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Madagascar fighting the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and food insecurity

Global partner’s ministry addresses both the physical and spiritual needs of the people

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

FJKM seminary students in Madagascar learn about the Tommy Atkins mango. (Photo by Feno Randriamalala)

LOUISVILLE — Mission co-workers Dan and Elizabeth Turk, who have served in Madagascar for more than 20 years, continue to shelter-in-place in Florida, but are working daily with global partners through Skype, Zoom, and WhatsApp to address the growing twin pandemics of COVID-19 and severe food insecurity facing the world’s fifth-largest island nation and one of the world’s poorest countries.

The Turks serve with the PC(USA)’s partner church, the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), in its ministries of health, environment, agriculture and safe drinking water. FJKM believes that Christian witness should include ministry to both the physical and spiritual needs of God’s people and care for all of God’s Creation.

In a recent letter to supporters, the Turks reported that since early March, Madagascar has been experiencing a second surge of COVID-19 cases. The new surge resulted in a lockdown in the capital city of Antananarivo on weekends.

“In the capital city, colleagues report that almost everyone knows many people who have had COVID and some who have died. PC(USA)’s partner church, the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), has been greatly impacted by the new restrictions, which include bans on worship services in the capital city and other affected parts of the country,” they wrote.

The Madagascar Mission Network sent emergency relief donations to help with the urgency of the situation. FJKM continues to provide worship services over the radio and its pastors go into hospitals and COVID treatment centers daily to pray with the sick.

On March 26, Madagascar joined the World Health Organization’s COVAX program. The first 250,000 vaccines (AstraZeneca Covishield) arrived in May. As in many other countries, health care personnel, the elderly, members of the armed forces and the police were the first to receive vaccine. After a peak of active COVID cases in April of this year, official data indicate the number of active cases has declined precipitously. However, with vaccination rates low, further spread of COVID-19 is expected.

The hunger situation in southern Madagascar continues to be dire.

Farmers learn to graft citrus trees. (Photo by Rolland Razafiarison)

The World Food Program (WFP), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and Amnesty International have recently issued humanitarian appeals. The WFP and FAO estimate that over one million people in southern Madagascar face high levels of acute food insecurity, with almost 14,000 people in the worst category of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). The FJKM is participating in efforts to relieve hunger by distributing food and seeds and focusing on longer-term solutions such as digging wells and constructing water catchment systems.

Dan Turk works with the FJKM’s Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education program (FVEE). With per capita income less than $250 per year, many Malagasy people have difficulty feeding their families. Due to ongoing deforestation, many of Madagascar’s endemic plants and animals are threatened with extinction. FJKM is responding to these needs by helping people grow fruits and vegetables to improve their nutrition and get out of poverty.

The FVEE promotes environmental awareness by planting native trees at FJKM churches, seminaries and schools. Dan Turk and his colleagues help pastoral students learn to grow fruits and vegetables. The new pastors use these skills to help their communities and families achieve improved food security and nutrition. The FVEE has established a fruit center to help promote fruit growing, especially many of the world’s best varieties of grafted mangos, on a national scale.

People from Ankaramena learning to graft mango trees. (Photo by Rolland Razafiarison)

Turk said the FVEE was able to hold several trainings at the FJKM church at Ankaramena in south-central Madagascar, where a new mango nursery is being established and at the fruit center at Mahatsinjo. At the most recent training, 50 people from the town of Tsarahonenana near Andriba learned how to grow and graft fruit trees. In the past few years, the FVEE has trained over 150 farmers.

A new nursery located on the grounds of the FJKM seminary at Mandritsara will be managed by the seminary. It will provide grafted mango trees and other quality fruit trees for growing in Mandritsara and the surrounding area as a contribution of the FJKM to help subsistence farmers increase their food security and gain income to reduce poverty.

The Turks hope to return to Madagascar soon, but at present, no foreign visitors are able to fly commercially into the island.

The Madagascar Mission Network will be sponsoring a Zoom “Conversations with the Turks” on from 7-9 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, August 19. They will share updates on their exciting collaboration with the FJKM in the areas of health and agriculture. Register at

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