Today in the Mission Yearbook

‘The Mango Palace’ may be the key to lifting Malagasy farmers out of poverty


About 90% of farmers in Madagascar live in extreme poverty

October 2, 2020

A grafting part prior to the dedication of the Mango Palace in Madagascar. (Photo by Germain Andrianaivoson)

One of the long-term effects of COVID-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries will be widespread famine. In Madagascar, where the average person lives on less than $250 a year, the FJKM (Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar) fruit tree center at Mahatsinjo will help offset the impact of hunger in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Growing tropical fruits has tremendous potential for helping Malagasy farmers get out of poverty. About 90% of Madagascar’s farmers live in extreme poverty.

The fruit center, known now as “The Mango Palace,” is located just outside Mahatsinjo, a town of several thousand residents about four hours from Antananarivo, the capital city.

Why specialize in mangos? According to mission co-worker Dan Turk, who has lived in Madagascar for more than 20 years with fellow mission co-worker, wife Elizabeth, mango trees produce well in areas that have a long dry season and do not require highly fertile soils. Much of western Madagascar is suitable for growing mangos and much land is available for doing so, since very few other crops are grown on hillsides.

Dan Turk has taken courses and utilized the knowledge of a world-renowned center for mango research in Florida, a state known for having produced many of the world’s most widely grown mango varieties. Following all required import procedures, he began bringing many of these varieties to Madagascar beginning in 2000.

“We hope to spread excellent varieties of mangos and the techniques needed for growing and propagating them throughout the parts of Madagascar suitable for growing mangos,” he said. “This will happen through the structures of the FJKM church, so that individual congregations can help the people in their communities take advantage of the potential of mangos to improve food security and increase family income.”

By helping people grow selected mango varieties with commercial potential, and by helping people learn to graft their own trees, Turk said they are enabling people to produce as many high-quality trees as they need. Training low-income farmers to do just that was a project funded by the Presbyterian Hunger Program that began in 2019.

The trainees, from the Maevatsara Synod, where the fruit center is located, received grafted mango trees to take home and plant on their land. The fruit center is also providing internship opportunities for university students. Last September, the center hosted 37 agronomy students from the new FJKM University for 10 days. A new dormitory building was completed and celebrated at the March 20 dedication of the facility so that farmers and students will now have good overnight accommodations when they come for training.

Turk has long been committed to preserving Madagascar’s unique biodiversity. More than 80 percent of plants and animals occur naturally only there. He believes the new fruit center will play an integral role in that strategy. Soon he hopes to work with colleagues to create mango-growing projects around national parks and other protected areas.

It took about four years to open the facility, from finding the property to building the support systems needed for it to function. They first dug wells but hit rock and had to fill them in again and create a gravity-fed water system.

In 1998, Dan Turk learned about Beambiaty, over 40 miles from the closest paved road, in midwestern Madagascar, where tangerines are grown commercially. Growing tangerines had lifted the entire community out of poverty. The key innovation there was diverting a stream from the surrounding hills to bring water to their village for irrigation.

This inspired Turk and colleagues at FJKM to start a tangerine project at the village of Antanetibe, a town about two hours northwest of Antananarivo. Antanetibe has small irrigation canals that bring irrigation water for growing crops. The first tangerines were planted there in late 2010. By 2017, the people were getting good harvests, and many are well on their way to getting out of poverty. Dan and his colleagues recognized that mangos have even greater potential than tangerines to help people because they can be grown without irrigation.

Madagascar is an island nation off the coast of southeast Africa. After Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo, it’s the fourth-largest island in the world.

Kathy Melvin, Director, Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Madagascar Farmers

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Stephanie Patterson, Presbyterian Women
Tabatha Peach, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray:

Our Father, you have given us so much, including your own Son. Please look with favor on our efforts to care for what you have given us and to lead people to hear your message. Amen.