Alternative farms: An idea for sustainable growth in Madagascar?

During our whistle-stop-tour of current hot topics at the Conservation Science mid-term conference we heard Turin’s alternative solutions to tackling Madagascar’s non-sustainable farming methods.

Turin began with an account of the state of farming practice in Madagascar. Following Madagascar’s 2009 coup, rural poverty levels have risen, resulting in greater dependence on non-sustainable slash-and-burn farming methods which provide high short-term yields. To encourage farmers to consider the sustainability of their farming practices Turin proposed the introduction of alternative farming methods thought to increase farm productivity, provide extra job opportunities within the community and so help decrease poverty levels.

Poverty-stricken farmers have also been found hunting protected species such as lemurs living in the surrounding rainforest. Improving farm productivity would therefore reduce the need for extra meat from hunting, protecting species and therefore benefit to the surrounding ecosystem, which is important for the long term sustainability of the community.

Proposed alternative farming methods:

  • Aquaponics – a closed loop farming method using fish waste as a soil fertiliser – reduce the need for expensive artificial fertilisers and increase farm productivity.
  • Aigamo farming – a traditional Japanese method – is based on ecological principles and uses interactions between organisms by encouraging the introduction of ducks onto farmland. The ducks eat weeds and pests, fertilise land with droppings, and provide eggs and occasional meat for farmers. The use of the native Madagascan Pochard duck (one of the most endangered birds in the world) would rule out problems following otherwise required introduction of non-native duck species, and help save this species from extinction.

Although each method would have start-up costs, Turin argued that these were only one-off that could be easily covered by charities. Farmers would be self-sustainable and not reliant on further financial aid, making this a long-term environmentally friendly approach to improving farming methods, reducing poverty levels in rural areas and protecting a few endangered species to top it off.

By Morna Brown

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