. Raw footage of the floods can be seen in this video from YouTube user ongbelavenir:

How to adapt

So what can local population do to withstand the climate assault on their way of life? Here are a few ideas by Michael Kleine and his fellow scientists or researchers from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations solutions (IUFRO):

New modes of governance should enhance effective stakeholder and community participation, transparent and accountable decision-making, and the equitable sharing of benefits. And strategies for adapting forests to climate change must be coordinated with those of other sectors and integrated into national and regional development programmes and strategies.

In the field, new strategies are dependent on the local context and the type of activities in the region. For instance, declining crop yields can be countered with the following measures: increase crop diversification and plant early maturing crop varieties such as the NERICA rice variety. 

Dr. Balgis Osman Elasha emphasized the importance of grasping the local context and gaining buy-ins from community leaders to implement the new measures:

The same policy could yield contrasting results ,for different sectors or different activities in the same sector, e.g. removing subsides on inputs, from agriculture produced positive impact on traditional rain fed sector (using minimum inputs), and negative impacts on mechanized irrigated agriculture (using intensive inputs) [..] Community Leaders are key players in the policy process , they possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding the wise use and conservation of natural resources, moreover, customary rules and orders issued by them , are considered sacred by their local community. 

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site