Miora Rajaonary documents climate resilience in drought-stricken Madagascar

The documentary photographer uses her camera to expose crises across Africa and give visibility to solutions.

National Geographic Explorer Miora Rajaonary’s life as a photographer began at full speed when, on the day of her graduation from photography school in South Africa, former president Nelson Mandela died. 

“It felt like an earthquake” Rajaonary says. "I could not believe what was happening. It was a moment of deep mourning but it was also the beginning of my new life.” 

She had, as she puts it, modest ambitions as a new graduate. It was December of 2013, and her six-month training in photography had just concluded with several weeks about how to run a business as a photographer. Rajaonary had set up a website for herself with a few photographs and her contact information. 

When Mandela passed on the fifth of that month, “there were suddenly all these publications looking for photographers in South Africa,” Rajaonary recalls. A U.S.-based publication reached out. Her proximity to this momentous event secured her an opportunity to cover her first assignment as a photojournalist.

“It was hectic,” she recounts, describing the chaos of that week, “and I was definitely not ready. But it taught me a great deal.” 

Rajaonary did not start her career as a photographer. Rather, she studied political science and communications at university and then worked in a variety of organizations in fields ranging from fashion to development. There, Rajaonary says, she grew frustrated at being confined to a desk.

“One of my last bosses,” she says, “told me that maybe staying in the office was not very good for me.” She soon left for her course in photography. 

Following the vertiginous launch of her photography career in 2013, Rajaonary established herself as a documentary photographer. In 2021, she recorded the stories of women migrants and food insecurity issues in South Africa for the Geographic

For Rajaonary—a migrant herself—the project hit close to home. “I had this identity crisis, really,” she recalls, “and I was very much interested in the issues that revolve around identity, migration.”

Rajaonary was born and raised in Madagascar, and it’s here that she has most recently turned her lens with a project titled “Kéré,” with the support of the National Geographic Society. 

Drought exacerbated by climate change is fueling a major food security crisis in southern Madagascar, a phenomenon driving the population into a near-famine state, known by locals as kéré, meaning hunger. Land that was previously arable is experiencing desertification as a result of myriad factors including deforestation and the attendant soil erosion. Today, few crops are viable in the region. 

Rajaonary’s project highlights the people living with the drought and a local organization working to develop new agricultural solutions for the area. Among these are efforts to increase soil fertility, decrease erosion, and find new, more resilient crops to sustain the population.

“It is not always joyful,” she admits. “But it’s definitely inspiring. And rewarding.” 

Amidst what may appear a hopeless situation, Rajaonary is intent on seeking out and spotlighting solutions through her work. “That is really important to me,” she says. “If I don’t see hope at the end of the tunnel, there’s no point.”

For Rajaonary, this is a duty. “As journalists, we have such a responsibility for the way that other people see the world,” she urges “Saying that climate change is an emergency is really, I think, an understatement. But people have to understand that they can do things. That's what drives me.” 

Rajaonary is documenting inspiring attempts to fight climate change-exacerbated drought in southern Madagascar as part of a new collaboration between the National Geographic Society and The Climate Pledge, launched in May 2022. The partnership supports National Geographic Explorers documenting the global climate crisis as part of the Society’s Global Storytellers Fund.

This Explorer's work is funded by the National Geographic Society
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For the National Geographic Society: Andrew Rasner is Senior Manager of Digital Content at the Society.