Food & Daily life

An agricultural island

Around four-fifths of Madagascar’s population live off the land and sea, farming small-scale plots and fishing along the coasts.

Home improvements

Bamboo house, by Lemurbaby (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Most people live in rural areas. Many rural houses are built from whatever materials are available locally, such as bamboo (as in the photo above).


Because the island is prone to droughts and storms – see Climate and Agriculture – life for farmers and fisherman can be precarious. In some years, it can be a real struggle for many Malagasy households to feed everyone and poverty is widespread – see Poverty & Healthcare.

Large families are the norm, with the average household having six children. Even so, it's common for families to occupy just one or two rooms.

In the highlands, homes are built from mud brick walls coated with a layer of dried mud and then painted. Here, homes may have two storeys and verandas, and can be encircled by walls.

Modern building materials such as breeze blocks and corrugated iron are now used where possible. They are sturdier and safer in the face of severe storms, as well as signifying that a family is wealthy enough to pay for man-made materials.

A multi-purpose grain

Rice is the staple ingredient of many dishes and some families will eat rice Koba dessert snack food, by Salym Fayad (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commonsthree times a day.

Rice flour is used to make bread and a sticky pile of rice is the main accompaniment to stews or curries of meat, beans or vegetables.

The grain also makes puddings and sweets. For example, one common sweet snack (called koba) is made from ground rice, peanuts and banana, wrapped in a leaf (as shown in the photo).

Around the coast, fish and shellfish form a main part of people’s diet, as do coconuts. Main meals are sometimes cooked in coconut milk and coconut cookies or doughnuts are popular sweet treats.

The Malgasy make sweet dough rings or balls, which are called mofo when made from rice flour. These dough balls can be flavoured with fruits such as banana or vegetables such as sweetcorn and pumpkins. Sometimes, they are savoury and served with chopped vegetables, chili sauce or prawns.