Archive for the ‘Madagascar’ Category


Five Great Grains with Promise for the Future

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By Jenna Banning

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, grains account for more than half of the calories consumed by people in developing countries. Yet, over the last few decades, grain production has been narrowed to only a limited number of varieties – wheat, for example, has over 200,000 varieties, yet only a few genetic lines are being used. Such dependence on a limited number of crops has proven problematic, especially because of rising food prices, climate change, and health concerns.

This indigenous woman is collecting amaranth, an indigenous plant of Central and South America which is helping to provide nutrition and income for local farmers. (Photo credit: Slow Food International)

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five grains which are not yet as well known, but provide promising alternatives.

1. Amaranth

Both a grain and a green, amaranth was once as fundamental to the Central and South American diet as corn and beans. Yet after the height of its cultivation during the Aztec civilization, this food has largely disappeared. Now, the non-governmental organization Alternativas y Procesos de Participación Social (Alternatives and Projects for Civil Society) has organized over 1,100 Mexican families in the effort to recover this valuable crop.



Manufacturing success: an interview with Navyn Salem

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Navyn Salem, founder and director of Edesia, talks about her July  field diary reflection and explains the global impact that  emergency food aid programs have.

 Name: Navyn Salem

Affiliation:  Founder and Executive Director of Edesia

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Bio: In 2009 Navyn Salem founded Edesia -a non-profit factory that specializes in producing Plumpy’nut- a high calorie edible paste made of peanuts that is rich in vitamins and provides nutrition to starving children. As a manufacturer of Plumpy’nut and other nutritional supplements including, Supplementary’Plumpy, Plumpy’doz, and Nutributter, Edesia is a member of Nutriset’s PlumpyField Network, a global network of partners that produce these ready to use foods.

Photo credit: Boston College Magazine

By way of background, can you talk about why you founded Edesia and how you decided to focus your efforts on producing Plumpy’nut?

When I first started, I was certain of one thing- I wanted to have a big impact on children but get there by using a smart business approach. For over a year, I traveled, consulted and spoke with some of the most amazing development and global health leaders to gather ideas.

Edesia was created with the purpose of creating jobs and contributing to economic development as well as having a social mission that contributes to a global health challenge. We first got started with this model in Tanzania where 38 percent of the population is stunted due to malnutrition, most of the raw materials needed to make Plumpy’nut are available locally and products were being imported from France.  We began back in 2007 to develop this project and our factory there called Power Foods has been operational since December 2010.  They can now produce enough Plumpy’nutto fulfill the demand in Tanzania and some of the bordering countries.



Snapshots from the Field: 20 Photos from 20 African Countries

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Check out this slideshow of photo highlights from our travels through sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve been traveling for a year, and this is just a taste from each country: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Niger. There are plenty more where these came from on our Flickr page.

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Finding Ways to Put Innovations into Practice

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Danielle Nierenberg with Xavier Rakontonjanahary, FOFIFA's Rice Breeding Coordinator, in Madagascar. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Madagascar, like many other African nations, “is based on rice,” says Xavier Rakontonjanahary, the Rice Breeding Coordinator at the Centre National de la Recherche Apliquee au Developpement Rural/FOFIFA or the National Center for Rural Development.

As a result, FOFIFA works with farmers, developing different rice varieties for different regions and different conditions. Their approach, according to Xavier, is to not only introduce new varieties of rice or innovations, “but also listen to farmers.”  FOFIFA works with farmers to adapt different technologies and innovations to fit their own needs through extension services and on-farm testing.

“You need innovation,” says Xavier, “but when you talk about application, it’s not always working.” In other words, it’s not just enough to develop an innovation—such as SRI, which increases yields, but is more labor intensive, or F1 rice hybrids, which requires a lot of expensive fertilizers—unless farmers are able to practice it.

And while conservation farming practices, such as minimal tillage and the use of compost, can help prevent erosion and improve soils in Madagascar, Xavier notes that the country, even with funding from the French government and other donors, “can’t be Brazil when it comes to conservation farming.” In Southern Brazil, cover crops, intercropping, and other conservation agriculture practices are used extensively for maize . But “lowland rice in Madagascar is very different than other crops,”  says Xavier. And while rice can be intercropped with wheat or trees in integrated rice and agroforestry projects, not every farmer in Madagascar will be able to use those practices.

“We have enough innovations,” says Xavier, “but they’re not applied” because of constraints, including farmers access to credit or land or markets. Removing those constraints and strengthening farmers’ rights need to be considered, according to Xavier, if you want to improve hunger and poverty.

Stay tuned for more about rice breeding in Senegal when we write from West Africa in a few weeks.


Despite Financial and Political Challenges, Conserving Natural Resources and Improving Livelihoods in Madagascar

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Danielle Nierenberg (left) with (from left to right) Tovohery A. Ramahaimandimbisoa, an RTM Intern, Lorena Lotti, and Annalisa Mansutti. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Madagascar has had more than its share of bad luck in the last year. In 2009, a military coup deposed the government. But the government wasn’t the only thing that collapsed. The island nation’s $400 million per year tourism revenue also disappeared, which has led to increased logging and deforestation of Madagascar’s forests.  And many of the NGOs and aid agencies that were working in Madagascar for decades have found their projects hindered by new regime’s policies—as a result, many have scaled back or left the country.

One NGO, however, the Italian-based Reggio Turzo Mundo (RTM), has continued to work with farmers in the country, despite the challenges. RTM works with farmers and farmers groups to develop alternatives to slash and burn agriculture, including organic farming practices that help build up soils.

RTM is also helping develop a manual for organic agriculture for farmers. “Organic agriculture,” says Tovohery A. Ramahaimandimbisoa, RTM’s organic agriculture coordinator, “is not promoted by the government.” In 2009 the former government provided farmers with a subsidy for fertilizer, but the current government won’t be providing farmers with fertilizer or other inputs, forcing many to burn forests to provide nutrients to the soil.

By teaching farmers how to compost, prevent erosion, and keep nutrients in the soil, RTM hopes to prevent slash and burn agriculture and help improve livelihoods. According to  Ramahaimandimbisoa, “many small producers in the field are already organic, but they’re not making money.”

And RTM is also helping farmers develop certification collectives for organic products, such as cloves, ginger, black and white pepper, and vanilla. These collectives, says, Lorena Iotti, RTM program coordinator, will help make it possible for farmers to develop their own certification standards and make it easier to export products to Italy and other countries.

Stay tuned for more about agriculture in Madagascar later this week.


Cultivating food security in Africa

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(Photo: Bernard Pollack)

(Photo: Bernard Pollack)

Check out this Op-Ed written by Danielle Nierenberg and Abdou Tenkouano featured in the Kansas City Star on February 18, 2010.

As hunger and drought spread across Africa, a huge effort is underway to increase yields of staple crops, such as maize, wheat, cassava, and rice.

While these crops are important for food security, providing much-needed calories, they don’t provide much protein, vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, and other important vitamins and micronutrients—or taste. Yet, none of the staple crops would be palatable without vegetables.

Vegetables are less risk-prone to drought than staple crops that stay in the field for longer periods. Because vegetables typically have a shorter growing time, they can maximize scarce water supplies and soil nutrients better than crops such as maize, which need a lot of water and fertilizer.

Unfortunately, no country in Africa has a big focus on vegetable production. But that’s where AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center steps in. Since the 1990s, the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (based in Taiwan) has been working in Africa, with offices in Tanzania, Mali, Cameroon, and Madagascar, to breed cultivars that best suit farmers’ needs.

By listening to farmers and including them in breeding research, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center is building a sustainable seed system in sub-Saharan Africa. The Center does this by breeding a variety of vegetables with different traits—including resistance to disease and longer shelf life—and by bringing the farmers to the Regional Center in Arusha and to other offices across Africa to find out what exactly those farmers need in the field and at market.

Babel Isack, a tomato farmer from Tanzania, is just one of many farmers who visits the Center, advising staff about which vegetable varieties would be best suited for his particular needs—including varieties that depend on fewer chemical sprays and have a longer shelf life.

The Center works with farmers to not only grow vegetables, but also to process and cook them. Often, vegetables are cooked for so long that they lose most of their nutrients. To solve that problem, Mel Oluoch, a Liaison Officer with the Center’s Vegetable Breeding and Seed System Program (vBSS), works with women to improve the nutritional value of cooked foods by helping them develop shorter cooking times.

“Eating is believing,” says Oluoch, who adds that when people find out how much better the food tastes—and how much less fuel and time it takes to cook—they don’t need much convincing about the alternative methods.

Oluoch also trains both urban and rural farmers on seed production. “The sustainability of seed,” says Oluoch, “is not yet there in Africa.” In other words, farmers don’t have access to a reliable source of seed for indigenous vegetables, such as amaranth, spider plant, cowpea, okra, moringa, and other crops.

Although many of these vegetables are typically thought of as weeds, not food, they are a vital source of nutrients for millions of people and can help alleviate hunger. Despite their value, these “weeds” are typically neglected on the international agricultural research agenda. As food prices continue to rise in Africa—in some countries food is 50-80 percent higher than in 2007—indigenous vegetables are becoming an integral part of home gardens.

The hardiness and drought-tolerance of traditional vegetables become increasingly important as climate change becomes more evident.

Many indigenous vegetables use less water than hybrid varieties and some are resistant to pests and disease, advantages that will command greater attention from farmers and policymakers, and make the work of AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center more urgent and necessary than ever before.

Abdou Tenkouano is director of the Regional Center for Africa of AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center in Arusha, Tanzania. Danielle Nierenberg is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute.