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Green Madagascar struggles to feed itself

Written by: Staff
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VANGAINDRANO, Madagascar, Mar 12 (Reuters) Velovano's baby is starving because her mother is.

When one-year-old Meolaldine's skeleton started showing through her skin, Velovano took her to a clinic where a doctor said the baby was near death.

''I can't produce enough breast milk to feed her because I have been too hungry myself,'' the 25-year-old Madagascan villager said, nursing her tiny infant with a cup of milk funnelled through a plastic tube strapped to her breast.

Like others in Vangaindrano, an isolated district of southeast Madagascar, Velovano has suffered from a chronic food shortage that has ravaged the population of 24,000 and left a fifth of children malnourished, many severely.

But Vangaindrano doesn't look like a famine zone.

Green and well-watered, with over 2,000 mm of rainfall a year, forests and bright green rice fields thrive.

While much of drought-prone East Africa is going hungry because of too little rain, Vangaindrano's problem is that it got too much.

''Heavy floods came down and washed out all of our rice fields,'' said Velovano. ''They were all covered in sand and mud.

Everything was destroyed. Now, we have nothing.'' BUSH PLAN Madagascar is a puzzle to development workers.

Though warm and wet with a landmass bigger than France, the Indian Ocean island produces barely enough to feed its 17 million inhabitants.

Child malnutrition is among the worst in Africa and yields of the staple crop, rice, are lower than in Mali, a country on the edge of the Sahara.

The World Bank says a lack of roads leaves farmers with no access to markets for their produce, giving them little incentive to grow a surplus and condemning most of the 12 million people in rural areas to subsistence living.

Last year, Madagascar became the first recipient of US President George W Bush's flagship development fund for poor nations, winning 110 million dollars from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

MORE REUTERS PV KP0846

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