The forest Reserve of Betampona, on the East Coast of Madagascar is one of the last surviving lowland forests on the island. It is home to thousands of endemic species, including the critically endangered Indri lemur and the near extinct Aye-Aye. However, the survival of this precious forest remnant is threatened by the extreme poverty of the local population living on the periphery of the Reserve who rely directly on the natural environment to meet their basic needs for food, firewood and shelter. MfM’s Betampona livelihoods project takes a long-term approach to supporting families living around the reserve to develop sustainable alternatives to the destructive practice of slash and burn agriculture (tavy). For over 30 years, MfM has focused on helping people to overcome their problems, to value and protect the land and to live off it in a sustainable yet profitable way.
Since 1989, we have been supporting our partners in Betampona to:
1. Improve the lives of local families through a programme of activities aimed at optimising use of already cleared land and sustainably improving food security, nutrition and income.
2. Protect the precious habitat and biodiversity in and around the Special Reserve.
For more than 30 years, SAF’s team of experienced, locally based, agricultural technicians have been visiting farmers in their villages, taking the time to understand their problems and then offering the training, tools and on-going technical assistance needed for developing improved sustainable livelihoods.
The project, which began in 5 communities surrounding the reserve, has now spread to 100 communities covering over 600km2.
Thousands of subsistence farming families have been able to sustainably improve their lives and build a better future for their children. A recent evaluation for one of our major donors showed that:
• On average households doubled their income within 3 years, enabling them to send their children to school and pay medical costs;
• Nutrition was significantly improved and hunger reduced with the average household increasing the number of crops grown from 2 to 10 and rice yields increasing by up to 6 times.
4,432 people have directly benefitted from involvement in project activities whilst 32,000 have benefitted indirectly from copying their neighbours’ new practices.
One of the secrets of the Betampona project’s success is the long term, people centred approach taken by SAF’s committed team of technicians and community workers. The dedicated staff team have established a deep respect and trust with the villagers. Their long-term commitment and support means that benefits are durable and far-reaching. Instead of cutting down new forest every year to try to meet their basic needs, forest communities invest in infrastructure such as rice fields, dams, ponds and animal pens, to get more out of their existing land. By planting productive trees farmers gain a stake in the forest and are motivated to value and protect it.
Key activities include:
Rice is the staple in Madagascar and considered by families to be the most important element of the meal. As one partner put it, ‘Rice is life!’. Traditional methods of rice cultivation produce low yields leaving families hungry for up to 7 months of the year and pushing them to clear new areas of land for rice cultivation. With help from the SAF team, farmers are able to build simple irrigation systems, using locally available materials, and learn new high yielding rice growing techniques. With yields increasing as much as 6 times, they can meet all their needs with their existing land and no longer face a long ‘lean season’.
Planting trees around their homes and on steep slopes not only provides families with a sustainable source of timber for construction and carpentry, it also prevents serious erosion and enables families to secure the land title without having to resort to the traditional, regular clearing-burning of tavy, which has always been recognized as a technique for marking territory! The Betampona team work with individuals, schools and whole communities to raise awareness of the importance of tree planting for maintaining soil and water quality, vital for people who depend directly on agriculture, and for protecting the precious primary forest. With well managed tree-planting families no longer need to encroach on the rainforest to meet their timber and firewood needs. Community level tree nurseries provide the necessary seedlings.
The jagged landscape of Betampona, once cleared of forest, is vulnerable to extreme soil erosion. Agroforestry, allows families to grow high value crops on steep degraded slopes and increases the tree cover at the same time. Planting a combination of fruit trees (breadfruit, jackfruit, lychee, soursop, citrus and papaya) with high value cash crops (vanilla, cloves, coffee, cocoa, cinnamon and pepper) enables farmers to improve family nutrition as well as earning a substantially improved income.
Growing a range of fruit and vegetables helps improve nutrition and can also provide a source of income. The Betampona team offers training and advice in organic horticulture techniques, including compost making and soil management. This has helped many families increase the diversity of their food base and maintain their soil quality.
Madagascar's fauna is endangered for many reasons. The main reason is habitat loss, but another reason is hunting for bushmeat. The project team is encouraging small scale animal husbandry to replace the need to hunt wild animals for meat.
Poultry and pigs provide families with a vital occasional source of protein. The project does not supply livestock but, where families are already keeping animals, the project team provides advice on more sustainable and profitable ways of rearing livestock, as well as providing access to veterinary support, to stop the spread of disease.
There is more to fish farming than just digging a pond and stocking it with young fish. Fortunately, the Betampona team is on hand to give training and technical advice as necessary. Sale of fish provides welcome additional income as well as an additional source of protein. Families who have developed fish farming reported increasing their fish intake from less than once a month to twice a week.
The Betampona team helps local families to understand the importance of sustainable natural resource management. Environmental education sessions, held in local schools and with farmers’ associations, focus on the importance of moving away from destructive practices, like ‘tavy,’ and raise awareness of the value of functioning ecosystems both locally, nationally and globally. Betampona primary schools have won the Provincial Environment Prize several years in a row.
The land management techniques proposed by the Betampona team are based on a sustainable land use profile from the valley bottom to the hill top, which should enable familes to produce sufficient and varied crops to meet their needs and more on their existing land without having to resort to further deforestation:
• flooded or irrigated rice fields in the valleys;
• market gardening above or in the fallow rice fields;
• habitation composed of houses, gardens and small livestock;
• fruit trees and the cash crops at mid-slope;
• reforestation at the top of the hill.
Diagram of SAF’s ideal land use profile: Since the 1990s, the activities have diversified in the study area, generating a greater use of the available land, following the ‘ideal profile’ worked out by the SAF Betampona team.
Rice is more than just a staple in Madagascar. It is the heart of the Malagasy diet. This year, Madame Alima’s family are celebrating finally being able to grow rice on land that had been unusable for the past 15 years. The team at SAF Betampona have provided them with the materials and technical support to construct a dam, which will irrigate the land for 12 families. With irrigated land and using improved cultivation techniques, learnt from the SAF team, they are able to produce enough rice to feed their family throughout the year.
Monsieur Justin works the land with his wife Sariaka . Over the years they have benefitted from the on-going technical support provided by the SAF Betampona team. M. Justin has been so impressed with the improvements in his production that he has chosen to become a ‘lead farmer’, sharing his learning with friends and neighbours. Thanks to the support of SAF, M. Justin has diversified his livelihood producing enough both to feed his family and to sell. With fish from their ponds, fruit from their trees, vegetables from their kitchen garden and rice from their paddies, they can have a balanced diet through the year without needing to encroach on the rainforest.
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