Remanonjona Feroce founded the village of Anjamahavelo meaning At the Lucky Baobab in Madagascar a generation ago. With memories of a flood still fresh, he chose a spot far from the nearest river. He cleared the wild forest and sacrificed a sheep in the hope that it would make the owls, lemurs and snakes go away.
"Animals can't live together with little children and young girls," explained Feroce, an 85-year-old great-grandfather. "They don't want snakes to be here because they have bad spirits. They strangle children by curling around the neck. Owls are bad birds. If one hoots, it means somebody will die."
The animals did go away, but so did the luck of Anjamahavelo, a cluster of wooden houses. Southern Madagascar has had three years of crop failure in five years, resulting in chronic hunger for tens of thousands of families and soaring rates of malnutrition, stunted growth and death among children.
Three forces are combining with deadly effect on the Indian Ocean island, which is incalculably rich in wildlife but impoverished in basic infrastructure. Climate change is widely blamed for playing havoc with the seasons and destroying agricultural harvests. This is exacerbated by local deforestation, which has altered the microclimate and reduced rainfall.
Finally, a bloody political coup earlier this year paralysed essential services and led to the crippling suspension of several foreign aid programmes. The UN says that nearly half of households in the south have severe food shortages.