Noro Raoeliharison | July 6, 2015
Mr. Rakotomalala has had ups and downs in his farming career over the past ten years. He owns one hectare of land which surrounds his home in Morarano Ambohinaorina, a small village 190 kilometres from Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo. He has grown potatoes and rice since 2007 with great success. But things weren’t always so good.
In 2005, Mr. Rakotomalala learned how to grow onions. He began with a local variety known as Betafo Red. The crop grew well, and his yields were good. Mr. Rakotomalala says, “I would harvest about four kilograms per square metre, and each onion weighed between 300 and 500 grams.”
In 2006, he won a contract to supply an exporter with onions for 900 Malagasy Ariary [US$0.30] per kilogram, a significant improvement on the 500 Ariary [US$0.17] price he got at the local market. But the following year, there was a massive oversupply of onions in the region. The onions became unsellable on both local and international markets.
Mr. Rakotomalala remembers the disaster like it was yesterday. Bitterly, he says, “The stench of rotten onions affected the entire Vakinankaratra Region. Some farmers are still paying debts [they incurred then].”
Mr. Rakotomalala had no choice but to abandon onions. Like other farmers, he turned to growing the Malagasy staples, potatoes and rice. The Malagasy saying, “Potatoes are the wealth and life of the Vakinankaratra Region” is as true today as ever.
Mr. Rakotomalala says that potatoes and rice are highly complementary crops. He explains: “Upland rice is twice as productive after a crop of potatoes, with yields of five to six tonnes per hectare. I can also make a profit of between two and three million Ariary [US$660 – 990] from one hectare of potatoes.”
In 2010, Mr. Rakotomalala formed a potato farmers’ co-operative so local growers could get together and share stories. In addition to organizing social activities for its members, the co-operative sells seed potatoes to other growers. Mr. Rakotomalala is adamant that the Vakinankaratra region will never again suffer from food shortage. The co-operative ensures a steady flow of its members’ rice and potatoes to customers in markets across Madagascar.
Mr. Rakotomalala’s crops are in such demand that he has had to increase his acreage. He leased three hectares of land near Betafo in 2009, and added a further three hectares near his home in Ambomiarivo in 2013.
Mr. Rakotomalala says farmers should always try to improve their farming practices, particularly through sharing experiences with their peers. He says, “Farmers must depend on themselves to succeed.”