Global Programs

In Madagascar, innovative garden technique boosts livelihoods and helps preserve biodiversity


Residents of the village of Andranovao participate in a keyhole garden training. [photo: Elina Solomanandafinandrasaniony/USAID Mikajy]
NCBA CLUSA is helping Madagascar preserve its unique biodiversity and provide new sources of income for some of its most vulnerable people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Mikajy activity.

Western Madagascar’s Menabe Region is renowned for its unique biodiversity and remarkable concentration of baobabs. These giant trees scattered across the Menabe Antimena Protected Area bear witness to the large-scale destruction of their unique dry forest ecosystem. Forest destruction in this area is not new, but it has accelerated dramatically in recent years due to an influx of migrants fleeing Madagascar’s drought-ridden South, where the impacts of climate change are worsening.

Because the fertile flood plains of Menabe are already occupied, these migrants often turn to slash-and-burn forest cultivation. The practice is both illegal and highly unsustainable, leading to soil degradation after just two seasons of maize cultivation. Migrants move into ever widening swaths of forest, resulting in both a biodiversity and humanitarian catastrophe. In partnership with the Government of Madagascar, the Mikajy activity worked to help migrants find legal places to settle where they can establish sustainable livelihoods.

In the village of Bezeky, migrants are practicing conservation farming techniques introduced by USAID Mikajy to restore soils and productivity. Bezeky was deforested by migrants more than 30 years ago, most of whom have moved on. Just a few remain, including in the remote village of Andranovao, where they eke out a living growing peanuts and cassava. The Bezeky Plateau’s elevated position makes water scarce, and their well provides little relief during the long, dry “hungry season.”

Charles and Sambisoa, along with their daughter and a neighbor, tend one of their keyhole gardens. Because wood is scarce in Bezeky, they used mud to build the garden. [photo: François Rabenandrasana/USAID Mikajy]
Charles Razafimahatradraibe, 45, his wife Sambisoa and their daughter live in Andranovao, where they cultivate peanuts and cassava. The nearest market where they can buy necessities and vegetables is a 15-mile walk away. This long trip means that the family rarely eats vegetables; when they do, the anana leaves wilt on the long journey home. In 2022, USAID Mikajy started working with Bezeky residents—including in Andranovao—to provide the same livelihood support that is offered to migrants who relocated voluntarily to Bezeky under the Government of Madagascar’s Titre Vert project in 2023.

Recognizing the challenges with water availability, USAID Mikajy introduced “keyhole gardens.” These raised, compost-filled beds, with a hole at the center for kitchen wastewater and organic matter, enable vegetable production throughout the dry season using very little water. After USAID Mikajy helped Andranovao residents build a demonstration garden, nine families have built their own, with six more families in surrounding villages following suit.

“Not only do we have a variety of food on hand with the produce from our keyhole garden, but the garden also generates income for us.” – Charles and Sambisoa, USAID Mikajy participants

Charles and Sambisoa were early adopters; they quickly realized the keyhole garden technique would help their family access a diversified diet with more vegetables. Sambisoa has joined Volamazava, the village association of vegetable producers and Mahavonjy, the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), both of which were established with training from USAID Mikajy. Charles joined Manombosoa, another local VSLA. With the first harvest from their keyhole garden, the family used half their produce for home consumption and sold the rest, using some of their earnings to participate in the VSLA. That investment will ensure they have access to microcredit and a more substantial sum at the end of the nine-month VSLA cycle.

“We are a privileged household now,” the couple say. “Not only do we have a variety of food on hand with the produce from our keyhole garden, but the garden also generates income for us.”

With a loan from their VSLAs, the couple launched a small rice and coffee trading business. “The income from this helped us with our daughter’s school supplies,” Charles and Sambisoa said. “We are now in the process of building our third keyhole garden.”

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