In northern Madagascar, Helvetas supporting residents of a national park improve their production and market access for products such as vanilla, ginger, coffee and rice. Through this effort, they earn a better income and are no longer forced to clear and weaken the forest piece by piece.
Growing vanilla instead of slashing and burning forests
Two worlds face off in northern Madagascar. One world comprises the pristine rainforests at altitudes ranging from 0 to 3,000 meters above sea level, which provide habitats for over 2,200 species of flora and fauna, including 538 that are found only in Madagascar. In 2015, half a million hectares of this biodiverse area was given protective status as a national park that is twice the size of Luxembourg. The park, Ambohimirahavavy Marivorahona, is named after two prominent peaks.
The northern region is home to peasant women and men who cultivate the products that serve as their staple diet, notably rice, and other products destined for sale (the "cash crops") such as vanilla, coffee, ginger or cloves. In spite of their hard work, the peasant families regularly face famine and poverty. They have only small plots of land, the profitability of their activities remains low due to inefficient production techniques, and the prices of their products are subject to significant fluctuations. Though vanilla has reached high prices in world markets in recent years, producers earn only a small income from it because of the margins taken by intermediaries, but also because of a lack of knowledge of the market. In these conditions, it is not surprising that they seek to exploit the only reserve of land they have, namely the forest, even if it is protected.
Helvetas is working with the WWF in nine villages with a total of 23,000 inhabitants to offer them alternative ways of overcoming poverty. The farmers learn how to improve the quality of their products for export and how to sell them at a fair price. Helvetas helps them set up cooperatives and establish sustainable business relationships with national and international buyers. They form community savings and credit groups (GECs) and receive training in agricultural techniques adapted to climate change, as needed. Partnerships with private operators are formed to provide families with a sustainable market and better income. OSDRM, as part of the consortium implementing the project with WWF and Helvetas, is responsible for raising awareness, setting up the groups, and facilitating producer meetings of the savings groups.
Municipalities are in principle responsible for the management of the national park, but they lack resources and knowledge. The joint Helvetas-WWF project helps them to transfer the role of forest management around the protected areas to the local communities (COBA) in order to manage the forest in a sustainable way and contribute to reforestation where needed.
Under the supervision of the COBAs, the families take from the forests, without damaging them, the wood they need for their own consumption and for sale. This allows them to improve their income and to learn that the forest can remain a renewable resource. Local communities hold their members accountable for violating forest conservation rules. The financing of COBAs' activities related to environmental and natural resource conservation is supported by various financial sources, including environmental premiums paid by private companies from the sale of vanilla, contributions from the GECs and contributions from the communes. This allows COBAs to organize reforestation and restoration activities.
Diversifying income to reduce dependence on vanilla
Helvetas helps farmers diversify their sources of income to help build resilience. For example, ginger cultivation is an alternative to the excessive sale of cheap rice, which is harvested annually between May and June. Farmers set aside more rice to sustain themselves longer. Income from ginger shortens the economic lean period and eases the time until the vanilla pods ripen, resulting in better quality and price.
Oline Rasoanandrasana (32), vanilla farmer in Androfiabe, Madagascar