In Madagascar, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is training people to grow successful vegetable gardens, raise poultry, and make handcrafts to supplement lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ADRA’s COVID-19 Sustainable Livelihoods Recovery Project will assist 2,000 families in and around Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, that have experienced significant disruption of their livelihoods due to the COVID-19 health crisis and lockdown measures. The pandemic has pushed 1.38 million people into extreme poverty in Madagascar, according to the World Bank. In a country where three out of four people survive on less than US$2 per day, nearly two-thirds of households reported a decline in income since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Many households have lost their livelihoods because of the COVID-19 pandemic and are partially unable to meet their food and nutritional needs,” Luis Acevedo, country director for ADRA in Madagascar, said. “During ADRA’s rapid needs assessment conducted in May, we found that the most frequent strategy people are using to cope with their loss of income is simply to eat less. ADRA is stepping in to help vulnerable individuals grow nutritious food to feed their families.”
Over the coming year, ADRA will help 1,900 households establish climate-smart home gardens where they can grow sweet potatoes, legumes, and vegetables to eat or sell. The families will receive seeds and essential agricultural tools and will be trained in successful growing methods, as well as ways to market their produce and turn it into higher-value products.
In addition, 100 female-headed households will learn how to supplement their income by raising chickens or making handcrafts for sale. Each poultry-raising family will receive one rooster and four hens to begin their flock, while the other families will receive raw materials and tools needed for handcrafting. All of the participants will be educated on how to make these activities economically viable.
To ensure the sustainability of project activities, ADRA in Madagascar uses a Training of Trainers approach, empowering participants to pass on their knowledge. A group of 10 initial volunteers (Level 1 Trainers) will receive four days of intensive training provided by staff from ADRA in Madagascar and volunteers from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Each of the Level 1 Trainers will train 10 additional volunteers (Level 2 Trainers) and support them as they establish their gardens. The Level 2 trainers will, in turn, use their gardens as demonstration plots to conduct hands-on training sessions for 19 additional farmers from their community.
Feeding Families with Tasty Homegrown Produce
The yearlong sustainable livelihoods project is an expansion of a smaller emergency response conducted by ADRA in Madagascar. The COVID-19 food security project, funded by ADRA International and implemented by ADRA in Madagascar with the partnership of Adventist Women’s Ministries. The initiative aims to reinforce food security and immunity against the coronavirus among 900 households from urban and peri-urban areas of Antananarivo, where high infection rates by the virus were reported in 2020.
Eliane Rasoarimanana was one of the most active participants in the project. At age 47, she lives in Ampasika, a village about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the capital city of Antananarivo. There she grows many vegetables and tuber crops in a garden for her family, including her two children.
Rasoarimanana has been a farmer for years, but the yield from her crops has always been poor. When ADRA implemented the COVID-19 food security project in her area, her situation changed.
“I acquired a lot of new skills and experience from the trainings from ADRA,” Rasoarimanana said. “First, we received training in agriculture. I learned a lot of new techniques, such as how to do composting, how to use earthworm compost, how to prepare the soil.”
“We were also trained in culinary arts. We learned that after a good harvest, it is important to know how to cook the food and preserve it. Today, we can prepare excellent and healthy dishes even with very simple recipes,” she added.
Rasoarimanana is grateful for the changes that the project brought to her family, especially for the success of her garden.
“Before, when I planted cassava, I could only get a few small cassava roots. Today, with the right techniques, one root alone is enough to feed the family. I could cook one root in three meals, and I even gave some to my mother,” she said.
Shev has also become an appreciated chef in the family, especially for her delicious vegetable recipes.
“Before, I cooked pumpkin in a very simple way, and my children didn’t like it at all. In the trainings, I learned new recipes and put them into practice. Today, my family is surprised by the taste of the dishes I prepare with simple ingredients such as pumpkin, chayote, and leafy greens,” Rasoarimanana said.
Her success also impacts her neighbors. Like the other women participants, called Trainers of Trainers, Rasoarimanana had to train 10 other women. “Once they saw my harvest, they straight away decided to learn as well. They wanted to know, for example, how to grow nice lettuce like mine,” she said.
She has planted many varieties of vegetables, including zucchini, tomatoes, leeks, and pumpkins. She can also sell part of her harvest for the benefit of her family.
“The harvest is good. We have a surplus crop that I can sell in the municipality marketplace. It is a real advantage for the family. Some of the neighbors even come to my garden to buy vegetables,” Rasoarimanana said.
For the future, she wants to expand her vegetable garden and thrive in this endeavor.
“I thank ADRA for these valuable trainings. I also thank the church for its support. I wish to get more seeds to increase my production,” she said.
ADRA’s COVID-19 food security project will continue to bear fruit because many participants will serve as volunteers in the new project to train others.
Preventing COVID-19 through Education and Information
In addition to helping people overcome the economic hardships of the pandemic, ADRA in Madagascar is educating the public on COVID-19 prevention and vaccination.
“Because of delays in the vaccine rollout in Madagascar, COVID-19 vaccines will not be available to the general public for several months,” Acevedo said. “That means we must continue to stress the importance of protective hygienic behaviors such as handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing.”
The challenge is heightened for those in poverty, many of whom work as street vendors or in other informal businesses, and risk exposing themselves to COVID-19 while searching for economic opportunities. If they do become ill, they cannot afford health care or medication.
“Handwashing with water and soap, one of the main practices proven to protect against the spread of the virus, is unfortunately not common in most areas of Madagascar,” Mireille Ravoninjatovo, the communication director for ADRA in Madagascar, said. “In fact, many families are so poor they cannot even afford soap.”
To address these problems, ADRA will use trained volunteers, mass media, and Adventist Church communication channels to educate the project beneficiaries and the general public about hygiene practices to prevent COVID-19. ADRA will also share information about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines and how to receive them. This information campaign will focus on the Antananarivo region.
“As the negative repercussions of COVID-19 continue to affect Madagascar, ADRA is expanding its activities to help families not only survive but thrive during these difficult times,” Acevedo said.
ADRA, the global humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the world and has assisted millions of families during the pandemic. ADRA’s emergency relief activities include distributing food and other essentials to people in need, providing personal protective equipment and medical supplies to hospitals serving vulnerable communities, and educating the public on combating the virus.