Meet Jean Claude Tafita (pictured clapping), a vanilla farmer and President of the Mahavelona Cooperative from Anjialavabe in the Sava Region of Madagascar—a coastal area where much of the world’s natural vanilla is sourced. Unfortunately, like many regions in Madagascar, Sava is currently grappling with deforestation and the negative effects of climate change. Despite these hardships, Tafita, along with hundreds of vanilla cooperative members and the local community, recently had a big reason to celebrate.
Through NCBA CLUSA’s Sustainable Vanilla for People and Nature (SVPN) Activity—a project co-financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and McCormick & Company—community members commemorated the establishment of 13 tree nurseries that produced 45,000 seedlings in the first phase of production. These seedlings will be used for local reforestation projects to help tackle both deforestation and climate change.
Madagascar is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with 80% of flora and fauna on the island found nowhere else. However, this abundance of biodiversity is currently in a precarious situation due to the global climate crisis and high rates of deforestation throughout the country. For example, the region is increasingly prone to major climate events such as cyclones and floods. Given the reliance on vanilla in Sava region, overextension of vanilla plots when prices are high and slash-and-burn practices to clear land for rice farming when prices are low is common. The SVPN Activity started in March of 2020 to help reverse these trends.
Known locally as Mafatoky, which means “insurance for the future” in the Malagasy language, this project is reducing threats to biodiversity, strengthening natural resource management, and lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by supporting vanilla farming cooperatives to become more resilient and improving sustainable, traceable, certified vanilla production.
In addition to the tree nursery and reforestation activities, Mafatoky also focuses on crop diversification. Diversification is critical for vanilla farmers to protect against steep declines in vanilla prices, which have a history of volatility. The Mafatoky team has developed diversification plans with the vanilla cooperatives to ensure farmers can supplement their incomes and improve food security for their families and communities. These plans include poultry farming, beekeeping, and fish farming. By focusing on income diversification that improves food security, forest cover and agroforestry systems, this holistic approach aims to increase farmer, producer organization, cooperative, and community resiliency while promoting biodiversity conservation and natural resource management.
The Mafatoky team has worked hard with private sector partners, local vanilla cooperatives, and communities in the Andapa and Sambava districts of Sava Region to overcome start-up delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and launch project activities, including critical reforestation work. “The project started right when the pandemic reached the capital where I was based, so it was not possible to travel to the Sava region for several months. Our monitoring and evaluation manager couldn’t relocate either. It was challenging to start working on a new project with a new team virtually, but we all managed to work together to make great progress,” explained Zoely Ramanase, the Mafatoky Project Director.
The initial 13 tree nurseries were constructed in November 2020 with support from cooperative members, while the seeds and nursery supplies were provided by McCormick and their local partner. In February 2021, after three months of intensive work, the first fruits of their labor were celebrated with community reforestation events held in the Doany and Anjialavabe communes.
In Doany, a community in Sava, an impressive 11,000 seedlings were planted on reforestation sites and the home plots of vanilla cooperative members. This effort was supported by NCBA CLUSA staff, private sector partners, local and regional government officials, cooperative and producer organization members and their families, and local school children and women’s groups. As Avotra Cooperative President Jeannot Marcelin remarked, “Our cooperative is organizing this reforestation work with different stakeholders in the commune because we know sustainable vanilla production needs a better climate, and we want our community to be green again. That’s why we are very involved in reforestation activities.”
Growing trees is a long-term commitment and local awareness about the need for devotion to this project is high. The Doany Mayor’s Office has stressed the need for continuous monitoring of the seedlings’ growth and ongoing reforestation work. Ramanase addressed this issue at the planting event and encouraged event participants to remain committed, saying, “Look at what we planted today. It took three months of preparation in the tree nurseries, but what we accomplished could be burned down by just one person in one day. It will take dedicated, long-term collaboration from all stakeholders to stop harmful practices such as slash-and-burn and ensure environmental sustainability in our communities.”
Similar community reforestation events took place later that month in the neighboring commune of Anjialavabe and in celebration of their annual cooperative day. These events were led by the Mahavelona, Bemiray, and Avotra cooperatives, which make up the Avotra Cooperative Union. Cooperative members and other community members planted an additional 4,000 seedlings during these events.
The remaining 30,000 of the original 45,000 seedlings were planted by cooperative members and other community members in subsequent reforestation activities. “We know that planting trees is beneficial for vanilla production, and planting trees is also one of the Rainforest Alliance certification requirements, so these are very complementary,” explained Tafita, president of the Mahavelona Cooperative.
The Mafatoky project launched the second phase of seedling planting with an emphasis on the tree nurseries as an eco-enterprise for the cooperatives to diversify their income generating activities. As a way of strengthening the public-private partnership, McCormick continues to invest in these vanilla farmers’ resiliency and reforestation efforts by purchasing seedlings grown in the tree nurseries. McCormick recently announced an initiative to plant 13,000 additional trees in Madagascar – one for every McCormick employee around the globe.
The road ahead to combat the global climate crisis will inevitably be a challenging one. Through innovative partnerships like this between USAID, McCormick & Company, and NCBA CLUSA – combined with the dedication of vanilla farming communities – Madagascar can promote sustainable vanilla production that conserves biodiversity and natural resources, increases community resilience, and facilitates an economically and environmentally-just future.