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Global partner planting seeds in good soil

Growing fruits and vegetables helps lift Madagascar out of hunger and poverty

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Dan Turk works with students at the Ivato seminary. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

In the Parable of the Sower, not all seeds grow and bear fruit, for a variety of reasons. But some seed “fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.”

LOUISVILLE — Seeds planted by mission co-worker Dan Turk and the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), a longtime global partner of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission, are beginning to bear fruit.

In August, the FJKM General Assembly (Synoda Lehibe) voted to extend the work of the Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education program (FVEE) to all of FJKM’s synods in Madagascar, affirming the work to promote growing fruits and vegetables as means of reducing poverty and malnutrition.

Madagascar has one of the world’s poorest economies with nearly 90% of its population living on less than $2 a day.

For the past 14 years, Turk and FJKM colleagues have taught seminary students how to grow vegetables and fruit trees. After graduating, most new pastors serve rural communities, where they not only grow fruits and vegetables to feed their own families but also teach the skills to others to help lift the community out of poverty.

When the seminary students graduate, they take with them a piece of paper from the FVEE that says, “Good for 10 fruit trees, redeemable any time in the next three years.” Many wait until their families are settled in their new communities before returning to the Ivato Seminary near Antananarivo to get their trees.

“My colleagues and I have long recognized that a shortcoming in our training program is that follow-up with the new pastors is insufficient,” said Turk. “The problem is that travel in Madagascar is very expensive (fuel costs over $4 per gallon) and the pastors are dispersed far and wide.  So, it is just not feasible to visit all the pastors who have received trees. But we keep our ears open and take advantage of opportunities to meet with pastors to learn about what they are doing.”


Pastor Razafindranaivo with one of his lemon trees at Angarazy. (Photo provided by Dan Turk)

Turk said FVEE has spent years laying the foundation for the program, gathering a collection of promising fruit tree varieties, developing propagation techniques, setting up nurseries and planting orchards. The past year FVEE held 11 trainings for FJKM pastors, volunteer technicians, church members and farmers. Two of these trainings had more than 50 participants. This work will be continued in 2022, with an emphasis on extension into southern Madagascar, where poverty is at its most extreme. Some of these trainings are supported by grants from the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

At a recent meeting of FJKM’s evangelism department in Southeast Madagascar, one of Turk’s FJKM’s colleagues, Rolland Razafiarison was invited to speak. While there, he connected with several former students, including Pastor Tafita from southwest Madagascar who had been influenced by a video Razafiarison made about the program to successfully grow tangerines in Beambiaty. Tafita received seven grafted citrus trees from FVEE. He started growing rootstocks using seeds from a locally available citrus and began grafting his own trees from the seven original trees. He eventually grafted 1,500 trees.

Though he has struggled to get the trees enough water and fertilizer, 700 of these trees are now producing fruit, with lemons and oranges the most productive of the trees. He is now sending fruit to be sold in Toliara, a large city 200 kilometers to the south.

Pastor Laurius with a native palm (Dypsis madagascariensis) planted next to his church at Dabolava. (Photo provided by Dan Turk)

Another seminary graduate who applied what he learned about growing trees is Pastor Laurius Velondeha from Dabolava in western Madagascar. He received four trees from his seminary allotment in 2017. He got more trees from the FVEE in January 2020 and additional trees from other sources. Now there are about 20 trees growing around the church. The mayor of Dabolava has asked Laurius to do trainings for people in the community and to provide trees for others to grow.

A few days after Razafiarison spoke at the meeting in Manakara, many of the same pastors went to the Mango Palace at Mahatsinjo for another training Sept. 28-30 for 28 pastors and 24 volunteer technicians. The goal was to train the group from the evangelism posts in areas of the country where mangos grow well.

This living Christmas tree is a flamboyant tree native to Madagascar planted by Pastor Laurius Velondeha at his church at Dabolava. (Photo provided by Dan Turk)

“Many of the participants are from southern Madagascar, where many people are currently severely malnourished from lack of food,” said Turk. “Pastors Tafita and Laurius were among those who took part in the training. The trainees learned to grow and propagate fruit trees. They practiced grafting mangos and citrus. Each of the trainees took home six trees: three grafted mangos, a grafted avocado, a citrus and one other fruit tree. Many left the training with enthusiasm for doing more to use the potential of fruit trees, especially mangos, to help alleviate hunger.”

Turk said Tafita plans to start growing and grafting mangos. Laurius is planning to set up a fruit nursery. FVEE expects this training will bear much fruit, so to speak.

“My colleagues and I look forward to a few years from now when the people who participate in these trainings will start getting mangos and other fruits from the trees they plant and when others in their communities will be growing fruit trees as well,” he said.

Dan and Elizabeth Turk have served as mission co-workers in Madagascar for more than 20 years. Dan has recently returned after working remotely in the U.S. Elizabeth plans to return soon.

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