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MadagascarAgroforestry Livelihoods Project

Project purpose: to develop locally adapted and low-input agroforestry models, emphasising sustainable soil management and native species, that offer communities viable alternatives to slash and burn agriculture, help to sequester carbon and restore productivity, forest cover and biodiversity on deforested land.


HŽlne Ralimanana (KMCC)
Cultivation of the yam Dioscorea alata has proved extremely popular in the COFAV area.

Madagascar is a globally important biodiversity hotspot in economic crisis (UNEP GDP per capita ranking: 147th out of 152), with an 80% rural population dependant upon subsistence farming. It has lost >33% of its humid forests since the 1970s and has attained the highest soil erosion rates in the world of 20,000-40,000 tonnes/km2/year. In 2003, former president Marc Ravalomanana implemented the Durban Vision, a process aiming to triple protected areas to cover 10% of the land surface. The delimitation of the Système d'Aires Protégées de Madagascar is nearly complete and covers 57,000 km2. Management of the new protected areas will involve a multitude of collaborations between local communities and conservation and development agencies. Developing sustainable livelihoods is one of the main challenges.

In humid forest regions, shifting cultivation is the predominant livelihood. Upland rice is the favoured crop and comprises 50% of diets. It is only possible to grow one successful rice crop after slash and burn, followed by cassava in the second or third year before the plot is left to fallow. With relentless forest loss and the growing population, fallow periods between slash and burn have been reduced to 3-5 years in many areas. After 2-3 cycles the soil is exhausted and grasses dominate. Communities are seeking to adopt innovative agricultural practices which overcome decreasing availability of fertile land, soil erosion, diminishing soil fertility, excessive distances between homes and crops, environmental instability and poverty.

This project seeks to build on local knowledge and priorities, integrating agroforestry systems, such as alley-cropping, fruit orchards and forest gardens, with species that are indigenous, culturally important or economically valuable. The agricultural focus will be on upland rice and nutritious staples such as beans and yams, cash-crops such as vanilla and essential oils and low maintenance fruit trees. There have been limited studies of useful plants in humid forest areas, but work in Ranomafana National Park found that local communities gather fruit from 73 species of tree (25% remained unidentified). Our work on yams suggests that domestication and sustainable utilisation of wild species will be important for increasing food security through the ‘hungry months’.

This project will focus on identifying suitable native nitrogen-fixing Leguminosae tree species for agroforestry and reforestation, which have similar properties to the Inga species used successfully in Peru and Honduras by the Inga Foundation, Cambridge University and Kew. A number of studies have suggested that the loss of phosphorus from the ecosystem is the driving force behind shifting agriculture. The tough mulch from Inga prunings is thought to be particularly beneficial for maintaining levels of phosphorus and reducing the need for artificial fertilizers, but the mechanisms are poorly understood. We will work with communities to test local analogues of Inga under a range of management regimes.

The Ambositra-Vondrozo Corridor (COFAV) is a flagship protected area being established by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Conservation International to conserve 2,800 km2 of eastern humid forests. Feedback Madagascar and its partner NGO, Ny Tanintsika (FBM/NT), have been working with communities in the COFAV area for 17 years, to promote integrated development and conservation. They have established numerous community associations and entrepreneurial mini-projects, such as cultivation of beans and Cinnamomum camphora for essential oil. Kew and FBM/NT are working together promoting cultivation and sustainable utilisation of yams in 12 communities. This project is an extension of that collaboration, and working with the Inga Foundation, we aim to develop successful agroforestry models that can be scaled-up and applied throughout the humid forest regions of Madagascar.

Project partners and collaborators


Feedback Madagascar and partner NGO Ny Tanintsika


Inga Foundation