Malagasy people remain resilient amid the soaring cost of basic commodities

Since the beginning of the year, there has been a steep rise in the price of market goods in Madagascar. The Malagasy people are hesitant to speak out about this, and they remain resilient. However, the country's high cost of living still requires a government response.

By August 2022, the rate of inflation had already reached 9.3 percent. According to economists from the National Institute of Statistics (INSTAT), this is likely to increase further this year. In fact, since January, there has been a significant rise in the cost of foodstuff. In one week alone, the cost of 1 kg (2.2 lb) of rice increased from MGA 3,200 (USD 0.7373) to MGA 3,600 (USD 0.8294). Today’s cost is MGA 4,100 (USD 0.9446).

Rice is a prominent feature of the Malagasy diet. Life is strongly dependent upon rice; it is not only a staple food, but also a vital component of Malagasy culture and philosophy. As the saying goes, “It is only with rice that we can be full.”

However, few households are currently able to buy the food they require. Eighty-one percent of the population is living below the poverty line and thereby have to tighten their belts even further. Most people have had to reduce their spending, and some end up going hungry. Even the middle-income strata have been significantly affected. They, too, are having to take cost-saving actions.

A ban on public protests

Most people now realize that holding protests will not resolve the country’s inflation issues. After all, the government has recently limited citizens’ right to protest, under the pretext of the country being in a pre-election period:

Ce vendredi 31 mars au soir, à la télévision nationale malgache, le ministre de l’intérieur a annoncé que toutes les manifestations à caractère politique dans un lieu public sont désormais interdites et devront se tenir uniquement dans un endroit clos afin « de préserver l’ordre public ».

On the evening of Friday, March 31, the Malagasy Minister of the Interior, announced on national television that all political protests in public places had been banned. They should only be held in enclosed areas ‘to maintain public order’.

In November 2023, the Malagasy people will go to the polls to elect their new president. However, the socio-political landscape is already tense. On March 7, the authorities broke up protests held by students from the Polytechnic Higher School of  Vontovorona, where there were violent confrontations with the security forces. Subsequently, on March 31, the Minister of the Interior, Cécile Manorohanta, announced a ban on all political protests and meetings in public places, with the exception of members of the executive.

Causes of inflation

Adverse weather conditions and the disrepair of its road networks both significantly affect the cost of certain products. Madagascar is economically dependent on foreign imports of basic commodities because of its inability to produce enough supplies to sustain its population of almost 27 million inhabitants. This is also attributable to a lack of market price awareness and control by state officials.

The country’s economy is also exposed to unfavorable global economic circumstances, which have been hit hard by inflation because of the Russia-Ukraine war. As Ukraine supplied 30 percent of the world’s wheat, the cost of this basic agricultural commodity shot up following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

According to Benoît Faivre-Dupaigre, a researcher at the Economic Analysis and Public Policy Department of the French Development Agency (AFD), food security in Africa is anything but stable. This is the continent where food aid is most required. Based on this report, Madagascar, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are the three African countries most at risk.

The following report by the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle shows how various climatic and political factors have contributed to this major crisis:

Basic commodities price hike

The cost of everyday essentials is on the rise, as shown in the table below, which lists the products affected by this price hike:

Est-ce que ça va continuer?

La dette que le peuple et ses descendants doivent payer s'élèvent à 4 milliard de dollars

Année 2019

Prix d’1kg de riz 1kg: 0.41 dollar américain

Un litre d’huile : 1,14 dollar américain

Essence 1l: 0,94 dollar américain

Gasoil 1l: 0,80 dollar américain

Frais bus: 0.091 dollar américain

1 Euro: 0,87 dollar américain

Taux de pauvreté: 74 %

Année 2023

Prix d’1 kilo de riz: 0,89 dollar américain

Un litre d’huile: 2,97 dollar américain

Essence 1l: 1,35 dollar américain

Gasoil 1l: 1,12 dollar américain

Frais bus: 0.14 dollars américains

1 Euro: 1,09 dollar américain

Taux de pauvreté: 92 %

Is this going to continue?

The debt that people and their children must pay back now stands at USD 4 billion

Year – 2019

Cost of 1kg of rice: USD 0.41

1L of oil: USD 1.14

1L of gasoline: USD 0.94

1L of gas oil (diesel): USD 0.80

Bus fares: USD 0.091

1 Euro: USD 0.87

Poverty rate: 74%

Year – 2023

Cost of 1kg of rice: USD 0.89

1L of oil: USD 2.97

1L of gasoline: USD 1.35

1L of gas oil (diesel): USD 1.12

Bus fares: USD 0.14

1 Euro: USD 1.09

Poverty rate: 92%

In terms of inflation, the Malagasy government appears to deny any internal accountability. According to the news provider, Vaovao Farany, the minister of culture and communication, Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy, said:

Tsy ny fitondram-panjakana no tsy mahay mitantana» hoy ny Minisitry ny Serasera androany.
Eran-tany no miatrika ny fisondrotany fa tsy eto Madagasikara irery. Manampy trotraka ny fisian'ny adin'i Ukraine sy Russie sy ny rivo-doza nandalo nifanesy teto Madagasikara isan'ny nampidina ny famokarana ary voatery nanafatra ny fanjakana hoy hatrany izy.

It’s not that the government doesn’t know how to handle this. Inflation is a global issue and not just in Madagascar. The Russia-Ukraine war and the successive cyclones that hit Madagascar have led to reduced production. The State thereby has recourse to import its rice.

Limited solutions

The Malagasy government has already set up State Procurement of Madagascar, a company that directly imports basic commodities. Emergency social measures, including projects like “Vary Tsinjo” (in which rice is imported by the government and sold cheaply) and “Tsena Mora” (a government program to provide subsidized basic commodities), have also been set up in the fokontany (districts). This enables households to buy rice at an affordable price.

However, based on several Malagasy online reactions, this doesn’t appear to be sufficient.

On Facebook, Frank Audrey left a somewhat witty comment on Real TV Madagascar's wall:

Les Malgaches sont très durs !!

Nous sommes au pic de la richesse !!!

Le prix du riz augmente, on peut toujours acheter, personne n’ose pas en parler ni bouger

Le prix du carburant augmente, personne n’en parle

Le prix des produits de première nécessité monte et ça continue

Les prix de tous les biens augmentent ! Et les Malgaches peuvent toujours endurer

Vive le peuple malgache!!

Malagasy people are tough!!

We've reached peak wealth!!!

The cost of rice is rising, we can still buy it, everyone is hesitant to speak out or act

Fuel prices are rising, no one is saying anything

The cost of commodities continues to rise

The cost of everything is on the rise! The Malagasy people can still cope

Long live the Malagasy people!!

Madagascar Global News also posted the following on Facebook:

PRIX DU RIZ 4100 AR (0.9446 dollars américains)

Sauvez-nous s'il vous plaît.

Nous sommes très pauvres et meurent de faim

Diminuez le prix d’une kapoaka du riz

Le prix du riz est insupportable

COST OF RICE: GMA 4100 (USD 0.9446)

Please save us.

We're living in poverty and going hungry

Cut the cost of a kapoaka (250g) of rice

The cost of rice is unsustainable

As tensions rise within the political landscape, the government remains silent on the ever-worsening food situation in this country.

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