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Letter from Dan Turk in the United States, home from Magagascar

November 28, 2011

Dear Friends,

I got back from over three weeks in Madagascar on November 4.  It was a very good trip. The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) church people expressed gratitude for the PC(USA)’s presence and partnership in domains such as evangelism, wells, fruit trees, HIV/AIDS education, and outreach to vulnerable children.

The crisis is creating great hardship.  Statistics indicate that 1.5 million people have gone into poverty in the past two and a half years, for a total of 15 million people living in poverty out of a total population of 20 million.  There are many more people begging on the streets. Crime is way up and almost everyone is economically stressed by the crisis; parents are having a hard time keeping their children in school.

A family with one of their tangerine trees at Antanetibe.

Despite the crisis, the FJKM environment program is doing very well, especially the fruit tree work.  Since 2006, the program has put in 11 new tree nurseries, 17 demonstration orchards, and is conducting 10 extension projects with 323 farmers.  Most of the 175 varieties of fruit trees successfully introduced from Florida in the last 10 years are doing very well.

A highlight of my trip was the new fruit extension work at Antanetibe.  Located about 65 miles northwest of Antananarivo, Antanetibe is an ideal site for growing tangerines primarily due to abundant cow manure and the availability of irrigation water from a stream in the hills above the village.  The work at Antanetibe started after the FJKM environment program invited Antanetibe’s leaders to send two representatives to get specialized training in August 2010 in planting, growing, and propagating fruit trees.  As part of this training, the representatives, Cyril Rakotoarimanana and José Randriamiarana, went to Beambiaty, a village south of Tsiroanomandidy, where residents have gotten out of poverty by growing tangerines.  Cyril realized that the climate and soil conditions of Antanetibe are very similar to those of Beambiaty.  Cyril took it as a personal challenge to plant a large tangerine orchard.  He now has 280 trees and his nursery provides tangerine trees for others.

At the end of the training Rolland Razafiarison, head of the FJKM environment program, asked Cyril and José to identify 15 people to receive training at Antanetibe.  That training was so successful (and Cyril’s enthusiasm so contagious) that pretty soon there was a request from over 40 other people who wanted to participate.  So Rolland decided to change the approach to include all from Antanetibe and surrounding villages who wanted to take part.  Now there are over 70 families who have planted an average of 20 tangerine trees each.  Now less than one year old, the trees should begin producing good crops of fruit within six or seven years.  Each family should make at least $600 per year after the trees get to full production.  This should have a tremendous impact both on food security and family income, hopefully helping all the families to get out of poverty.

One of 10 new wells at Ambovombe Centre.

A visit to Ranomafana was another highlight of the trip.  In Ranomafana the FJKM environment program has a fruit nursery, provides assistance and technical help to the Ranomafana Arboretum, and has begun extension work with 25 farmers.  The Arboretum has an orchard of over 170 varieties, the largest collection of fruit trees available to the public in the country.  Probably the most impressive native tree in the Arboretum is Dypsis robusta.  It is a large palm with an enormous inflorescence over nine feet wide that hangs down almost to the ground.  Truly an amazing sight.  It is the only individual of its species known growing in the wild and therefore, pending the finding of other individuals, has a legitimate claim to the title “Rarest Tree in the World in the Wild.”  An article about this tree is in preparation to be published in the journal Palms. We already have about 50 Dypsis robusta seedlings in the nursery to be planted to help preserve the species.

I was also privileged to participate in the inauguration of 10 wells at Ambovombe Centre.  The wells were part of the FJKM community health program’s response to the people’s need to address problems of diarrhea due to unsafe drinking water.  The wells have rope-and-washer pumps constructed by the FJKM development unit at Ambositra.  Since getting water from the new wells, the community health volunteers report that the incidence of diarrhea in the community has plummeted.  At the inauguration the happy people gave gifts—including a turkey I was supposed to bring back to the United States for Elizabeth.

Thank you very much for your prayers and financial support for us as PC(USA) co-workers and for PC(USA)’s ministries in partnership with the FJKM church in Madagascar. Please continue to keep Madagascar in your prayers.

May our hope in Christ be renewed this Advent season as we focus on the baby in the manger who became our Saviour.

In Christ,
Dan       

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 71
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 110
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