FAO in China

Chinese experts hold fast to their position in Madagascar for two Spring Festivals to help locals in urgent need



The Chinese Lunar New Year is approaching, and this is also the time for Chinese families to reunite. However, the experts dispatched by the FAO-China South-South Cooperation (SSC) Programme Madagascar Project are still holding fast to their position in a foreign country.  Today, let us have a look at their stories.

FAO-China South-South SSC Programme Madagascar Project

Madagascar, an island country in the southwest of the Indian Ocean, faces the coast of the African continent across the Mozambique Channel. It is a country listed as one of the least developed countries in the world, with its food security situation being particularly worrisome lately after experiencing drought and poor harvests in some of its regions in recent years.

In order to help local farmers and improve agricultural development in local communities, in 2019, the FAO-China SSC Programme initiated the Madagascar project and dispatched Chinese experts to Madagascar. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and supply shortages, the experts have been holding fast to their position and trying their utmost to contribute to local communities by providing training and aid since September of 2019.

Provide training on artificial planting of forage grass

One of the project sites is located in Diego Suarez in northern Madagascar. The most outstanding issue confronting local communities is a shortage of forage grass for grazing livestock, because the grass would wither in dry seasons due to very little precipitation. Compounding to this problem still, is the fact that local livestock are usually grazed in the wild and rarely have local people had the experience of planting artificial forage grass. As a result, their heavy reliance on nature has made local livestock husbandry particularly susceptible to climate change, with the recent years of drought having led to the deaths of scores of livestock.

In January 2021, Chinese experts provided training on artificial planting of forage grass for farmers in Diego in response to their forage grass crisis. Along with their partners, the Chinese experts visited 108 households throughout the nine towns in Diego and donated 20,000 pieces of Juncao and 25 packs of high-yielding hybrid maize seeds to them.

When the experts visited Andranovondronina in northern Diego, local people said that they had lost over 800 head of cattle since October 2020, a loss much worse than previous years, following a severe shortage of forage grass due to extended drought arising from this year’s abnormal climate and postponed wet season.

What astonished the experts in their visits was that not only was there no artificial forage grass reserve in warehouses, but also natural grass growing in the wild had also been eaten up. In response to this problem, in every town they visited, the experts actively promoted the solution of artificial planting and stocking of forage grass to local farmers. They also donated artificial Juncao (菌草) and provided plant training to them.

In January, 2021, the experts visited almost all the towns in Diego to promote artificial planting of forage grass. By organizing 9 training workshops for over a hundred local farmers, they have significantly enhanced local awareness of artificial planting and stocking of forage grass.

Promote dryland farming

Normally, the wet season in Madagascar begins in November each year, a time for sowing seeds. In November 2020, however, Madagascar was still gripped by a scorching sun. By mid-December, the long-awaited wet season still had not arrived, leading to drying river channels. Despite several attempts that had been made in artificial rainfall, the effect was barely satisfactory. It distressed the farmers enormously to miss the best timing for sowing rice seeds, as otherwise they would have poor harvests should the rice experience low temperature during heading periods.

The SSC project site in Mahitsy also faced the same problem where a severe drought had disrupted seeding of rice on time. Whether the seeds could be sown on time mattered much to the success of the project, so the Chinese experts on rice production called for emergency meetings with their partners to discuss solutions.

After a careful review into local climate and equipment, the experts decided to try innovative dryland farming. By formulating an integrated strategy that includes loosening the soil, applying fertilizer and irrigating the land with well water, they successfully managed to sow the seeds on time with a survival rate of above 90% and did not miss the wet season.

The success of the innovative dryland farming brought hope to not only project participants but also nearby farmers. As many as nearly a thousand households soon adopted dryland farming under the technical guidance of Chinese experts and have now accomplished transplantation of all their rice seedlings.

Local farmers told the Chinese experts that such a dryland farming technique is quite suited to Madagascar and is worth being promoted throughout the island.

The promotion of dryland farming and transplantation have ensured sufficient supply of rice seedlings for the project participants and nearby farmers. It also facilitated steady progress of the hybrid rice pilot program and helped local farmers avoid suffering losses.

The upcoming Spring Festival will be the second that these Chinese experts spend in Madagascar since the project was launched in late 2019. Despite being unable to reunite with their families, the experts are greatly delighted to see their seedlings thriving in a foreign land.

These Chinese experts in Madagascar are just part of hundreds that have been dispatched to over 10 developing countries over the past ten years since the FAO-China SSC Programme was established. It is thanks to their endeavour that as many as over 70,000 people from across these countries have so far benefited a great deal.