Madagascar: Young farmer raises earthworms to pay school fees

| July 17, 2017

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Thérèse Tinarimanana is a 20-year-old high school student who splits her days between attending school and raising earthworms.


On a cold and windy winter morning, Ms. Tinarimanana sits on a chair outside her house. She smiles timidly and explains how she divides her time between the two activities, “I don’t go to school every afternoon. When I am back from school, I check on the [earthworm] compost. After that, I work on my school lessons.”


Ms. Tinarimanana has been raising earthworms since 2013. She plays with her long hair and talks about her foray into worm farming. She says she watched her parents “farm worms” for two years and she liked what they were doing. So she decided to start herself.


Ms. Tinarimanana’s father, Jean de Britto Rakotomanana, chairs a co-operative which promotes raising earthworms and using worms to make compost. The co-operative is called TATA or Tontolo arovana, Tany sy Ala, which means, “The environment, the land and the forest must be protected.” Ms. Tinarimanana is one of the co-op’s 19 members.


Mr. Rakotomanana explains that the co-op’s goal is for every member to receive at least 200,000 Malagasy ariary [$64 US] per month. Members must produce at least 250 kilograms of earthworm compost every month, which is then sold by the co-operative.


Like Mr. Rakotomanana, Marie Estella Harisoa Lalao introduced her three children to raising worms. She explains her motivation: “Nowadays, a lot of holders of the French baccalaureate have no job prospects, and people think of earthworm farming and vermicomposting [making worm compost] as a guaranteed source of income. That’s why we introduced them to it.”


Mrs. Lalao and her husband gave plots to each of their children. At 17, Arnaud Rakotomalala is their oldest child. His parents gave him four plots, including one on which he built a hut two metres long and one metre wide for raising earthworms.


He says that the hut produces 70 kilograms of worm compost per month. He adds, “Since my second year in high school, I have paid my school fees with the money I earn.”


According to Mr. Rakotomanana, the co-operative receives orders for about five tonnes of compost per month. Farmers and retailers also buy earthworms from the co-op. But customers can buy only five kilograms of worms each; if the co-op sold more, its compost production would decrease.


For her part, Ms. Tinarimanana earns 200,000 Malagasy Ariary [$64 US] per month from making worm compost. She promotes her business by talking to friends at school, and finds clients through her classmates’ parents.


Ms. Tinarimanana wants to go to university. She explains, “I will choose agronomy and will focus my research on earthworms. I will always make sure I finance my studies with my own savings.”


Ms. Tinarimanana has never heard of World Youth Day. To her, the most important thing is that young people have access to activities which help them become financially independent of their parents while they pursue their studies.


This story was originally published in August 2015.