Noro Raoeliharison | October 10, 2015
If you stand by the side of the road on Madagascar’s Route National 4, you can see the village of Ambinintsoa Mahavelona in the distance. In 1996, Raharimalala Lantoniaina Olga and her family moved to one of the houses in the village, 60 kilometres northwest of the capital, Antananarivo. In that same year, Mrs. Olga became a farmer.
Before 1996, Mrs. Olga and her family were homeless. She and her husband and their young child lived in a shelter built with plastic bags. They were among the many people who scavenge a living on the outskirts of Antananarivo. Neither she nor her husband had a steady job. To make money, they sold anything they could find in the garbage dumped around the city.
In 1996, the Ministry of Population moved more than 300 families, including some of the homeless, to Ambinintsoa Mahavelona, and gave each family a small plot of land. Mrs. Olga and some other families learned how to farm. More specifically, they learned how to grow vegetables.
The government gave each family 25,000 ariary [US$7.65] a week for six months and helped the families build their own homes. Mrs. Olga recalls, “[At first], we were accommodated in a few houses that each contained three families. It was not until 1997 that we [finished] building our [own] homes.”
Nineteen years later, Mrs. Olga’s family is among the twenty or so families still living in Ambinintsoa Mahavelona. For Mrs. Olga’s family, the transition to rural life was easy. She says, “I needed only a month to adjust to life here. During the summer period, everything is green.” She and her husband now have five young children. Together, they grow vegetables and rice.
During harvest time, Mrs. Olga earns at least 5,000 ariary a day from selling her produce. She has continually expanded her plot since she arrived in the village. The farm has grown from three ares [0.03 hectare] to 10 ares [0.1 hectare].
She also finds time to work as a day labourer for farmers in nearby villages. She explains, “I work one day here and one day elsewhere and so on.”
Julien Rakotonirina also lives and farms in Ambinintsoa Mahavelona. His family arrived in 2004. They started with three ares and have expanded to six. Mr. Rakotonirina also finds time to work three days a week on farms in neighbouring villages, earning 3,000 ariary per day.
Like the others who stayed in Ambinintsoa Mahavelona, Mrs. Olga doesn’t want to return to Antananarivo. She is serious when she says, “It is we who have built this village, and we plan to stay. Ambinintsoa Mahavelona is our life; no one can make us leave.”