Posts Tagged ‘Madagascar’


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.



Madagascar’s “Magic Rice” – Dista Rice

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By Mara Schechter

Rice is Madagascar’s main staple crop, eaten at nearly every meal. Dista rice, which is cultivated in the Toamasina province near Lake Alaotra, is named after the farmer who discovered it. The rice, a pale pink color, smells like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is very nutritious and yields are double that of other varieties. Dista rice also shatters less when milled, helping reduce post harvest losses and increasing farmers’ income.


Rice is Madagascar's main staple crop. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Dista yields are also high for another reason—farmers are using the Système de Riziculture Intensive, or System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to cultivate it. SRI practices include transplanting seedlings when they are very young and growing them widely apart, adding compost from organic matter to the soil, weeding regularly, and using a minimum amount of water instead of flooding fields. This helps create deep root systems that are better able to resist drought, while also increasing yields, strengthening the plant, and enhancing its flavor.

Malagasy farmers have been successful in not only growing the rice, but in selling it, as well. Farmers in the Koloharena Cooperative (KH), which is a countrywide network of local groups, began selling their rice to Lotus Foods in 2009. The farmers jointly bought equipment, including weeders and organic fertilizer, to scale up production for the company. Koloharena means “preserve our heritage,” and the households participating in KH incorporate conservation into their agricultural methods. Using SRI to grow Dista rice, KH farmers have reduced the need for expensive fertilizers and pesticides and they’ve made their land more productive without damaging the environment.

­ Mara Schechter is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.



Manara Vanilla: Cultivating Delicate Flavor

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By Mara Schechter

Though it was first used as flavoring by the Aztecs in Central and South America, the majority of vanilla beans–over two thirds– now come from the Northeastern rainforests of the African island of Madagascar. For almost 200 years farmers in Madagascar have planted vanilla plants at the base of trees in the rainforest and pollinated the blossoms by hand. But now these humid areas of the island are changing—larger plantations are beginning to supplant the traditional style of cultivation.


Farmers pollinate Vanilla Planifolia by hand, using tweezers or a thin stick. (Photo credit: MissLAndMrH)

The rise in plantations is contributing to deforestation, which is one of Madagascar’s biggest environmental problems, contributing to soil erosion, endangering wildlife populations, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. While vanilla is traditionally grown under the shade of large trees, these plantations practically clear the country’s forests, except for a small number of trees.

But there are efforts to make sure that traditional, small-scale vanilla farmers are able to grow their crops in the rainforest. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the National Association for the Management of Protected Areas in Madagascar (ANGAP) created the Biosphere Reserve of Mananara-Nord, in northeast Madagascar, where vanilla is still grown traditionally. Vanilla growers live in small villages around the Reserve and work on small plots with 20-40 vanilla plants. According to the Maya Mountain Research Farm, an NGO that promotes sustainable agriculture, “most vanilla is grown by farmers who own less than 2 hectares.” (more…)


NtP in Midi Madagasikara

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Nourishing the Planet co-director Danielle Nierenberg is featured in this article in Madagascar’s Midi Madagasikara. The article discusses the National Center for Rural Development/FOFIFA, which is working to meet the needs of a growing population by developing new rice varieties and also helping farmers use more sustainable agriculture practices.


System of Rice Intensification: A viable solution to produce more rice, using less water

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By Janeen Madan

For a majority of the world’s smallscale farmers who live in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, rice is a major source of calories and the single largest source of income. But, the crop’s large environmental footprint creates numerous challenges.

SRI methods help strengthen food security, improve farmers’ adaptability to climate change and ensure environmental sustainability. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Over 90 percent of the world’s rice is harvested from irrigated or rainfed lowland rice fields. In these systems, fields are kept covered with water throughout the growing season, putting a strain on scarce and costly resources. Furthermore, anaerobic microbes, found in soils that are deprived of oxygen due to continuous flooding, produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And, chemical fertilizers and pesticides can cause soil and water pollution.

As the global demand for rice increases, finding ways to grow more rice while preventing environmental degradation and reducing reliance on water will be essential to helping ensure food security. Farmers in many parts of the world are taking the initiative to find innovative solutions to ease these challenges.

One such innovation is the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which was developed during the 1980s by a French priest in Madagascar, Father Henri de Laulanie, who spent 20 years learning about rice-growing practices from local farmers.

A report entitled “More rice for people, more water for the planet,” published by Africare, Oxfam and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in August 2010, highlights the successes of SRI practices in Mali, Vietnam and India. SRI is a set of low-cost crop management techniques, which promote community-led agricultural growth, while reducing and even reversing the effects of climate change. Today, SRI is practiced in over 40 countries worldwide.

SRI differs from rainfed traditional/conventional rice systems in the following ways:

  • Timing: Younger seedlings are transplanted when they are only 8-12 days old, as opposed to 21-40 days old.
  • Spacing: Rather than 3-4 seedlings, only 1-2 seedlings are plated per hill to prevent resource competition.
  • Water Management: Instead of continuously flooding paddy fields, SRI methods use smaller quantities of water with alternate wetting and dying during the growing cycle.
  • Fertilization and pest control: SRI techniques promote the use of organic fertilizers and Integrated Pest Management practices.

Rather than a strict “recipe,” SRI methods present a “menu” of different practices that farmers can adapt to suit local conditions and cropping systems. In Mali, for example, Africare is working with local farmers to apply SRI methods to traditional varieties like African rice.

According to the report, SRI increases the productivity of resources used in rice cultivation by reducing requirements for water, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. While SRI is largely driven by civil society efforts, it is also being embraced by local and international NGOs, and being endorsed by national food security programs in India, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

In Tamil Nadu, a state in South India, farmers have applied SRI practices to over 600,000 hectares of land, where they now use 40 percent less water. In 2009, despite an erratic monsoon season, SRI techniques helped raise the average yield per hectare from 3.5 tons to 6 to 9 tons.

And in Vietnam, SRI methods are helping farmers to protect their crops against extreme weather. After a typhoon hit a village in Phu Tho province, farmers found that the strong winds severely lodged non-SRI crops, while crops using SRI practices were not blown over.

Such innovations can be a win-win-win opportunity: they help strengthen food security, improve farmers’ adaptability to climate change and ensure environmental sustainability.

To read more about innovations in rice cultivation see: Messages From One Rice Farmer to Another, Keeping the Rice from Going to the Birds, Encouraging Consumption of Local Rice by Improving Local Quality and Processing and Spreading the Wealth of Innovations.

Janeen Madan is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.


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.

Get the flash player here:


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.


Spreading the Wealth of Innovations

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A farmer shares his experiences with other farmers at a workshop in Maputo, Mozambique. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

A farmer shares his experiences with other farmers at a workshop in Maputo, Mozambique. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ in extension” writes Ismail Kimole, a teacher with the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF), in the December 2009 issue of ILEIA’s magazine Farming Matters. This seemingly simple point comes up many times throughout the issue, as each of its articles take a closer look at how successful agricultural innovations can best be shared with the people who need them the most.

From multi-media presentations in classrooms to demonstration plots on neighborhood farms, what is clear is that the more personal and practical the information on any innovation is, the more likely the practice will be adopted, shared, and spread. “Social and cultural factors need to be understood and respected when trying to get farmers to adopt new practices,” writes Kimole. And farmers need to see for themselves how a new practice will be applied to their own farm, and how that new practice will directly benefit their families, if they are going to be willing to take a risk of trying something new.

In Makuyu in the district of Thika, Kenya, Kimole describes how one innovation spread from a single farmer who participated in water conservation training by KIOF to six, without the aid of any formal information sharing. After noticing that their neighbor practiced a water saving technique that saved her harvest during a severe water shortage that caused many farmers’ crops to fail, six of her neighbors, during the next rainy season, started mimicking the way she had dug holes along the crop rows.

Another example of the potential of farmer to farmer sharing is featured in Mireille Vermeulen’s article about System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Developed in 1980 in Madagascar, SRI is now used in 36 countries by farmers growing rice on land areas ranging from .5 to 20 hectares. Although scientists still don’t agree on whether or not the technique has actually been proven to increase crop yields, farmers are seeing the benefits and adopting the practice on their own.

But the larger question still remains, if the best way to reach farmers is through their community and by example, how does one approach spreading information about innovations that work to the largest possible audience?

The Africa Rice Center has been creating short videos, using local farmers to demonstrate a particular technique on film, and then disseminating them through their website and during educational presentations. Last week Danielle Nierenberg, co-project director of Nourishing the Planet,  visited a workshop in Maputo, Mozambique organized by Prolinnova, the Spanish NGO Centro de Iniciativas para la Cooperacion/Bata, and the National Farmers Union of Mozambique (UNAC) where famers gathered to share their experiences and learn from each other about different innovations being practiced in different communities. And ILEA itself presents an opportunity to compare and analyze innovations that are working all over the world through its website, magazine, and other publications.

To contribute your own ideas and experiences, suggest other ways that farmers can share their success stories with each other, or spread information about useful innovations, leave a comment below or fill out our agriculture innovation survey.  Just as important as an innovation that nourishes people and the planet is making sure that the innovation is actually being used and shared.