Fighting Poverty and Extinction in Madagascar

World Environment Day, June 5

By Dan Turk, Mission Co-worker Madagascar and Rolland Razafiarison, Technical Manager FVEE

Seminary students planting a critically endangered palm endemic to Madagascar, Dypsis robusta, at the Ivato FJKM seminary. This species is known from only a single tree in the wild. Photo by Dan Turk.

This century, Madagascar faces two major challenges: lifting its people out of poverty and preventing the extinction of its unique plants and animals. These challenges compete for assistance funds and often seem to be at cross purposes. Some of the major drivers of deforestation are simply people’s efforts to find food for their families and income to purchase necessities like medicine, clothes, and to pay school fees.

The data are stark. On the one hand, deforestation continues at a galloping rate. Between 2001 and 2020, Madagascar lost 24% of its tree cover. Of Madagascar’s 2904 endemic tree species, 63% (1828) are threatened with extinctionPoverty statistics are equally alarming: Madagascar has one of the highest rates of chronic childhood malnutrition in the world; 75% of Madagascar’s people live on less than $ 1.90 a day.

Madagascar faces many challenges as it seeks to improve the lives of the people and prevent extinction of its unique plants and animals. Photo by Dan Turk.

COVID-19 and climate change are making the situation worse on many fronts. Restrictive measures to combat COVID-19’s spread have driven people deeper into poverty. Climate change is disrupting weather patterns, contributing to crop failures.  Insufficient income and crop failures are leading people to desperation. Desperate people often turn to the forest to find protein from native animals, to cut trees for fuelwood, and to grow crops just to get by. Right now, the far South of Madagascar is experiencing the effects of drought and diminished employment possibilities, with over 1 million people affected by high food insecurity.

The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), Presbyterian Church (USA)’s partner church, is committed to the long-term work of fighting poverty and caring for the environment. To fight poverty, FJKM’s Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education Program (FVEE) has found a niche growing fruit trees. Growing fruit trees helps people improve their food security and increases their income while stabilizing agriculture and reducing dependence on shifting cultivation. Most development assistance happens with 2- or 3-year projects. This does not work well for growing fruit trees which requires a longer time frame. Through FVEE’s long-term commitment, the foundation for successful fruit work has been laid by investing in horticultural skills, collections of promising fruit varieties, orchards of mother trees for propagation purposes, and years of experience empowering people to improve their lives.

Because of ongoing deforestation, most species of lemurs are threatened with extinction. Photo by Rolland Razafiarison.

FJKM had success in helping farmers get on a path out of poverty using tangerines planted at Antanetibe Ankazobe in 2010. Now 74 families from that town are getting good harvests with substantial increase to their incomes. But tangerines require water for irrigation which is not available in much of Madagascar’s countryside. FVEE realized that mangos have greater potential to help large numbers of people get on a path out of poverty. This is because mangos can produce good crops on soils of low fertility with hot weather and a long dry season; they can be grown successfully without irrigation throughout much of northern, western, and southern Madagascar. Grafted mangos of selected varieties have much potential to help farmers in the vicinity of protected areas to increase their income and stabilize their agriculture, thus contributing to efforts to protect biodiversity.

For the past two years, FVEE has been partnering with the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) to train farmers in how to grow and graft fruit trees, especially mangos. So far, over 150 people have participated in these trainings from Betsiboka and Matsiatra Ambony regions in mid-western and central southern Madagascar, respectively. The trainings are very hands-on. One of the trainees, Ms. Rasoarinirina Marie Agnès, said “I received a lot of benefit from the training because I did the grafts, my hands made the grafts. … But before when I did trainings, the technician did it and said that is how it is done. But here it was me who did it.” Each trainee took grafted trees home to plant and to use as grafting material to get more trees of selected varieties to grow and share with neighbors.

Farmers learning to graft mangos at the Ankaramena FJKM church, South Central Madagascar. Photo by Rolland Razafiarison.

FVEE is also helping different FJKM branches set up permanent fruit tree nurseries. A new nursery was recently established at the FJKM seminary at Mandritsara in the north. Another is being set up at the Ankaramena FJKM church in south central Madagascar, part of FVEE’s efforts to use its good mango varieties and grafting expertise to help the food security situation in southern Madagascar.

FVEE technicians are also applying their horticultural skills to the protection of endangered trees. For example, they are assisting efforts to bring endangered endemic palms into cultivation and to grow them in public places both to establish cultivated populations and for educational purposes. At the fruit center at Mahatsinjo, where most of the fruit trainings have taken place, much of the landscaping has been done with native trees and shrubs, including endangered palms like Tahina spectabilis and Dypsis leptocheilos.

World Environment Day serves as an opportunity to look at the environment in which we live and take part in efforts to improve it. FVEE is very appreciative of the support from PHP, Presbyterian churches, and individuals who have contributed to FVEE’s efforts to fight poverty and protect the environment in Madagascar.

The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.


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