FAO in Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles

Finding silver linings in the pandemic / Silver linings in the COVID-19 cloud

(c) FAO, 2017/ V. Raharinaivo

Innovative farmers in Madagascar have turned COVID-19 into a business opportunity

It is true to say that the COVID-19 has turned the world on its head over the past 18 months. The pandemic has thrown up particular challenges for rural forest and farm producers whose way of life has been turned upside down. But in the face of such global adversity, farmers in Madagascar have shown incredible innovation – turning this difficult situation into an opportunity and maintaining their livelihoods by learning new skills and doing things differently.

Going digital

With travel restrictions in place because of the pandemic, it has become impossible for farmers to go to market to sell their produce and, because restaurants were closed, many farmers were left with mountains of vegetables and fish with no-one to sell them to.

To overcome this problem, farmers in the central Vakinankaratra region of the island learned how to move their sales online. Farmers from four cooperatives took part: Miaramandroso, Fiombonantsoa I and II, and Avotra Soa Miaradia. With the launch of the online sales system, they have been able to continue to sell their products, selling around 150kg of vegetables a week (including potatoes, tomatoes, onions, carrots, cucumbers and peppers) as well as 20kg of fish. By going digital, they have been able to maintain their livelihoods. And because there is no middleman, farmers have been able to increase their profits online too.

Making organic fertilizer

Because of the pandemic, farmers have been unable to go to the city to buy fertilizer and pesticides. To address this, farmers have been learning how to make compost and organic pesticide from the resources they have at home. By supporting them to learn new practices, farmers have been able to continue producing vegetables and cereals in spite of the COVID-19 restrictions, and reduced their spend on fertilizers and pesticides by 50%.

Growing medicinal plants

Farmers in the Analamanga region of Madagascar, who are part of the National Women’s Platform for Sustainable Development and Food Security (PNFDDSA) producers’ group, have been growing a plant called artemisia which has medicinal properties. It is being used by the IMRA research institute in Madagascar to produce an organic anti-COVID-19 drug. Farmers in this region are also growing a plant called ravintsara, native to Madagascar, which is used in the production of an essential oil known for its air purification properties. This is especially important as COVID-19 is an airborne, respiratory disease.

By choosing to diversify their crop by growing and selling these two important plants which are particularly relevant to COVID-19, farmers have been able to improve their income during the pandemic.

All three of these examples of grassroots organizations supported by the FAO-hosted Forest and Farm Facility partnership show how adversity can lead to opportunity. By taking a different approach, Malagasy farmers have still been able to provide for their families. Despite all the difficulties caused by the pandemic, this has led to new, unexpected ways of working which will serve them well in the future.