Mission co-worker and Malagasy partner church help families grow tangerines as cash crop
by Pat Cole | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — When Dan Turk gazes at fruit-laden tangerine trees in Antanetibe, Madagascar, he sees more than an agricultural success story.
He sees a path out of poverty for the families who tend the crop. It’s a route that traces its beginnings to Turk and his partners at the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM). In 2010, Turk’s colleagues from the FJKM visited Antanetibe and trained about 70 people in tangerine production. The church’s entire Development Department traveled to the town, stayed in the homes of the future tangerine farmers and helped them plant the trees.
The training team brought with them a video that included a testimonial from a Malagasy farmer about her success with tangerines. The video played a key role in convincing the people in Antanetibe of the potential of tangerine farming, Turk says.
It takes years for tangerine trees to mature and start bearing fruit, so the farmers needed to see that their efforts would eventually pay off. The video, produced by FJKM staffer Rolland Razafiarison, was shown outdoors at night and projected onto a bedsheet that was attached to a house.
For the past two seasons, the trees have produced bountiful harvests, and farmers have sold their tangerines for a good price. Turk is convinced the tangerines will help these families break free from poverty and provide them a degree of economic security.
“Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world,” Turk says. “This is reflected in the extremely high rate of stunting in children, which is the result of chronic malnutrition. People are struggling just to grow enough food to feed their families and pay for essentials like medicine, clothes and school fees.”
Turk and his wife, Elizabeth, have been under mission appointment in Madagascar for more than 20 years. Dan holds a doctorate in forestry and has helped the FJKM promote fruit growing to improve families’ nourishment and incomes.
Elizabeth is a nurse and a public health specialist. Most recently, she has been involved in a program to promote HIV testing. An estimated 31,000 people in Madagascar are HIV positive, but only 3,000 of them know their HIV status. Early detection and treatment will improve the quality of life for thousands of people and help slow the spread of the virus.
The Turks express a deep love for the Malagasy people and the holistic witness of the FJKM, a rapidly growing church with 6 million members.
“The church feels very strongly that we shouldn’t just preach the gospel,” Dan says. “That’s important, but we should also be involved in people’s lives. The church has various outreach ministries to fight poverty and help deal with the issues the people face. There is a very strong belief that evangelism should be evangelism of the whole person.”
The ministry of the church extends across Madagascar, a country whose land mass is about twice the size of Arizona. Dan and his FJKM partners help farmers grow fruits that are suited to the conditions where they live.
Tangerines grow well in Antanetibe because it has the appropriate climate, access to water for irrigation and an abundance of organic fertilizer. Yet for much of Madagascar mangos are the preferred fruit crop because they produce well in a hot climate with a long dry season. They do not require highly fertile soil or irrigation once they are established.
Dan is excited about a fruit center in Mahatsinjo that he helped the church start in 2016. It includes a spacious training room and a large tree nursery. The nursery produces many types of world-class grafted mango trees. The church will soon be distributing trees to farmers along with instructions on how to plant and care for them.
Many of the grafted mango varieties produce fruit that is highly flavorful, and some varieties, while not as scrumptious as others, bear fruit that ships well under rough conditions. While delectable taste improves consumer demand, hardiness lengthens the time available for selling the fruit. Incomes improve when less fruit is wasted.
Since their mission appointment in 1997, the Turks have become fluent in both the Malagasy culture and language. Their relationships with the people and their devotion to the FJKM’s work run deep.
“The colleagues we work with are really committed to living out the gospel in situations that are not easy,” Elizabeth says. “That has encouraged, challenged, motivated and inspired us.”
Their longevity has helped them to “work more efficiently and more in tune with how the church works,” Dan says. “We are really happy to be here, and we feel like this is where God is calling us to be. There is still a whole lot to do.”
Gifts to mission co-worker support will be matched
Between now and Easter Sunday, April 21, a group of Presbyterians has agreed to match dollar per dollar all gifts in support of mission co-workers, up to $50,000. Click here to give.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.