Trekking far into isolated parts of Madagascar’s Natural Resource Reserve (COFAV), a protected area around the Ambositra-Vondrozo Forest Corridor with no roads and limited modern facilities, NRI’s Professor Ben Bennett and Dr Debbie Rees crossed rivers, travelled through forest and over rice paddies to meet local farmers living in and near the forest who rely on harvesting yam for their livelihood.
‘Sustainable yam markets for conservation and food security in Madagascar’ is a two-year project led by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, and funded by the UK’s Darwin Initiative. The Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich joined the collaboration, bringing their post-harvest expertise to support the survival of rare and endangered yams in Madagascar through commercialisation and encouraging storage of yams during the lean season – when farmers and their families struggle to survive.
Ben Bennett, Professor of Marketing Economics and International Trade and a specialist in developing markets for wild harvested products and Debbie Rees, Reader in Plant Physiology and an expert on the storage of roots and tubers, spent a week with a team of Madagascan agriculturalists. They lived with indigenous farmers in their homes, in order to start yam storage trials and conduct qualitative research interviews to help gain an in-depth understanding of challenges at the local level.
“People living in and near the forest are very poor. They have been harvesting wild yams for food which is threatening the survival of many yam varieties unique to Madagascar. It’s important for us to help them learn how to cultivate and store yams, to have a more secure food supply and take the pressure off the endemic species growing in the wild,” explains Debbie Rees.
The team held a workshop on 11th September after their first field visit. “We have formed a plan which will see the development of yam production in Southern Madagascar,” says Ben Bennett, “and I will be returning to Madagascar next year to provide support to the teams work on managing the endemic yam species through commercialisation”.
Kew have been working with local people in the highly endangered forest of Madagascar for nearly a decade and have identified a number of new yam species. The Kew–NRI collaboration is partnered with local NGO, Feedback Madagascar (FBM) who are working in areas near the forests in Southern Madagascar to help farmers cultivate yams for food and sale to eliminate the need to harvest yams from the forest.