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

December 28, 2011

Dear Friends,

I would like to share with you some thoughts from the annual ECHO agricultural conference that took place in early December in Ft. Myers, Fla. It was the fourth ECHO agricultural conference that I have attended.  As always, the times of worship and devotion were encouraging and uplifting.

Growing vegetables as Tsaramiakatra.

The conference brought together many people with expertise in tropical fruit trees.  Some are staff people at ECHO or volunteer specialists who come to demonstrate grafting techniques and share their knowledge, while others are doing mission work similar to my own in various parts of the world. I benefitted from all of them, especially their ideas for different species and varieties to be tried in Madagascar, sources of fruit trees in Florida, and advice on dealing with diseases and low fertility.  I am hoping to import some new trees in July 2012 when we return to Madagascar.  ECHO has already helped us to successfully introduce about 175 varieties to Madagascar. My talk, “Fruit Trees and Sustainability in Madagascar,” discussed some of the successes and challenges of the fruit program of the FJKM (Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar), which were highlighted in our November newsletter.

Fertilizing tangerine trees with cow manure.

The most sobering thing I learned was Roland Bunch’s prediction that there will be a major famine in many parts of Africa in the next five years or so.  The reason is declining soil fertility.  Throughout much of Africa fallow times have been getting shorter and shorter, there is not enough animal manure, and chemical fertilizers are priced too high for most farmers to afford.  The result is a sharp decline in land productivity over the past few decades, leaving millions of people vulnerable to famine.  When famine strikes, it has often been in association with times of low rainfall.  This has led the media to focus on drought as the problem and rain as the solution—when the underlying problem is actually declining soil fertility, something that will not resolve itself with rain or time.  Dr. Bunch’s prediction is written as “Africa’s soil fertility crisis and the coming famine” in the book State of the World 2011.  He said that those who disagree with his prediction say that the coming famine will be worse than he has predicted.

Tangerines in garaba baskets made from bamboo, Antananarivo, August 2011

I can relate to what Dr. Bunch presented because in Madagascar fallow intervals are getting shorter and shorter, from 15 years some years ago to just a couple of years now in many places.  Fertilizer use is low in Madagascar; many farmers find it hard to invest in fertilizer when their children are hungry. The FJKM is working to help farmers grow crops better and to identify crops such as fruits that bring high enough returns to justify investment in fertilizer.

I took the opportunity at the ECHO conference to learn more about bamboo.  Different kinds of bamboo are used around the world for food, to make baskets and furniture, for construction, and for a variety of other uses.  In Madagascar bamboo is particularly used to make baskets, for fencing, and for making roofs.  Most of the useful native bamboo species in Madagascar are harvested unsustainably from natural forests.   I plan to take back to Madagascar a dozen or so types of clumping bamboos that are known to be excellent for particular uses. These species will be propagated vegetatively, and hopefully eventually used to enable people to improve their lives by selling bamboo and things made from it.  Also of interest is the potential to propagate some of the useful native Malagasy bamboos.  These could then be planted and grown sustainably rather than further depleting populations in natural forest.

Houses with bamboo roofs in Zafimaniry country, Madagascar

As 2012 begins, please keep Madagascar in your prayers.  The crisis is far from over and economic conditions continue to deteriorate for the majority of Malagasy people.  Elections are talked about for 2012, but it is unclear when and under what circumstances they would be held.

Elizabeth and I want to thank you very much for supporting us as PC(USA) mission co-workers and the ministries of the FJKM in Madagascar, both through prayer and financial support. Your involvement is a great encouragement to the FJKM and the Malagasy people.

May God guide us all in the New Year!

In Christ,

Dan

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