In August this year, Howard G. Buffett went to see two food-for-assets projects in two villages along the main road between Madagascar’s capital and the east coast. This was the first visit to the island by the President of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation who is also a World Food Programme (WFP) Ambassador against Hunger.
This is a hilly area where the farmers used to practice slash-and-burn agriculture, cutting down the vegetation, then setting fire to what remained so that the ash would enrich the ground with nutrients. They used to grow beans lower down on the plains but, there, the crops were at risk from flooding. Now, they are learning to farm the hills.
The food-for-assets projects help promote new practices such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which aims to increase the yield of rice farms. SRI principles include applying a minimum quantity of water, the individual transplanting of young seedlings in a square pattern; as well as intercropping. The community learns farming on natural slopes using no-till agriculture methods and green manure.
Such techniques are not only helping increase agricultural production but are also helping to provide much-needed food for local communities.
Among the farmers Buffett met during his visit was Lolona, a mother of six who lives in Sahavalaina and makes a living by growing rice. None of her children goes to school because she cannot afford to pay the school fees. Storms often destroy her crops and when that happens, she loses her only real source of income.
“Our village has been selected for the implementation of these new techniques which will hopefully improve food availability for the next lean season starting around October,” said Lolona. “The intercropping of maize and beans works very well here. If applied by each household, such methods offer a real alternative to traditional slash-and-burn farming and help increase yields”, she added.
“I’m encouraged by what's being achieved here,” Buffett told Lolona. “As a farmer myself, I can say that hard work, together with quality seeds and good agricultural practices are the cornerstones of success and can really help improve the food security of smallholder farmers”.
After the visit, the Howard G. Foundation committed US$ 400,000 to WFP to strengthen procurement from smallholder farmer associations and to reinforce its Home Grown School Feeding Programme. WFP is committed to ensuring that 20 per cent of the food it distributes is Madagascar is sourced from the island's producers and small holder farmers.