Emile Jean lives in Tsiandriona Nord, a small village belonging to the rural community of Itampolo in the south of Madagascar. He is 54 years old and lives with his wife and eleven kids - six boys and five girls - in a house with three rooms. Emile Jean is part of the Mahafaly tribe and the Temitongia clan.
Like most people in this region of Madagascar, including his father and grandfather, Emile Jean is a farmer and cattle-breeder. He owns a few Zebu, but mainly lives off the maize and vegetables he grows, half of which is sold, half of which goes to providing food for his family of thirteen. Growing enough food has become one of Emile Jean’s biggest challenges in the face of climate change.
“When my grandfather was young, they didn’t have more than one or two bad years in 20 years. When my father was young, they had a bad year every 7 years. Now, it’s every two years. We even risk having the second bad year in a row. We are very worried”, says Emile Jean.
Emile Jean has noticed the shifts in the weather for years. The amount of rainfall has dramatically decreased, distribution has changed, storms have become less frequent and more intense and temperatures have risen each year in the area.
These shifts have resulted in a longer dry period of nearly 7 to 8 months and a shorter rainy season of only two months. This makes it difficult for farmers like Emile to plant and live off their crops all year round or to afford the rising prices of staples like cassava, rice, oil and sugar.
“For some years now, we have been losing a part of our manioc yield because the rain comes too late. We also have more insects these days”, says Emile Jean.
Villagers in the area believe that changes in climate, as with many other natural things, occur because God and spirits living in the forests are angry.
“We sacrificed a zebu to ask God for his protection during these difficult times”, says Emile Jean. “In exchange we promised to protect nature and the forest. It was like a contract and God helped us through difficult times.”
Farmers like Emile Jean, have also found other ways to adapt to the changes in climate such as reducing the amount of crops they plant that require a high volume of water, like maize, opting for drought-resistant strains. Emile Jean now also waits for the rainy season to plant - to avoid losing his seeds.
“We used to plant in the dry season also. This helped to overcome the lack of food between the rainy seasons. Now this is not possible any more, we just lose seeds if we do it. It used to rain a lot in January. Now there is no rain at all in this month”, said Emile Jean.
Through WWF, Emile Jean has been introduced to other agriculture techniques such as drip irrigation, market gardening, and crop rotation. The organization also distributed rain gauges to communities across the Mahafaly Plateau, including Emile Jean's village. This allowed farmers to collect rainfall data themselves, and taught them how to interpret the data in order to use the information to help determine which crops to plant and when for the upcoming season.
These innovations are what Emile Jean hopes will ensure his 11 children will not only make it through school, but use their education to move beyond a dependency on the land and the direct impacts of climate change. “I hope that they all become intellectuals, someone important”, says Emile Jean.
For more information about Emile’s story visit: http://www.wwf.mg/?202346/Adapting-farming-to-combat-climate-change-in-Madagascar---the-story-of-Emile-Jean