Madagascar: Farmers grow potatoes to fill the rice gap (by Andrisoa Patrick Andriamihaja, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Madagascar)

| January 21, 2013

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It is 7pm in Antsirabe, a town in central Madagascar. Josette Raharimiamina is preparing to serve her family’s dinner. On the menu: potato soup accompanied by a bit of rice and vegetables. In this home, rice is slowly being replaced by potatoes as the staple food.. The same thing is happening in many homes around the Vakinakaratra region.

Just two years ago, the Raharimiamina family ate rice with meat and vegetables, morning, noon, and night. Rice was the main staple crop for the region. But there was a problem with relying so heavily on rice. The area’s volcanic soils are not very conducive to rice cultivation. So local rice production was not enough to meet the needs of families, year round.

For five years now, the people of Vakinakaratra region have increased their production of potatoes. Potatoes are well suited to the region’s volcanic soils.  Farming families have adopted them as a staple food, especially during the lean season.

This change is the result of education campaigns by a local NGO called Saha. Joseph Rasamimanana is one of the NGO’s facilitators. He says: “Convincing the farmers in Vakinakaratra to produce more potatoes during the period when rice is scarce was not very difficult.” Most farmers in this region already grew the tuber, but only on small portions of land. To encourage farmers to increase their potato crop, facilitators explained that potatoes can easily substitute for rice at mealtimes. They held cooking and tasting demonstrations in several villages.

Since then, potato production has boomed. The region’s potato production now exceeds 25,000 tonnes per year, up from an estimated 15,000 tonnes in 2005. According to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, nearly 90 per cent of farmers in Vakinakaratra now grow potatoes as a staple food, along with rice. In fact, production has increased so much, that they are able to export some to neighboring islands such as Mauritius and Seychelles.

The change is both practical and enjoyable for farming families. Many have learned to cook new recipes with potatoes.

Gaby Rabenatoandro’s family enjoys potato in soup, mashed, or mixed with other vegetables. He says, “Between July and November of each year, we eat potatoes instead of rice every day and everyone enjoys it.”

With the addition of potatoes, the Raharimiamina family now has enough to eat. They grow rice and potatoes, in addition to vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, and beets. Ms. Raharimiamina says her children and husband quickly got used to eating potatoes. They have even come to prefer potatoes over rice, finding them more tasty and satisfying to eat.

Mrs. Raharimiamina has a little secret to ensuring her family enjoys the food. She is very inventive when it comes to preparing meals, varying potato recipes throughout the week. One of their favourites is Malagasy mashed potatoes. To make this recipe, Mrs. Raharimiamina combines in a pot: a dozen potatoes, a bit of minced meat, two tomatoes, five pinches of salt, a little oil, and some water. She cooks the mixture until the potatoes are soft, mashes it, then adds a little more water, puts the pot back on the stove, and mixes it until it’s smooth and ready to eat.

Mrs. Raharimiamina and her husband are continuing to increase their potato production. They plan to sell part of their crop in the city so that they can earn a bit of money in addition to eating their fill.