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Tech Savvy, Not Tavy

April 15, 2013

First, Definitions:

Tavy- slash and burn agriculture (it is illegal here, but like all illegal things that does not stop everyone from doing it)

Tech Savvy or Mahay – being good at agricultural techniques that don’t deplete the soil and protect forests (and therefore lemurs, frogs, and other creatures) against slash and burn

Now some background for this post to make sense. After leaving our home stay families, the agricultural in our stage got to go on a Tech Trip led by our fearless programming and training staff, Hoby and Stan. Our goal in training is to be Tech Savvy so that we can help our strategically placed communities NOT destroy their precious forest land. Though Tavy is already illegal in Madagascar, enforcing this law in the midst of an on-going political crisis is a much different matter. As the first Agricultural Stage of Peace Corps Volunteers in Madagascar we are tasked with focusing on agricultural techniques that will discourage our community members and others to not use tavy. Sounds simple, but like everything in life, it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Our Tech Trip lasted for five days. We visited other current volunteers (who work with Environment and Community Economic Development projects) to learn techniques in agricultural as well as working with rural communities here in Madagascar.

Overall an awesome week! First, it was great to see a little bit more of the highland area that we are living in right now. Second, it was pretty inspiring/ relieving/ informative to visit volunteers who have been here, done this. Third, it was freaking awesome to get to do work and get really hands on. We did so much in 5 short days, it’s probably most efficient (and impressive) to list all the things we learned about:

Technical Skills Covered in Tech Trip 2013:

  • Taught school gardening classes
  • Toured Dior’s community garden, which helps to pay the local teacher’s salaries
  • Led cooking classes for a women’s farming group
  • Visited a brand-new ginger co-op started by a volunteer ending his second year
  • Learned how a Centre Service Agricole can be used as a resource for volunteers, and how volunteers can be a resource for them
  • Visited a foie gras and chicken farmer
  • Visited a chalk making farmer- other on-farm source of income
  • Drove from Moramanga to Andasibe (where there are private and national parks)
  • Helped harvest rice/ learned how to
  • Viewed SRI plots and observed strengths/ weaknesses to how the farmer applied the techniques
  • Visited a farmer field school for hillside farming techniques run by a CSA agent
  • Prepared a field for SRI transplanting
  • Gave chickens vaccines (I did not- since I’ve done sheep before thought I’d give others a chance to get hands on with Sub-cutaneous vaccines)
  • Toured a paradise on earth permaculture farm run by two extension agents (or the equivalent of them- there are technically no extension agents in Madagascar since the government is too cash strapped to pay them)
  •  Learned how to make contour lines to reduce erosion/ control water in hillside farming
  • Saw solid ground cover/ green mulch in action as well as intercropping with perennial crops (trees, pineapples, etc)

Fourth- we were able to go on a night hike and a morning hike and see lemurs! It was about as cool as it sounds, and as a “first” was really incredible. Looking forward to seeing more of these little guys at my site in the north. Fun fact- it is fady or taboo- to kill lemurs, chameleons, and crocodiles in my region. Horray for local solutions to preserving biodiversity!!

Our trip went something like this: Monday we leave the training center in the morning and stop in a large city called Moramanga on our way to visit our first volunteer (and coincidentally our trainer for the week) Kara. While at her site outside of Moramanga we taught school gardening, a women’s group cooking class, and visited Dior’s funded garden that helps the community pay their school teachers.

Tuesday we got another early start- visited Cliff in Anjiro to learn about his activities starting up a ginger farmer’s co-operative. It’s surprisingly a lot of work here, requiring Ministry of Agriculture training and approval as well as the difficult task of rounding up interested farmers. That afternoon we visited with the local Centre Service Agricole (CSA) in Moramanga to learn about how they help to connect famers with resources like trainers, inputs, and markets. 2 visits to farms with farmers who worked with the CSA on different projects, and we finished our day. Big news from staying in Moramanga was access to ice cream! It’s the little things!

Wednesday we made our way to Andasibe to visit our incredibly well-versed Elsie Black to see her in action and learn more about SRI, an intensive rice cultivation system we are being asked to have in our arsenal of projects. That morning we harvested rice with Malagasy farmers, helped them thrash it with sticks, and then took a tour of rice fields that had been planted using the SRI technique to learn more about its application by farmers and the potential hurdles we might have to overcome when working on SRI projects. Then in the afternoon we took a tour of a farmer field school that was coordinated by a trainer who works for the CSA in Moramanga.

Thursday was hands down all of our favorite day. We kicked it off by building a rayonnier (spelling?) to draw a grid into the muddy rice field of farmers who we were going to help teach SRI to. Unfortunately, the field was too muddy to transplant in that day, but we got to help weed the field and learned a valuable lesson about working with farmers- be patient and always have plans A, B, C, and even better D- when things don’t go according to plan. We then hiked out to a veritable paradise where 2 agricultural technicians let us romp around their farm as they taught us how to vaccinate chickens, and all about their incredibly successful hillside farming techniques. Our hard work was rewarded with a night hike through Matsinjo’s private forest reserve as well as a sumptuous dinner prepared by our much-too-hospitable hosts.

Friday morning we woke well rested and took a morning hike through the national forest where we got to see a family of common brown lemurs up close and personal as well as the elusive Indri lemur, whose calls through the morning mist were eerie, beautiful, and sounded strangely like whale calls to my ears! We said goodbye to Andasibe as we threaded our way back through the highlands to our training center in Mantasoa. We stopped along the way to visit a beekeeper- who we are visiting again to learn about harvesting honey from him and our fabulous trainer this week, Sam! I foresee much honey in my future as a fellow trainee, Michael, will be at a site less than 5k away from me, and has lots of beekeeping experience in Utah.

That wraps up our itinerary in a nutshell- what a whirlwind week that was- well prepared and well executed! Thanks to our hosts, volunteer trainers, and the staff who accompanied us for making it a memorable and useful tech trip 2013!


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Rogue permalink
    April 15, 2013 21:09

    More Pictures!!!!! Glad your having fun Kim! Thanks for keeping us updated!


  2. Robin permalink
    April 19, 2013 19:49

    Hey there busy woman – sounds like you are super stimulated mentally … But the real question is how’s the back ? 🙂 very interesting writings and doings! Sound like you will be bursting with how to and hands on knowledge soon if not already. I can see another one of your many talents – technical writing nice coverage of what you are actually doing. Thank you for that. Think about you and hope all is well – sounds like that is a check. In Hopkins MN we are shoveling out from about a foot of SNOW and if that’s the only thing we have to worry about then we are blessed – lots of sadness/drama going on back here! Love to you take care and keep on keeping us posted. Xoxo R~


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