Food Aid and Madagascar

Dear Friend,

According to the World Bank, 70 percent of the world's poor people live in rural areas, and most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Many of these families consume much of what they grow.

Catholic Relief Services is attempting to increase household incomes for these rural farmers and bolster food security through agro-enterprise. I just returned from Africa, where I saw how this approach has transformed the lives of farm families in Madagascar.

I met with farmers from a village called Ampamelomana, where CRS has implemented Mihary Maharitra, a marketing project that is supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This initiative aims to build the capacity of farmers' associations to identify markets and grow produce, such as beans, that are in high demand. Thus, they are able to increase their incomes through the sale of their agricultural products.

With great pride, the members of the local farmers' association showed us a 9-mile-long canal they had constructed to irrigate their fields. The members had collectively designed and built the project, with the technical assistance of Caritas and CRS. The increased irrigation capabilities will enable them to increase the size of their plot from 494 acres to 1236 acres – a necessary expansion, as they recently identified and negotiated a market contract to produce barley.

Mihary Maharitra, which is Malagasy for “sustainable marketing,” also focuses on linking farmers with local government agricultural extension services and other business development services that will help farmers increase the quality and quantity of their production and better access markets. Finally, the project makes microfinance loans available to farmers so that they can avail themselves of these business development services and increase their capital assets. As many poor farmers are often denied credit because they lack collateral, the project has established a fund that serves as a guarantee for loan repayment.

Mihary Maharitra dovetails with a larger food security framework devised by CRS Madagascar, called FELANA (Food Security for Enhanced Livelihood through Agriculture and Nutritional Activities), which is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The idea is that to truly improve the lives of the people we serve, we won't be successful if we address one sector, like agriculture, in isolation.

So, along with improving agricultural productivity and increasing family incomes, we are focusing on areas like disaster mitigation, prevention and preparedness. This is vital in a country like Madagascar, which is frequently struck by natural disasters, including cyclones and floods.

Improving nutrition and health is also key. Through training and awareness-raising efforts, CRS and our partners are promoting activities like childhood vaccination, exclusive breastfeeding for children up to 6 months of age, and techniques for preventing and treating diarrhea. We are also promoting sanitation measures, including building central points where people can access clean water for drinking, cooking and hand washing, and constructing latrines.

With support from an innovative learning alliance with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), CRS is implementing similar agro-enterprise projects in many other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Through these efforts, we are seeing gratifying results, as families begin to build the resources that will help them live better lives.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett

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