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A letter from Dan Turk in Madagascar

November 2013

Dear Friends,

It is springtime in Madagascar. The leafless Chadsia outside our gate is once again aflame top to bottom with large orange flowers.  It and the pink-flowered harahara remind us daily of the richness of Madagascar’s biodiversity.

In the midst of the beauty of Madagascar’s plants and landscapes, the Malagasy people face many difficulties. The country is still suffering from a political and economic crisis that has lasted over four years since the coup d’état of March 2009.  Over 90 % of the people now live on less than $2 per day.  Rule of law has suffered greatly.  Crime is way up.  School attendance is way down, leaving a lost generation of 1.5 million children out of school.  About half of the people face malnutrition.  Plagues of locusts are currently eating crops in many parts of the country.  Meanwhile bubonic plague is also in the news, threatening an epidemic out of the country’s overcrowded prisons.

Elizabeth and the Chadsia.

Environmental degradation continues to be a major issue in all parts of the country. Over the past few years, illegal rosewood logging and mining for gold and precious stones within national parks have demonstrated the vulnerability of Madagascar’s so-called protected areas.  Much land in central Madagascar currently lies bare, exposed to erosion, especially from the intense storms at the beginning of the rainy season.  Further to the west, vast areas of burned grasslands blotch the landscape, and fires light up the night.  The need for firewood and new agricultural land are ever-present issues.  Bananas sold here in the capital are contributing to deforestation in distant places, where native forest is being cut down to grow them.  Scientists worry that many of Madagascar’s over 100 lemur species could go extinct within 20 years if drastic action to protect native forests is not taken soon.

Many see elections – a second-round presidential election and legislative elections scheduled for 20 December – as the best opportunity for the country to begin to get out of the crisis.  The first round presidential election on 25 October was relatively peaceful, so there is much hope that the country can get beyond the crisis.

The church’s work is more critical now than ever to accompany the people as they struggle to get out of the crisis and to get out of poverty.  A call for prayer is now on the PC(USA) mission website: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/global/madagascar/.

The fruit program of the Fiangonan’i Jesoa Kristy eto Madagasikara (Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar or FJKM) Development Department that is supported by the Presbyterian Church (USA) continues to help farmers stabilize their agricultural systems.  Efforts to help local people grow fruit trees are bearing fruit.  Farmers at places like Ambohimitombo, Ampary, and Tsaramiakatra have begun eating their own fruits and selling them in local markets.  Low-chill nectarines like ‘Sunraycer’ are particularly popular in many areas, as they begin production as early as a year after planting out and produce fruits as much as two months before other stone fruits get to market. 

Young mother shows her lemon in fruit tree at Tsaramiakatra.

At the FJKM church’s orchards and nurseries, canistels, muscadines, grafted avocados, and jaboticabas continue to show promise. Grafted varieties of more and more species are becoming available at church nurseries for distribution to farmers, new FJKM pastors, and the public at large.  Farmers have also started propagating their own trees and selling grafted trees to their neighbors.  For example, dozens of farmers at Mahatsinjo have learned to graft their own apple trees.

The new fruit varieties that we brought with us from Florida in August 2012 are doing well.  With the help of the agricultural mission organization called ECHO in N Ft Myers FL and volunteers from several PC(USA) congregations, we brought in 59 varieties of fruit trees and vines (belonging to 31 species), along with 16 species of clumping bamboos, as well as 38 species of native Malagasy palms from a nursery in Hawai’i.  After several days without soil in dark travel trunks and several months in quarantine, 52 varieties of fruit trees, 14 species of bamboo, and 32 species of palms survived the ordeal. 

Fruit species that have potential to contribute significantly to Madagascar’s development include Ma’afala Breadfruit, Ross Sapote, Green Sapote, and Dragon Fruit. Most of the fruit trees have been planted in secure locations. Many have already been propagated, and a few have already borne fruit.  The bamboos have been planted in 100 liter pots, where they are growing well.  Some of the palms have been planted at the Ranomafana Arboretum and others, at the FJKM seminary at Ivato.

Please pray

  • -for effective actions to protect Madagascar’s unique biodiversity;
  • -for effective policies and actions to help Madagascar’s people get out of poverty;
  • -for Madagascar as it goes through the electoral process, especially for elections on 20 December;
  • -for church leaders as they seek to help Madagascar in these troubled times;
  • -for the continued progress of the fruit program.

Are you connected with Presbyterian World Mission?  Would you like to become part of God’s mission in Madagascar?  Join us!  World Mission has a matching grant challenge going on now, so every individual gift before the new year will double in value and impact.  Your prayers, your regular communication with us, and your financial support for our ministry are touching lives with the hope of Christ, and permitting us to share with you the stories of how God is at work in this corner of the world.  God is good, and we are grateful for the privilege of being your mission ambassadors here.

Peace in Christ,
Dan and Elizabeth Turk

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 121
Read more about Dan and Elizabeth Turk's ministry

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Join the Matching Gift Challenge for World Mission from now through December 31, 2013.  Individual gifts given in this time frame, up to $90,500 will double in value and impact!  Consider giving your individual gift today.  For more information, please contact Relationship Development Operations at 1-800-728-7228.

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