The story of Meltine Ravaonalsolo
A middle-aged farmer and mother gives a guided tour of her daily life in the tropical highlands of Madagascar – a poor and environmentally degraded region, but one not without economic potential, as an FAO TeleFood project is showing.My name is Meltine Ravaonalsolo and I live with my husband Milison and our five children in the village of Ambohijanahary in a house surrounded by rice paddy. Since I was married at 14, I already have grandchildren, although I am only 40. This is one of our rice fields. We saved for 21 years to buy land and to pay for bricks and wood to construct a house. I'm very happy we at last have our own place after living with my husband's parents all those years. I can do what I want when I want – even have a nap. I have freedom.Our problems centre around health care and education for the children. And markets for our produce, for example, our tomatoes . . .
I am second from the left. At the end is my son Jean Christian. He is suffering from malaria this week and has to go to town, about five kilometres away, for his shots. He tried the pills but they didn't do anything.My two grandsons are seated on either side of their mother, Marie Claire. She had them less than a year apart. I've forbidden my daughter from practising family planning. A friend of mine did and was sick all the time. Anyway, we need the extra hands in the fields. That's Charlotte on the right. She's 18. My husband is in town today trying to register our bulls, which could take all day.
The trouble with tomatoes
This area is perfect for tomatoes. That's the problem. Everyone grows them and we can't sell them. Sometimes after the morning market here, the farmers and stall holders dump what they haven't sold and the pile reaches your knees.
In my tomato fields I grow about 7 000 kilos a year. After carrying them five kilometres to market I can get about 50 ariary a kilo. A loaf of bread costs 200 ariary so that means I have to sell four kilos of tomatoes to pay for a loaf of bread.
Our cooperative is one of four in the area that TeleFood funded after the regional mayor asked FAO for help processing our tomato, apricot and guava harvests. We are 13 members in the group and I am in charge of materials. Here we are making tomato jam.
That's Fy in the white apron. She's our local mayor's wife. She heard about TeleFood and convinced her husband to let us use a spare room at the town hall for our jam production.
The coop pays me six times as much as the market does for my tomatoes. I sell up to 30 kilos at a time to them and hope to sell more. And we get a dividend at the end of each month.
Learning new things
I learned so much through this project, for example, how to organize a group and process the food. We still need to learn to use the pH metre to test acidity and how to market our jams. And of course we got food processing equipment.
Proud of our products
Our jams are sold at the training centre in the nearby town of Antsirabe. Up until now we can't supply the demand for the jams. At Christmas time, the centre holds a fair and the four co-ops sell everything they have left.
Here is our local shop. We can buy most things here although today I only need some salt. When one of us comes down with malaria, we know what it is and what to do. We come to this shop to buy the pills.
It is time to cook the rice for lunch. We eat that with some greens. A chimney? What's that? The smoke from our kitchen fire goes out through the windows, just like in everyone's house.Our house is made of brick that we made ourselves from local clay. Some of the wood comes from a woodlot we planted 21 years ago in anticipation of the day we would need it. You use hard wood for the doors and windows and lighter wood for the roof. We had to buy the roof tiles. It is two stories high, the downstairs for the cows and chickens and the upstairs for us.
My 12-year-old daughter goes to the Lutheran College, since we are Lutheran. She and her sister Suzelle, who is nine, used to go to public school but because of a lack of teachers they sometimes only got an hour a day of instruction.Here I have to pay 88 000 ariary (US$44) per year for both of them to attend.Marie Jeanne has delicate health. She weighed only 1.8 kilos at birth. She has seen an optician and needs glasses, which cost 65 000 ariary (US$30). It is a fortune. She would like to be a doctor to care for her family. Suzelle wants to be a teacher. I haven't had the means to pay for the educations of our other three children. The furthest they got was primary school.
The children who didn't make it
This is the family tomb, the resting place of five of our children.I had my baby on my back one day and when I fell she hit her head on a big rock. My seven-year-old ate a lot of fruit that wasn't ripe and died the same day of diarrhoea. A girl died as a baby of kwashiorkor. The fourth, a boy, was born handicapped and died at seven months. He was sick for three weeks before he died and we had to spend a lot of money on medical help. A fifth child was stillborn.Because of the deaths and because someone stole our two bulls, my husband sank into depression for a year and I had to care for him too.
An Italian charity working in this area offered to provide silkworms and train us in raising them and extracting the threads. It sounded good. I don't have time to weave the cloth but I sell the thread for 120 000 ariary (US$55) a kilo. However, there are problems in raising this variety of silkworm in this climate.
I am not making a lot of money from the jam project yet, but I bought 12 ducks and some rice seed with my profits. Now I have 40 ducks.
The ducks are for foie gras. When I get an order from the city, I will force-feed the ducks for three weeks to enlarge their livers. I buy the ducks for 7 000 ariary (US$3.20) and sell them for 12 000 ariary (US$5.50).So, very slowly things are getting better.