« We started with just 250 grams of worms, now we have 20 kilos!” she smiles. “We have had great results with our worm composting - we can only use a quarter of what we produce so we sell the rest to farmers all over Madagascar."
- Rabebinirina Minompamonjy David known to everyone as Madame Mino - holds a handful of pink, wriggling worms in the palm of her hand.
Mme Mino is just one of 18,000 Malagasy farmers - half of them women - benefitting from a new climate smart agriculture project known as Manitatra 2, funded by the EU’s flagship climate change programme GCCA+. Building on a previous pilot, the project aims to conserve soil and forests in the Middle West and Highlands of the Vakinankaratra region.
“We don’t have any cattle, so we were forced to buy huge amounts of manure in order to fertilise our fields,” explains Mme Mino. “It was really painful for us because our income barely covered what we needed to buy fertiliser. Now, with the worm compost, we only need about a tenth of what we used before. Weeding is also much easier because the organic manure was full of seeds. Our yields are much better and the crops are more resistant to disease and drought.”
- Mme Mino
Madagascar is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Ninety percent of the population work in agriculture, which contributes 26% of GDP. Mme Mino’s farm lies in Vakinankaratra, an area which has should be fertile farm land but which has suffered from the impacts of climate change such as droughts and floods. The soil has been further degraded by bush fires, deforestation and deep ploughing. But thanks to worm composting, the fields are being brought back to life.
«You need to be dedicated and know what you’re doing, but everyone can do it. You just need organic waste to feed the worms, and to make sure they have plenty of water and don’t get too hot. Most of the work consists of separating the worms from the ripe compost. We get about 600 kilos of compost each month from our worms. We sell what we don’t need - the biggest order we had was 1.5 tons, and we sell it for up to 1.000 ariary (€0.24) a kilo» says Mme Mino.
There’s much more to Manitatra 2 than worms, however. The project, delivered through GSDM, a Malagasy non-profit agricultural research and rural development organisation, has a target of planting 1.5 million trees and preventing 40,000 tons of soil erosion. Other activities include scaling up the use of bio-pesticides and improving grazing for dairy cattle by planting legumes and other types of forage crops.
« We used to rely on manure for fertiliser, but the declining number of cattle means there just isn’t enough. One solution is to plant cover crops such as legumes and to use worm compost. Worm compost is a quality organic material and you only need a tenth of the amount compared to manure.”
says Rakoto Rakotondramanana, GSDM Director
Mme Mino’s neighbour Razafindrakoto Emilson is also a big fan of worm composting.
“We built our first wormery following a farmer training session organised as part of Manitatra 2,” he says. “I'm only just starting to produce worm compost but already I’ve seen great results - my corn and rice are much better compared to what I had before. Now we have built five wormeries - we started with just 1kg of worms and today we have around 60kg. I use all of the compost myself - I find it more interesting to use worm compost than cattle manure, and I hardly use chemical fertilisers any more.”
One of the main causes of soil degradation in Vakinankaratra is the high demand for rice, the staple food.
There aren’t enough irrigated paddy fields, meaning farmers are forced to cultivate more and more land to grow rain-fed rice varieties - from 2014-2015 the land under rice cultivation increased by an alarming 30 percent. Manitatra 2 targets 17 rural communes where significant development of upland rice occurred during the last three years, with the aim of introducing climate-smart agriculture (CSA) to mitigate climate change and to improve food security..
Following his training at a farmer field school, Razafindrakoto has been quick to adopt climate-smart farming practices to regenerate the soil and reduce weed impacts.
“My harvests have doubled and my workload has reduced,” he says. “My expenses have also decreased as a result because I no longer need to hire someone to plough my fields.”