Partnerships improve quality of produce, provide food security
by Dan Turk | Special to Presbyterian News Service
MADAGASCAR — Mangos taste so good many consider it the world’s best fruit. But it has more qualities than flavor alone. The mango is one of few tropical fruits that grows well on low fertility soils and where there is a long dry season. Mangos are sold in local markets throughout the tropical world but can also be processed into dried fruit, drinks, pickles, and chutney. Mango wood burns well and makes good charcoal. In many parts of the tropics, including Madagascar, mango trees produce fruit during the time of year when other foods are scarce, providing calories and nutrition when many people go hungry. Children, even if they can’t afford to purchase mangos, can use long sticks, throw rocks, and climb trees to get fruits for free.
Because of ideal climate over much of the western part of the island, Madagascar is a major producer of mangos on a world scale, ranked 12th overall and fourth in Africa behind Nigeria, Egypt and DR Congo. But most mangos currently grown in Madagascar are seedlings of low quality that were not planted and have received no horticultural attention. There is enormous potential for improving mango production by growing selected grafted varieties. Grafting allows the opportunity to choose varieties that are highly productive, disease resistant, with large, low-fiber fruit of superior taste. And grafted trees begin bearing fruit earlier than seedling trees. By growing grafted commercial-quality mangos, farmers can improve their lives by increasing their income and contributing to the families’ food security.
Why the Church is Involved
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world with some of the highest chronic childhood malnutrition anywhere. The Fiangonan’i Jesoa Kristy eto Madagasikara (FJKM), the PC(USA) partner denomination in Madagascar, believes that as Christians, we should help our neighbors both spiritually and physically. Reducing poverty and improving food security are important components of FJKM’s outreach efforts. Growing mangos and other fruits fits well with the FJKM’s strategic vision to reduce poverty and spread the Gospel. The FJKM’s Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education (FVEE) Project, supported by funding from PC(USA) sources, is very involved in developing fruit growing in Madagascar.
The Examples of Beambiaty and Antanetibe
Subsistence farmers in Madagascar can move out of poverty by growing fruit trees. In the village of Beambiaty in mid-western Madagascar, residents have risen from poverty by growing tangerines. The people of Antanetibe Ankazobe are now on their way to getting out of poverty by growing tangerines with the help of FJKM’s extension efforts that began in 2010.
The Fruit Center at Mahatsinjo
As the capital Antananarivo at 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) elevation is too high for mangos to produce good crops, the FJKM looked to find a location more to the west at lower elevation for its mango efforts. An attempt in 2009 at Ambondromamy (eight hours NW of Antananarivo) was disrupted by the political crisis of 2009. But in 2015, with the help of local FJKM Pastor Niaina Raoelison, a growing spot was identified at Mahatsinjo Maevatanana less than 4 hours from the capital. The mayor of Mahatsinjo, Mr. Rakotombahoaka helped the FJKM acquire land.
In October 2016, Pastor Harifidy Andriamanantsoa, pastor of the Mahatsinjo FJKM church (and wife of Pastor Niaina) led a dedication service preceding the placement of a stone (vato fehizoro) to mark the project’s commitment to establishing the fruit center. The new president of the FJKM, Pastor Irako Andriamahazosoa Ammi, preached from Ezekiel 36:30, “And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, that you may not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations.”
About a month later, construction began on a two-story multipurpose building where a nursery worker could live upstairs and a large room downstairs for conducting trainings. This building was completed and dedicated in May 2017. In January 2017, a temporary nursery was installed. By June 2017, about 270 fruit trees had been planted, including 60 mango trees belonging to 23 selected varieties, including many of the world’s best mango varieties.
An irrigation system has been installed at the fruit center in early 2018. The water system provides drinking water for the center and the nearby village of Ambararata. Plans for 2018 include planting fast-growing trees to mark the boundary of the land and serve as a windbreak and growing perennial peanut to help prevent damage from grass fires. Fruit trees and native trees will also be planted at local schools and public places as part of outreach activities in the Mahatsinjo community. The expectation is that the center will be financially sustainable within five years, mostly from the sale of grafted mango trees.
In 2018, trainings will begin at the fruit center to help local farmers and church groups learn to grow mango trees and to propagate them by grafting. Training participants will receive grafted trees to plant and propagate. In 2018 and 2019, two grafted mangos will also be among the fruit trees and native trees planted at each of 16 pilot schools chosen from the over 600 FJKM primary and secondary schools. Mangos will also be planted at 10 churches led by FJKM evangelists in Southern Madagascar. A mango revolution is in progress in Madagascar; the FJKM church in partnership with the PC(USA) is working to make sure that Madagascar’s subsistence farmers fully benefit from the potential of superior mango varieties that they can propagate themselves.
These programs are possible because of the collective effort of many organizations, including the Presbyterian Answer to Hunger (PATH) Committee of Central Florida Presbytery that has supported the FVEE project for a number of years with funds collected from the two cents a meal program at Presbyterian churches. Others include Park Lake Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida; First Presbyterian Church Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Decatur Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia. The Watersheds Foundation has provided generous ongoing support. ECHO in North Fort Myers, Florida helped tremendously in the process of getting grafted mango trees of selected varieties from Florida to Madagascar.
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