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2. Madagascar: Women blend agriculture with forest restoration (IPS, Gender Links)

Soatalata stands in a demonstration plot near Anevoka, Madagascar. “Now I can harvest throughout the year,” she says. With a little determination and energy, she has succeeded in cultivating crops among the forest trees.

In Madagascar, women are keen to be involved in conservation and development. They want to preserve local biodiversity for their children. Forests in Madagascar have been badly affected by bush fires and slash and burn agriculture. Tetik Asa Mampody Savoka (TAMS) is one project which aims to restore forests and improve livelihoods. Here we meet three women who have been involved in this project.

Honorine Rasoanandrasana is a technician with the Association Nationale d’Action Environnementale (ANAE), who works with the TAMS project. She supports 11 villages and three committees in the area of Andasibe. Her role includes education and awareness-raising activities for some 200 women and men.

The TAMS project encourages women to start new livelihoods. Some grow crops or raise livestock. Others focus on handicrafts or ecotourism. Ms. Rasoanandrasana explains that during a six month training program, many, like Soatalata, work hard to improve the quality of the land for planting.

Back in the demonstration plot, Soatalata has found that crops like tarot, cassava, beans and tomatoes grow well alongside fruit trees and forest trees. She has noticed that they also enrich the soil. The plot will be developed into an ecotourism project. ANAE and other environmental groups support this initiative. Tourists will taste the fruits and vegetables harvested. The money raised through tourism will support the women and their communities in the forest restoration project. It is also source of income for the women.

Another female farmer who has grasped this opportunity with both hands is Norine Louisette. She decided to develop an area of sloping land, after learning new techniques from ANAE. She planted mucuna seeds (velvet bean). They grew into vines which cover the ground. In this way, they help to conserve the soil.

Mrs. Louisette also built terraces across the sloping land. On them she planted Stylosanthes. This acts as a living fence that holds the soil in place. Sometimes known as stylo, the plant can also be used as animal feed. The mucuna will die back by August. It then acts as fertilizer. Mrs. Louisette says: “I do not have to do any more work on the land. I just need to choose which seeds I want to sow.” She prefers to alternate her crops. In winter, she grows beans and maize. Next year, she will rotate peanuts, rice and maize. She believes that rotating her crops will improve their performance.

Although it is early days for this project, Mrs. Louisette remains confident. She hopes that she will soon earn enough from her crops to finance her own business in the local market. And she is happy to be one of the women involved in preserving Madagascar’s forest for future generations.