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In Madagascar, vegetable gardens reduce impacts on biodiversity and boost household income, food security

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USAID Mikajy introduced improved vegetable gardening to enhance nutrition and livelihoods. [photo: USAID Mikajy]
The dry season in western Madagascar’s Menabe region lasts from May to November each year, during which many rural families struggle to feed themselves after their rainy season crops are depleted. Residents of the village of Antsoha are no exception. They subsist on livestock and agriculture, cultivating rice and legumes and using any produce they grow for home consumption. Since there is no local market in Antsoha, access to fresh vegetables is a 10-mile walk or oxcart ride away.

NCBA CLUSA has worked in Menabe since 2018, supporting biodiversity conservation and community development through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Mikajy activity. During the region’s long dry season, people seek alternative sources of income and food; they cultivate yams and turn to nearby dry forests for other resources, which provide an important safety net for local people.

However, pressure on forest resources has escalated in Menabe in recent years. An influx of migrants fleeing Madagascar’s drought-ridden south has invaded forests to practice illegal slash-and-burn cultivation, multiplying the local population and destroying more than half of the forests in the area. Most of the remaining forests are found close to Antsoha in the Menabe Antimena Protected Area, the only habitat for at least four locally endemic species that now face extinction, including the world’s smallest primate.

“Before [USAID Mikajy] we only ate once a day, but now we eat morning, noon and evening, and our meals are more nutritious, too.” ‚Äď Kateriny

To help communities produce enough to sustain their families during the dry season and reduce human impact on the region’s unique forest ecosystems, USAID Mikajy introduced improved vegetable gardening and other activities like short-cycle chicken breeding to enhance nutrition and generate revenues.¬†

Kateriny, her husband and their four children live in Antsoha. They grow rice and have cultivated leafy vegetables and onions on a small, five square meter garden. The family often did not have enough to eat, particularly from August to November when they only had a meager income of 20,000 MGA (less than 5$USD) per week from the sale of their vegetables.  

USAID Mikajy started working in the remote village of Antsoha in 2022, offering technical assistance on improved vegetable gardening techniques. Kateriny was convinced and registered to participate in the training sessions. Using a demonstration plot, local lead farmer Mélanie Ravao shared her knowledge on using vegetable waste to improve soil fertility and water retention, mulching to keep the ground cool and humid, and organic pest control. Kateriny applied these techniques and extended her vegetable garden to 300 square meters with 15 beds. She also diversified her crops by planting garlic and tomatoes. A total of 320 farmers around Menabe Antimena have been trained in these techniques by USAID Mikajy during the 2023 dry season, and have used them to improve and expand their vegetable gardening. 

In September 2023‚ÄĒtoward the end of the lean season‚ÄĒKateriny and other local vegetable producers were still selling tomatoes, onions, leafy greens and other fresh produce at a new market they established in Antsoha. From the sale of her vegetables, Kateriny now earns at least 60,000 MGA per week, tripling her income and improving her family‚Äôs livelihood. With a colorful array of vegetables close to home, she and her neighbors no longer need to make the arduous journey to Antsiraraka to purchase fresh produce.¬†

I never thought that one day I would be the solution to my family‚Äôs suffering during the lean season,” Kateriny said, adding that before USAID Mikajy, her family only at one meal a day. “Now we eat morning, noon and evening, and our meals are more nutritious, too. My youngest likes to bite into a tomato that I hand him. The community is also grateful because we have improved the supplies of food within our village. I plan to work even harder to become a regular supplier of fresh vegetables in this area, and even beyond Antsoha village.‚Ä̬†

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