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Letter from the Turk Family in Madagascar

April 21, 2010

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Madagascar. We are doing well. In late June, we will be returning to the United States for interpretation assignment (July 2010-June 2011). Please contact us if you would like us to visit your church during interpretation assignment.

The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) continues to be a witness in the face of injustice and increasing poverty brought about by the ongoing crisis. Please pray that a solution to the crisis can be found soon.

In this letter, we highlight new fruit tree extension work taking place in Ambohimitombo that Central Florida Presbytery is helping to support with funds from the 2 Cents a Meal program.

Ambohimitombo Fruit Tree Extension Project

Photo of women, men and children standing by several large yellow containers

Market day in Ambohimitombo: almost 400 liters of moonshine are in this picture

Ambohimitombo, a town about 30 miles east of Ambositra, is an amazing place. It is the main town in the northern part of Zafimaniry country, an area where people tend to live in many ways like they have for the past several hundred years: in simple houses with bamboo roofs and very little furniture, growing subsistence crops using the slash-and-burn method. There are no roads other than the one that gets to Ambohimitombo, if you call it a road. The terrain is mountainous and very beautiful, with gorgeous vistas of hills clothed in rainforest. The people are very fit from going up and down hilly trails carrying 5 gallon jugs of moonshine that they take for 12 miles or more to sell in markets near Ambositra. Moonshine is now the basis of the economy. Young men and women alike make it and transport it, bringing in needed cash.

The fruit project of the FJKM development department at Ambohimitombo actually goes back to June 28, 2001, when we put in a simple trial of five blueberry varieties. Since then two varieties have proved to grow and produce well: Powderblue and Tifblue. They now need to be extensively propagated and planted. We also worked in schools, planting trees and establishing school gardens, and we helped build three school buildings in villages where the schools had been destroyed by a cyclone several years previously.

Building on our experience in Zafimaniry country and from extension projects underway elsewhere in Madagascar, we recently set up a new extension program designed to provide needed food and income and to reduce dependency on moonshine. We believe that several components of the project are critical for its success:

Photo of a group of people holding watering cans; in front of them is a line of trees in pots.

November 2009 tree training. The mayor is in red shirt, Voahangy with watering can on her head and Tsiry kneeling with blue watering can.

Hiring, training, and equipping two local technicians. The local community was engaged through the establishment of a special commission of elders to select candidates for the local technician positions. We hired Razafiarilazandrainibe Tsiriniala (Tsiry), a 20-year-old young man who finished high school, and Ravoahanginirina Nomenjanahary Tsinampoizina (Voahangy), a 23-year-old young woman who finished high school and passed her baccalaureate exam but decided to stay in her village (Antanifotsy) to help her mother and farm. Her name means “unexpected gift from God.” We gave Tsiry and Voahangy special training in fruit production.

Photo of thatched builgings with a hillside in the background

A village in Zafimaniry country

Selection and training of participating farmers. The commission also selected farmers from throughout the northern part of Zafimaniry country. In November 2009, Rolland Razafiarison and I went to Ambohimitombo to do the initial training and to set up the demonstration orchards. We trained 19 farmers, 3 women and 16 men, several of whom are effectively illiterate. Each participant received vegetable seeds, seven fruit trees (citrus, nectarine, peach, jaboticaba and persimmons) and a watering can.

Orchards and tree nurseries for local technicians. At the November training we helped Tsiry and Voahangy stake out their orchards and left them with 19 trees each, including good varieties of peaches, nectarines, apples, persimmons, loquat and citrus. We helped them set up tree nurseries and charged them with the propagation of the blueberries by cuttings. We also started them off on propagating interesting native trees, beginning with a mysterious large-leaved tree, that I think is a simple-leaved Vitex, and a fig that has leaves that are green above and red below.

Vegetable gardening and growing fast-growing trees. We are providing seeds and technical help with vegetable gardening for two main reasons: 1) the people need to increase food production before the fruit trees will start to produce, and 2) vegetable gardening has great potential for improving people’s health. In particular, we will be giving them excellent varieties of sweet potatoes that we got from ECHO in North Fort Myers, Florida. We also will be encouraging the farmers to grow their own fast-growing trees to enable them to get their firewood and construction wood from planted trees (mostly eucalyptus) rather than native trees.

Follow-up. Part of Tsiry and Voahangy’s job is to visit the farmers on a monthly basis to help ensure that the trees grow well and that they are well cared for. We from the central office also do follow-up to back up the local technicians.

So on March 8, Rolland and Germain Andrianaivoson went back for follow-up, taking two fruit trees (Valencia and Hamlin oranges) for each of the participants and six trees for Tsiry and Voahangy (plums, mulberries, persimmons). Unbeknownst to Rolland and Germain as they headed east towards Ambohimitombo, tropical storm Hubert moved in at the same time from the Indian Ocean. Though in the rain and mud most of the time, they made it to six farmers as well as to Tsiry and Voahangy’s orchards and nurseries. They found that some of the farmers are off to a good start, having planted their trees well and demonstrating enthusiasm in taking care of them. Between them, Tsiry and Voahangy had visited almost all of the farmers. Voahangy went with Rolland and Germain to visit the first farmer, going to every single tree that had been planted, encouraging the farmer, pruning the trees and providing other maintenance. Voahangy remarked, “Now I understand what it means to do follow-up.” For some unknown reason, the blueberry cuttings that we had left with them after the November training did not sprout, but Tsiry and Voahangy each got more cuttings which are growing. The mystery tree and the double sided figs are also growing well.

Photo of many people working to maneuver a car through a mud track

The road from Ambohimitombo, March 11, 2010.

Then, the night of March 10, it rained cats and dogs. So the next morning Rolland and Germain decided they should get out, otherwise the road might deteriorate, and they would get stuck. So they got 10 people to go with them to repair roads and dig and push. They were much relieved (as were we) when they made it back to Ambositra. So all in all, it was a very successful trip.

Next time Rolland and Germain will try to visit all of the farmers (it will likely take 12 days of strenuous hiking). It is hard to overestimate the positive impact of not only going to see all of the farmers, but going out to see all of their trees, which may be some distance from the village. In June or July we will offer another training, this time focusing on helping the farmers set up their own nurseries for propagating fruit trees and growing fast-growing trees. I very much look forward to the day when there will be more fruit in the Ambohimitombo market than moonshine.

Dan and Elizabeth Turk

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 63


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