The Homaray Project, Madagascar
The island of Madagascar is hugely rich in biodiversity with over 80% of its species found nowhere else on Earth. Yet much of this biodiversity is now endangered by deforestation, with over 90% of the country’s rainforest already destroyed. Like much of the rest of Madagascar, Ifarantsa District in the South East of the country used to be forested but now, due to the impact of slash and burn agriculture, the nearest remaining rainforest is over 2 hours walk away. The loss of the forest has exposed the fragile soil, with the result that over the last 20 years growing enough food to keep their families fed has become more and more of a challenge for the local farmers of Ifarantsa. These farmers know that to continue to raise a harvest and put food on the table in the future, they must switch to new sustainable farming techniques, but they do not have the resources or knowledge to do so.
This is where the Homaray Project comes in. This Project grew out of the vision of two local Malagasy men, Davis Randriamampionona and Rubin Ravelonandrasana, and their desire to turn around the declining fortunes of their fellow farmers by helping develop the new sustainable farming techniques they so urgently need. We are now working with Davis and Rubin to introduce the Inga Foundation’s sustainable agriculture method, alley cropping, to Ifarantsa in order to provide food security for the local families and halt the destruction of the rainforest.
We urgently need funding to carry the project forward and allow Davis and Rubin to realise their vision of enpowering the local farmers and protecting the forest in their home region of Ifarantsa.
The Crucial First Step
Since the Inga tree is not native to the area, our first task is to identify an appropriate native tree species that can be used for alley cropping in Madagascar, as the Inga tree is used in Central America. Once a suitable species has been found, the Homaray Project’s main focus will be introducing the farmers of Ifarantsa to alley cropping, thereby allowing them to achieve food security at the same time as reducing the devastating deforestation caused by the current subsistence farming practices.
Our Director Mike Hands has pooled his knowledge with that of experts from Kew Gardens and Madagascar’s Ministry of Forestry to compile a list of possible candidate species for alley cropping in Ifarantsa. Alley cropping trials for 3 of these candidate species were started on the project’s 3.5 hectares of land in September 2011, and the young trees are now already over 6ft tall. Davis will be expanding the trail plots to include as many of the other candidate species as possible in September 2012.
Aims for the Future
- Firstly, we need to set up a tree nursery in order to supply the seedlings farmers will need to make the switch to from slash and burn to alley cropping.
- Secondly, we want to tackle the other causes of deforestation, as well as slash and burn. The most significant of these other causes is charcoal making, as the only way for subsistence families in the area to earn any money is to cut down trees from what remains of the forest to make charcoal that is then sold to the towns and cities. The firewood the families themselves cook on also comes from the forest, as do house building materials, which include palm fronds from Madagascar’s endemic Traveller’s Palm. We therefore want to set up a sustainable communal forest to meet the demands for charcoal, firewood and house building materials and stop families having to resort to destroying what remains of the rainforest to obtain these items.
- And, finally, we wish to begin to reforest areas of Ifarantsa using leguminous and native trees, in order to help the local biodiversity to recover.