In Madagascar schools are teaching students to teach their parents

 

MAdagascar

 

A field in the central highland region of Madagascar is hardly a conventional classroom, but the students working up to their knees in rice plants are learning valuable lessons about sustainable agriculture – lessons they will pass on to local farmers. As an old Malagasy proverb says, ‘education is the most beautiful heritage.’

Around 2 000 students from 12 Collège d'Enseignement Général (CEG) schools in Vakinankaratra province have benefited from a new climate-smart agriculture project known as Manitatra 2, funded by the European Union’s flagship climate change programme GCCA+. ‘We introduced agro-ecology into the school programme to give children experience of sustainable farming from an early age,’ says Rivosoa Vero Dina Ramanankihantana, a teacher at the CEG in the remote community of Ambohimandroso.

More than 3.5 million hectares of forest has been destroyed by slash-and-burn farming in the past two decades, while heavy rain causes soil erosion and flash flooding. Highland farmers traditionally grow irrigated rice, but suitable land is scarce and the rice paddies handed down between generations are becoming increasingly inadequate. Rain-fed rice varieties, which can grow on the steep hillsides, could be one solution.

MAdagascar

 

Head teacher Franc Coeur Sousoukou hopes that new farming methods pioneered by the students – including the use of natural mulch made from maize or beans – will lead to a dramatic increase in rice yields. ‘We covered the first plot in mucuna beans and estimate we could get around 5.5 tonnes per hectare – that’s a significant increase.’

Half an hour’s drive away in Antsoatany, teacher Harson Andrianiaina teaches conservation agriculture theory and practice to 5th-grade students. ‘After visiting our test plots, the farmers have been convinced,’ says Harson. ‘Some of them have already replanted their fields and sown mucuna seeds. One of them who lives only a few hundred metres from the school has sown mucuna on half a hectare of land.’

Local farmer Lalaina Eric Arthur Vonjisoa says he has learned a lot from the experimental plots planted by school students. ‘Even if it is uncultivated land, as soon as rain-fed rice has been planted and fertilised by mucuna, the harvest has been impressive. Passers-by who have seen the rain-fed rice notice that the yield is better compared to irrigated rice fields nearby.’

RakoRakotondramanana says one of the main benefits of the schools programme is that students are more open to new ways of farming. ‘They are really enthusiastic. They discover that what they are learning is different to the way their parents work. That means they can influence their parents. For the most part, these students are the sons of peasants, and there is a good chance that most of them will go on to become farmers after their studies, so they need to know about preventing soil degradation.’