Sun is shining when we walk acrossa a small village in Torotorofotsy. I hear only a pig’s grunt, otherwise it is silent. Midday is slowly changing into afternoon, everybody must be working. As we continue our walk I notice an old couple working in the fields ahead. I am sweating only when standing still, they must be exhausted under the cloudless sky.
When we finally reach Mr Ramaromanana and his wife, I realise that they are used to the climate and physical work. I see no sign of tiredness, just two persons with welcoming smiles on their faces. Mr Ramaromanana and his wife bring us to their potato field. The couple started planting potatoes in 2016 with the support of the project.
Mr and Mrs Ramaromanana are one of the 11 families participating in the Sustainable Agriculture training programme, started in Torotorofotsy in 2015 by Association Mitsinjo and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC). The programme aims to decrease the pressure on Torotorofotsy wetland, an internationally recognized hotspot of biodiversity and species endemism, which is being converted into rise fields at an alarming pace.
The training programme is a succesful example of combining biodiversity conservation and social development. In the trainings led by Regional Service for Agriculture, local farmers living around the Torotorofotsy wetland learn about sustainable farming techniques and at the same time how to diversify their diet with more nutritious crops. Demonstration plots of sustainable farming are established outside the fragile wetland ecosystem. After the trainings farmers get technical support from the training team whenever needed.
Mr Ramaromanana shows us some of the potato plants that have dried up and are smaller than others. Maybe because of some plant disease, he thinks. After considering different options together, we decide to take one potato plant with us to bring it to the local technician of Torotorofotsy training team to find out the actual reason behind the damages. This is how the Training Programme of Sustainable Agriculture works.
”When we first started the programme, some of the local families were suspicious and not interested in taking part in the trainings. After seeing their neighbours’ increasing yields the interest has been growing rapidly”, tells Randrianantenaina Oumadi Fabrisse, the responsible of the training programme.
No chemical fertilizers are used in the programme, the soil remains fertile with compost and crop rotation. ”We cover the soil with mulch, which is a natural way of blocking the weeds. It also reduces plowing and slows down water evaporation keeping the soil moisture while at the same time protecting the soil from heavy rains and erosion”, describes Fabrisse.
Torotorofotsy wetland has been designated as a wetland of international importance under the intergovernmental Ramsar Wetland Convention. Torotorofotsy Ramsar Site inhabits various animal and plant species but also maintains vital ecological services for human beings by playing an important role in local erosion prevention, water resource management, carbon sequestration and climate change adaptation. However, regardless of the Ramsar status, several threats are affecting the wetland. Rice cultivation, slash and burn agriculture and mining are the primary threats to the wetland.
After the discussion with Mr and Mrs Ramaromanana we continue our tour in the fields. Local villagers on the way greet us lively, clearly they have met the local responsibles of the training programme several times. For me, as an international project coordinator of FANC, this is the first time to meet with these farmers.
After walking for a while, we meet Ms Razafindrasoa Jiliety who joined the programme in the beginning of 2016. After attending the training Ms Razafindrasoa started to grow green beans. A brown-eyed little girl tries to catch our attention while we are discussing the bean production. Ms Razafindrasoa explains that without a husband she is responsible for feeding the whole family. Despite some weather related challenges the yields have been good and Ms Razafindrasoa has sold some of the beans in a local market after every harvest.
In the evening we arrive back to our guesthouse with our hands full of potatoes, green beans, carrots and zucchinis, still with the fresh smell of earth on them. Today I will enjoy the dinner with special appreciation and thankfulness.
Text and pictures: Elina Mähönen, Development Cooperation Coordinator of FANC