Energy Distribution in Madagascar
Groupe Filatex is an energy company in Madagascar that has the goals of renewal, energy distribution and modernization through infrastructure development. The company works in the real estate, duty-free zone, energy and service sectors. Through its innovative projects, Groupe Filatex promotes job creation as Madagascar’s largest employer. It also promotes sustainable growth not only in Madagascar but also across the African continent. The company’s work has made Madagascar Africa’s leading economy in renewable energy.

Projects to Aid Energy Distribution in Madagascar

Approximately 15% of the population has access to electricity with a country-wide generation capacity of 500 megawatts. The company is working to build solar power plants that will provide electricity to four cities with a combined capacity of 50 megawatts. It installed plants in Antsiranana, Mahajanga, Toamasina and Toliara. Groupe Filatex collaborated with DERA Energy, a Canadian power producer focused in Africa and Canadian Solar Inc. to supply the plants.

Along with power producer company Akuo, Groupe Filatex has also announced the first installation of Akuo’s Solar GEM mobile and portable solar units in Tulear. This project falls under the two companies’ collaborative initiative called Enelec. By 2022, expectations have determined that Enelec will have completed projects that would provide an additional 170 megawatts in Madagascar and 110 megawatts in Africa and Europe.

Expanding Energy Distribution Across Africa

Groupe Filatex announced multiple projects that will expand its services to other African countries including Côte D’Ivoire, Guinea and Ghana. The organization planned most projects before COVID-19. This means the projects are still in the works without too many obstacles that may have manifested with the pandemic. The main factor that would delay the projects is the travel restrictions for pandemic precautions. Plans for energy distribution in Guinea and Ghana are currently experiencing delay, although the Guinea project should still start in September 2021.

However, the project in Côte D’Ivoire should begin as soon as May 2021. Groupe Filatex’s project will recompense some of the 8% increase in domestic electricity demand as 1.8 million Ivorian households are without power. Contributing to the national plan to install 424 megawatts of solar power by 2030, Groupe Filatex will provide 66 megawatts of solar power in Côte D’Ivoire.

Other Social Development Initiatives

In addition to its main focus on energy distribution, Groupe Filatex is also a dedicated advocate for social development. The company shows its commitment to better the quality of living in Madagascar by supporting three developmental areas: childhood education, social community and the environment.

  • Childhood Education: Groupe Filatex promotes access to education by working with Malagasy schools to improve educational resources and tools. The company offers assistance in upgrading equipment and training in the classroom to modernize the learning environment. Over 1,300 children currently have enrollment in a renovated school. By providing the necessary support, Groupe Filatex’s efforts help cultivate professional development among young Malagasy.
  • Social Community: The company has started projects for essential living conditions. The projects create and renovate roads, install lighting and bus shelters, facilitate sanitation systems and increase access to drinking water. Groupe Filatex successfully carries out these initiatives with the help of private and public partnerships.
  • Environment: Groupe Filatex has shown commitment to preserving Madagascar’s unique flora and fauna. As described by the company as “natural wealth,” the protection of Madagascar’s ecological heritage makes the company’s development checklist. So far, the company has reported the preservation of 9,895 square meters of green landscape.

Although Madagascar has had limited access to energy in the past, Group Filatex’s efforts to provide the country with renewable energy are proving successful. Moreover, it is having an effect on the country’s communities even beyond improving energy distribution in Madagascar. In fact, it is helping increase children’s access to education and aiding in the building of infrastructure.

Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr

Smartphones in Madagascar
Madagascar is one of the world’s fifth-largest islands located off the east coast of Africa. Its population consists of more than 22 million people. Many of these people live in rural, impoverished areas. Additionally, many families cannot afford basic needs such as food, shelter or transportation. However, some people have found a way to find work through telecommunication. Here are some examples of how smartphones in Madagascar are bridging the wealth gap.

Madagascar’s Economy

Cell phones are efficient, fast and reliable in times of crisis. Currently, 96% of Americans own a cell phone. Now, villages in Madagascar are benefitting from telephone access as well. Since 2008, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has been doing business with Zain, a telecommunications company. IFC and Zain launched Village Phone, a campaign that helps bring change to local communities. This campaign creates jobs and promotes entrepreneurship by allowing small companies to sell mobile air time. Moreover, it helps people gain experience in areas like finance, information technology and business.

This knowledge is crucial to sustaining Madagascar’s economic future. The nation’s economy is largely based on agriculture, fishing and tourism. The economy now provides around 74% of the GDP, with 26.2% coming from the agriculture sector alone. The influx of technology will help strengthen Madagascar’s employment by enabling residents to improve in their respective fields.

Literacy Rate

Smartphones in Madagascar are also improving the literacy rate. In 2005, Madagascar’s literacy rate was at 58.4%. Meanwhile, in 2018, it climbed to 74.8%, an immense growth that rarely occurs in reality.

The relationship between growing literacy rates and texting is strong. Texting is a process that involves typing out letters, numbers and composing sentences. Thus, texting helps children gain more exposure to the written word. Greater exposure to the written word has a link to better reading skills.

Improved Education

Smartphones in Madagascar are accelerating the rate at which people receive information. Furthermore, smartphones help promote and improve access to education. Children who learn to read at an early age often become more capable of understanding syntax, grammar and literature. However, COVID-19 has caused many setbacks for students. Many schools closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. A young mother expressed concern by saying, “It does not make me happy that my children are no longer going to school. Years don’t wait for them. They have already lost a lot.”

Thankfully, alternative options for learning are now available. Radio, television and smartphones are the main pipelines that support distance learning. Most recently, CISCO, a telephone company, and the Ministry of National Education and Technical and Vocational Education (MENETP) have launched a support platform to help with limited internet access to ensure learning continues.

Smartphones in Madagascar have proven to be especially useful for informing people of the COVID-19 infection rate and teaching children to wash their hands properly. Furthermore, this technology is providing hope in creating a more sustainable future for people.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Improvements in the Vanilla and Cocoa IndustriesFor generations, the vanilla and cocoa farmers of the world — mostly concentrated in Africa — have been plagued by poverty. But recent trends in each of their respective sectors are starting to change that.

The Vanilla Sector

In the case of vanilla, prices have risen for the past five years to more than 10 times their value for the last several decades. This high market price averages $400-$600 per kilo, where past prices began at $50 per kilo.

Madagascar, responsible for more than 80% of vanilla in the world today, has undergone varying levels of changes as a result. Theft and related protection measures are more prominent as vanilla grows more valuable, but economic changes are also visible. Reporting from NPR suggests that growth in certain towns, like those in the province of Sava, has begun to noticeably outpace areas outside of the heart of the vanilla country. Many formerly-impoverished farmers who could only afford self-grown food can now purchase more than just subsistence diets. Currently, many such farmers are even investing in new homes.

The value of the commodity, as well as the risk of holding it, is partly why vanilla farms are now attracting major investment from external and foreign buyers. These are often big chocolate companies that seek vanilla as a key ingredient. Such buyers are working with nonprofits in the region, such as the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming. These partnerships serve to build new schools, optimize health care and encourage local cooperatives in order to ensure delicious and sustainable vanilla comes from areas with steady livelihoods. The need for quality investment is not limited to the vanilla sector, however. Vanilla and cocoa both share the limelight in this regard.

The Cocoa Sector

While the cocoa market hasn’t seen the same rise in profitability, measures are well-underway to combat poverty in that sector too. Living Income Differentials (LIDs) are among the more popular initiatives spearheaded by large cocoa buyers, including Ben and Jerry’s. LIDs are payments made in addition to the base price of cocoa in order to accommodate the farmers’ living expenses. The LIDs being paid by Ben and Jerry’s is worth about $600,000.

The Hershey chocolate company has also become one of the largest chocolate sellers to begin supporting LID policies. Despite ongoing criticism for Hershey’s shady dealings on the cocoa market that allegedly promote shortchanged (and possibly child labor), which runs contrary to its verbal support of LIDs.

Regardless, LIDs are only the tip of the iceberg compared to what’s also being suggested by many advocacy groups. These include the World Cocoa Foundation, the Campaign for Fair Chocolate, the Barry Callebaut Group and The Counter, among many others. Although some of these groups have seen setbacks due to the pandemic, some, such as The World Cocoa Foundation, have continued their efforts to connect cocoa farmers with big chocolate manufacturers to strengthen partnerships and common sustainability goals. These priorities have also been reflected in the European Union’s agenda, as proposed legislation considers sustainability and human rights concerns.

Barry Callebault, responsible for one in four chocolate and cocoa products worldwide, still maintains its ambitious goal to lift 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty by 2025. Investing and goals like that of the “Forever Chocolate” initiative also aim to combat child labor and climate change.

The Big Picture

While markets for vanilla and cocoa have been volatile, the recent upswing has brought with it renewed interest in returning the abundant profits to those who need it most. The impoverished workers who muster the strength to cultivate the crops and prep them for the market despite living below the poverty line deserve more. The initiative has strength in its broad support, but only time will tell whether the resulting actions will be successful and sustainable.

— Bardia Memar
Photo: Flickr

Madagascar’s PovertyMadagascar, an island country located in the Indian Ocean, is one of the most impoverished countries in the world, with 75% of its population living in poverty in 2019. Due to the country’s insufficient infrastructure, isolated communities and history of political instability, the economy of Madagascar has long been incapacitated and heavily dependent on foreign aid to meet the basic needs of its people, with food being the most urgent. In recent times, Madagascar’s poverty has been further impacted by more crises amid the country’s continued search for economic stability.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Madagascar’s economy has drastically worsened and so has Madagascar’s poverty as a result. With an already frail economic climate before COVID-19, the pandemic has negatively affected both the rural and urban areas of Madagascar, as precautionary measures enforced by the government are obstructing the flow of food and job opportunities, further stifling the already impoverished. Movement restrictions, one of many precautionary measures being enforced by the government, have cornered the most poverty-susceptible households to stay in place versus finding labor opportunities through seasonally migrating. Without the freedom to move about and access markets, these rural households are hard-pressed to find food and urban households are feeling the economic effects of this as well.

Drought in Madagascar

About 1.6 million people in southern Madagascar have suffered from food shortages since 2016. The reason for this food shortage: drought. Ejeda is one of many Madagascar villages that finds its villagers trekking miles away from their homes to dig holes into sand beds around rivers in search of water. If water is found, these villagers are then tasked with transporting it miles back home. Three years of recurrent drought in southern Madagascar has almost entirely eradicated farming and crop yields.

Declining Tourism Industry

Tourism in Madagascar is a significant source of annual revenue for the country. Home to lush national parks and scenic beaches, it is estimated that the fallout of COVID-19 has taken away about half a billion dollars of tourism revenue from the country since the pandemic began. Travel restrictions in Madagascar have gradually been eased but the damage has been done as people are simply not traveling unnecessarily during COVID-19. This loss of tourism revenue has been widely felt as it has added to the people’s ongoing struggle with poverty in Madagascar.

Poverty in Madagascar continues to worsen due to COVID-19, drought and the ensuing loss of tourism. With an already feeble economy before these crises, poverty has been intensified in both rural and urban areas as these crises continue to play out.

The Good News

Madagascar’s poverty has increased but there is good news to be found. A dietician and missionary from Poland named Daniel Kasprowicz recently raised 700,000 PLN through an online fundraiser to build a medical facility for malnourished children. Construction on the building has already started, and as poverty is expected to increase throughout Madagascar for the foreseeable future, it is believed that the facility will be opened and treating the malnourished by February 2021. In a time of crucial need, foreign aid means life or death in Madagascar and no act of assistance goes unnoticed.

– Dylan James
Photo: Flickr

Doctors for MadagascarMore than 75% of people living in Madagascar are living under conditions of extreme poverty. Disease and natural disasters consistently fall upon the country. Madagascar faces a dangerous lack of proper healthcare provisions and a low number of medical professionals to meet the needs of all its inhabitants. The country does not lack hope of improvement though. Doctors for Madagascar carries out projects to help address the issues that Madagascar faces with appropriate medical care.

Doctors for Madagascar

Doctors for Madagascar (DfM) was founded by German doctors in 2011 after they observed the meager amount of healthcare provisions and trained professionals that were available. Its work is concentrated on providing for one of the country’s most poverty-stricken regions, being the remote south of the island.

This organization allocates immediate aid but it also wants to have a lasting impact and work toward sustainable solutions. Therefore, Doctors for Madagascar monitors its projects in the long-term to be sure that each one is reaching its maximum potential in both service and longevity. In keeping with this idea, the organization creates partnerships with doctors that are local to the south of Madagascar to base its aid on what experts in the community believe to be most necessary.

The Obstacles Madagascar Faces

  • Environmental challenges negatively affect the farming fields and threaten agricultural outputs.
  • Tropical storms have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
  • Hunger affects millions. In 2018, Madagascar ranked number six of nations around the world with the highest rate of malnutrition.
  • Diseases such as measles and plague affect thousands, especially due to low vaccination rates.
  • There is no universal health insurance.
  • Lack of consistent electricity.
  • Maternal health is inadequately meeting the needs of poor mothers and is especially complex during a complicated birth where proper facilities could be hours away from the mother’s village. Those who end up delivering without the assistance of medical professionals depend on the oldest women in the village.
  • Insufficient medical supplies along with difficult working conditions are some of the difficulties being faced within Centres de Santé de Base, which are facilities made of stone that provide healthcare in the countryside of Madagascar. Each one generally contains a nurse, midwife and sometimes a doctor.
  • A lack of trained medical professionals, especially in the south of the island.

 How Doctors for Madagascar Offers a Solution

Doctors for Madagascar does not discriminate against the members of the communities it helps, therefore, the organization takes care of the medical costs for those who cannot afford the treatment they need. Along with covering costs, the organization also provides cost-free maternal healthcare to women. As many women are unlikely to see a doctor throughout their entire pregnancy, DfM provides access to check-ups for women.

Transportation for pregnant women has improved as ambulances are provided and free hotlines have been made accessible for communication between ambulances and Centres de Santé de Base.

DfM builds health facilities and provides construction expertise to help carry out each project. The organization also renovates medical facilities that are necessary to the community’s health, providing medical equipment that is needed in the healthcare facilities and issuing training for its maintenance. Volunteering consists of doctors joining on aid missions. Each doctor that works with the organization must have sufficient experience and have a strong background in the french language to effectively communicate and treat Madagascans as needed. The organization also offers training to local medical professionals by experienced medical professionals that work or volunteer with DfM.

The Onset of COVID-19

As each nation confronts the global COVID-19 pandemic, Madagascar is not facing its first or only crisis. Dengue fever and malaria are killing more people in Madagascar than COVID-19, yet the pandemic is still emphasizing the urgency of improvement needed in medical care and the importance of access to healthcare. In fact, it is even shaping how some of the highest authorities in Madagascar influence this important matter through their advocacy. The Bishops’ Conference of Madagascar (CEM) stated that “The health crisis reveals the importance of an efficient health structure… we believe the time has come to look for ways to improve public health as a whole.”

The Future of Madagascar

The need for medical aid in Madagascar is a pressing issue. Doctors for Madagascar has proven that through awareness, action and understanding, impoverished communities can be helped in both the short and the long term. It is true that the country faces many recurring threats but that does not mean there has been no positive change. These changes can be seen in Madagascar today, which can provide an optimistic outlook on working to reduce poverty in other countries as well.

– Amy Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in Madagascar
Madagascar is among the developing countries experiencing high rates of poverty. Child poverty in Madagascar remains a pressing issue as the living conditions continue to push children into taking on work. Below are a few facts about how child poverty leads to child labor and what initiatives some have taken to eliminate both child labor and child poverty in Madagascar.

Child Poverty Overview

According to the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2020 (MPI), estimates have determined that 70.7% of the Malagasy population is living under the national poverty line. Malagasy children under the age of 18 suffer the most from multidimensional poverty.

Also concluded in the MPI 2020 report, of the 75 countries measured, 60 experienced a reduction in multidimensional poverty which includes Madagascar. However, child poverty in Madagascar showed the slowest reduction compared to other age groups in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Child Poverty Normalizes Child Labor

As a consequence of widespread poverty, Malagasy children must work to support their families. With limited access to education and other social services, the families and children have little choice other than work.

As the Bureau of International Labor Affairs reported, 32% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 work in hazardous conditions. The data also indicates that 68.8% of children aged 5 to 14 attend school and 38.8% of children attending school are also working. The three main sectors in which Malagasy children work are agriculture, mining industry and services such as domestic work and market vending.

According to recent studies, many end up working in agriculture or in mining and brick-making. In the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor, Madagascar goods appear four times including vanilla, sapphire, stone and mica. Mica first emerged on this list in 2020. The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) estimates that 10,800 children work in mica mining and sorting.

Solutions

In terms of policy and regulation, Madagascar has met all international standards on child labor since 2018. Extensive policies such as the National Action Plan to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor noted the government efforts. Although this is the case, enforcement of such laws and regulations remains weak. The Madagascar Ministry of Mines expressed that it was aware of the problem but lacked the resources for better regulation.

How the International Community Helps Reduce Child Labor

To counteract the lack of resources and weak enforcement, international organization and governments have implemented social programs addressing child labor in Madagascar and other effects of multidimensional poverty throughout the country.

Some notable programs include the Social Support and Reintegration Centers and the UNICEF Country Program. International organizations like the ILO, UNICEF and the World Bank support these projects.

SAVABE

Powerful countries like the U.S. also hold important roles in some of these projects. For example, USDOL funds a $4 million ILO project called Supporting Sustainable and Child Labor Free Vanilla-Growing Communities in the Sava region (SAVABE). SAVABE aims to reduce child labor in the production of vanilla.

To achieve its objectives, the project works with vanilla exporters to implement anti-child labor policies. In addition, the project trains local authorities to enforce child labor laws and develop a child labor database. The community outreach part of the project creates child protection committees to provide educational services. To improve child poverty in Madagascar, the project also provides vocational training programs targeting 15,000 impoverished households.

According to the 2019 SAVABE Project Interim Evaluation, the vocational programs extended to 9,893 households. The programs had 140 children aged 14 to 17 enrolled. Along with collaboration with local authorities on formulating and enforcing child labor policies, SAVABE also implemented local enforcement training, which had 48 participants in 2018.

The evaluation report concluded that the project had insufficient evidence to indicate improvement in living conditions due to incomplete implementation. However, there are enough indications to show that continued effort and complete implementation can lead to a reduction of child labor in Madagascar.

Looking Ahead

Continued support at the international front is evidently critical to the successful implementation of policy and social projects. For example, the operation and continuation of the SAVABE project depend on U.S. foreign aid which demonstrates the importance of funding to global poverty initiatives. International efforts like SAVABE contribute to protection from child exploitation and ultimately toward total eradication of child poverty in Madagascar.

To ensure the continuation of these projects, email Congress now in support of protection of the International Affairs Budget.

– Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr

Updates on Hunger in Madagascar
Madagascar is an island off the east coast of Africa, situated on the Indian Ocean. It is the second-largest island country in the world. Today, this island nation is facing a major food crisis and ranks 64 out of 79 on the 2012 Global Hunger Index. As of 2015, around 28% of the island’s population, nearly 4 million citizens, suffered from hunger. Here are some updates on hunger in Madagascar.

The Root of the Issue

A significant factor in Madagascar’s famine rates is its weather. The island is prone to periodic droughts, cyclones and unpredictable rainfall. From 1980 to 2010, the country experienced 35 cyclones and five long drought periods. Moreover, it experienced five large earthquakes and six epidemics during the same period. This type of environment makes it very difficult for farmers to steadily produce adequate crops for the country’s residents. Due to food insufficiency, 47% of the citizens suffer from malnutrition — one of the highest rates in the world.

Recent Updates on Hunger Rates in Madagascar

The hunger rates within the last three years have not decreased. Conversely, the percentages continue to rise. In 2017, Madagascar’s famine rates increased by 1.4% to 44.4% from 2016. In 2018, two destructive cyclones caused flooding around the coastal areas of Madagascar. This affected roughly 200,000 citizens and displaced 70,000. During the same year, unpredictable rainfall dropped food production for around 80% of citizens. Fortunately, in 2019, livestock prices began decreasing due to the higher availability of food. Similarly, the price of rice decreased slightly since 2018 — suggesting modest improvements in the country’s food supply.

Solutions from International Organizations

While the government has struggled to control Madagascar’s famine rates, other organizations have stepped in to aid the country with its food crisis. These organizations provide necessary resources to people across the island and representing positive updates on hunger in Madagascar.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a U.N.-sanctioned organization, is providing agro-pastoral support to rural families in western Madagascar. The aim is to increase productivity in farming systems and improving farmers’ incomes. The FAO also is collecting and analyzing data on food security and agro-weather conditions to help farmers prepare for potential natural disasters. Importantly, these disasters would include climate-related crises. Also, the FAO supports government efforts to incorporate nutrition awareness programs into education systems.

As a temporary solution, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has paid trucks to deliver resources, such as clean water, to villages prone to contaminated drinking water. UNICEF also carries out routine health checks for children. In 2015, the organization began reporting high percentages of children suffering from malnutrition.

The World Food Programme (WFP) also came up with a short-term solution to address Madagascar’s hunger crisis. In 2016, within famine-affected areas, the WFP gave $20 each month to families to buy resources they could find. Also, it distributed nutritional supplements to children.

Final Outlook

Overall, the famine statistics in Madagascar do not seem to be dropping. This is primarily due to the country’s geographic location. The island is more prone to natural disasters and the government does not have any long-term solution that can certainly decrease the country’s current high famine rates. Yet, with the continued support from international organizations, there may be a bright light at the end of the tunnel for Madagascar.

Megan Ha
Photo: Flickr

HIV in MadagascarMadagascar, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa, has one of the lowest rates of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa at below 0.3%. This is due to the country’s location as an island and its low rate of urbanization. However, the number of HIV cases in Madagascar has been on the rise, with an estimated 54% increase since 2010. Only around 8% of individuals have been tested for HIV in Madagascar. As a result, the threat of the virus could be more significant than the recorded numbers tell.

HIV/AIDS Statistics in Madagascar

Around 5.5% of the 191,200 sex workers in Madagascar are living with HIV. About 14.9% of the estimated 17,000 men who have sex with men living with HIV and around 57.2% use condoms. Approximately 5% of women and about 13% of men in Madagascar use condoms. Around 13% of adults and children in Madagascar receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage, and about 25% of pregnant women receive ART. Among children up to the age of 14, around 9% receive ART. Less than 25% of people living with HIV in Madagascar are aware of their status. Among the population of ages 15 to 24, about 24.1% have awareness about HIV prevention.

Stigma

Many factors lead to HIV in Madagascar, such as high poverty levels, education rates, lack of awareness of HIV prevention and limited access to treatment. Many of those living with HIV not only face the direct consequences of the virus but the impact of stigma and potential discrimination due to testing positive. Lack of knowledge about the transmission of HIV leads to this stigma.

Often people living with HIV will avoid being tested due to a fear of stigma. According to data gathered in Madagascar from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), when asked the question, “Would you buy fresh vegetables from a shopkeeper or vendor if you knew that this person had HIV?” 63.4% responded no. HIV stigma is a prevalent issue in the country. However, education on how to prevent HIV can solve the problem.

Project Mitao Responds to HIV/AIDS in Madagascar

Additionally, in the Anosy region of Madagascar, over 90% of the population has not been tested for HIV. Therefore, Sustainable Environment, Education & Development in Madagascar (SEED), a British charity, created Project Mitao in support of people in the Anosy region. Through Project Mitao, SEED Madagascar conducts research to gain a better understanding of healthcare in the area. SEED Madagascar found that 64% of high school students lack knowledge of using a condom correctly. Moreover, Project Mitao is to educate the youth of the region and guide them in HIV prevention.

USAID, UNAID and UNICEF

Furthermore, Madagascar also relies on foreign support as a solution to HIV. In 2012, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided $60 million for a health program, including HIV prevention and treatment. USAID is also supporting HIV/AIDS programs to influence behavior change, such as increasing the use of condoms to decrease the prevalence of HIV in Madagascar.

UNAIDS and UNICEF created the All In! to #EndAdolescentAIDS plan to reduce AIDS-related deaths and the number of HIV cases among adolescents. Doing this would eventually achieve the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. AIDS is a leading cause of death among the youth in Africa. Therefore, All aims to improve the quality of healthcare in its approach to testing and treating HIV. Also, All In plans on addressing discrimination against those living with HIV to make care more accessible.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Solar Energy in Rural Madagascar
Tech companies Groupe Filatex and Bboxx are teaming up to extend their solar panel services to rural Madagascar. The companies aim to install 170 megawatts of new solar capacity by 2022. In a country that receives about 2,800 hours of strong sunlight every year, implementing solar energy in rural Madagascar can be a “viable way to go.” Roughly 85% of Madagascar’s population has no access to electricity and they do have a national grid. Providing solar energy in rural Madagascar can give the people of Madagascar electricity, thus improving their way of life and reducing poverty.

Solar Energy Versus Fossil Fuels

Some argue that implementing solar energy can help alleviate poverty. Providing “access to a small amount of electricity could lead to life-saving improvements in agricultural productivity, health, education, communications and access to clean water.” Some consider it a better alternative to the current option of expanding electricity. The current option involves fossil fuels, which can be impractical and expensive.

Also, solar energy can be a cheaper option compared with fossil fuels. Many villages in Africa use kerosene lamps as a source of light. Kerosene can cost a household from $40 to $80 per year, compared with solar lamps which can cost between $27 and $35. Kerosene can also emit pollutants proven to be dangerous to health. Examples of these health hazards are respiratory and eye infections, kidney or liver problems, and house fires.

Solar Energy Benefits

Solar energy in rural Madagascar can be the first step out of poverty by providing new skills and sources of income. An example of this is Barefoot College’s program for “solar engineers.” These engineers are from rural areas and are taught to install, repair and maintain solar lighting units to promote rural solar electrification. Consequently, this boosts incomes for poor villages.

Solar energy in rural Madagascar can help reduce current poverty levels. About 75% of the population lives below the poverty line. This is higher than the regional average, which is 41%.

Growth in Economic Development

Despite the high poverty rate, Madagascar has experienced a growth in economic development. During the past five years, Madagascar’s economic growth increased to around 5%. This was due to a peaceful transition after years of political instability and economic stagnation. The peaceful transition was considered “instrumental to this economic revival.” It contributed to “restore investor confidence, reopen access to key export markets, reinstate flows of concessional financing and encourage structural reforms.”

Implementing renewable energy is not new to Madagascar. In 2014, the Madagascar government decided to take on intensive reforms. With the help of the World Bank, the government started the Electricity Sector Operations and Governance Improvement Project (ESOGIP). The objective of the project is to increase production capacity and reduce energy loss. It also aims to expedite progress on renewable energies to provide a reliable, more affordable alternative to expensive and environmentally unfriendly diesel generators. The goal is to provide energy access to 70% of households by 2030.

The World Bank offers many solutions to reducing poverty in Madagascar. One of the main solutions is providing electricity. The more affordable, electrification in rural areas — the better the quality of life will be for citizens of Madagascar.

Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr

vanilla in IndonesiaOver the past two decades, employment in agriculture in Indonesia has declined from 45% in 2000 to about 29% in 2019. This decline has been accompanied by an aging farmer population, with 60% to 80% of rice farmers above the age of 45. However, Indonesia is the third largest producer of rice in the world. Its agriculture sector also provides an integral source of income for Indonesian families and export-revenue for the country. Without millennial interest in these jobs, the fading light of agriculture could cast a dark shadow on the economy. Thankfully, vanilla in Indonesia is bringing Indonesian youth back to agriculture and making the sector more profitable. This underscores the vanilla trade’s potential as a way out of poverty in Indonesia.

A Tale of Agriculture Revitalized

Sofa Arbiyanto, 30, began farming vanilla in 2018 in Blora, Central Java. Blora is one of two regions that produce most vanilla in Indonesia. After leaving his manufacturing job in South Korea and connecting with vanilla farming groups online, Arbiyanto began farming vanilla on a 1,200-square meter plot. He now has 2,000 vanilla vines.

Arbiyanto made the switch to farming because of the profitability potential he saw in the market. In 2019, vanilla beans from Madagascar, the world’s top producer, cost more by weight than silver. Vanilla itself is the second-most traded spice in the world. Vanilla in Indonesia accounted for 29% of the global supply in 2016, making Indonesia its second largest producer.

The lack of millennial attraction to farming is rooted in cultural stigma. Children who grow up in farming families learn from their parents that farming is a dirty job imbued with poverty and hardship. For these families, farming is as a last-resort career for their children. Thus, the people most likely to become farmers seek out other jobs instead.

Hilmi, a graduate student from Cigugur who spoke with The Diplomat, explained that young people in Indonesia see farming as a life of “soiled clothes with no pride.” However, vanilla in Indonesia may be changing this outlook. Indeed, Arbiyanto said, “My initial view that farmers live in hardship and poverty has changed. With a touch of innovation and technology, it is a promising opportunity.”

Indonesia Vanilla Farmers’ Association

Arbiyanto is one of around 250 vanilla farmers ages 25 to 35 who trained with the Indonesian Vanilla Farmers’ Association (PPVI). PPVI has a YouTube channel where farmers across the country can access informational videos. The channel has almost 15,000 subscribers, while some of its videos have more than 115,000 views.

This innovative approach to training farmers is revitalizing vanilla in Indonesia. Many millennials, more in touch with technology, have learned farming techniques through this method. Further, PPVI notes that experienced farmers use platforms like WhatsApp to offer the new generation their tips and tricks.

According to McCormick & Co., “Indonesia has strong potential to become an alternative origin [for vanilla], in terms of quantity and quality.” Although price volatility puts some risk in vanilla in Indonesia, the spice is bringing life back to a sector that many Indonesians have long associated with poverty.

Vanilla in Indonesia in the Global Trade

To make matters more enticing, the vanilla market has seen an increase in demand during the pandemic. Because of global stay-at-home orders, grocery shopping and home cooking have increased. This means that the average household now consumes more vanilla.

At the same time, the pandemic has caused shipping delays that resulted in an 18% drop in shipments from January to May of 2020. Kasan, a director-general in Indonesia’s trade ministry, noted that price volatility puts some risk in this enterprise. Still, the government has maintained its support.

“When the new normal begins and trade activities are gradually increased … vanilla exports will become one of the mainstays of trade that will be expanded,” Kasan said. This sentiment is part of a larger desire from the Indonesian government to diversify its agricultural exports, which are largely dominated by palm oil. The government also wants to use vanilla to create pathways out of poverty in Indonesia.

U.S. Aid

The opportunity to reduce poverty via vanilla came when a cyclone hit Madagascar in 2017, cutting off much of the global supply of vanilla and creating a shortage on the global market. This was an opening for other suppliers to gain a greater share of the market. The U.S. Agency for International Development, in collaboration with Cooperative Business International (CBI), stepped in to help. They have established partnerships between more than 5,000 small-scale, Indonesian spice famers and international spice vendors. Thus, U.S. aid further supports growth of vanilla in Indonesia.

Through this co-op, Agustinus Daka, an experienced vanilla farmer, told AEC News Today that his income had doubled. This moved him beyond subsistence farming. Daka harvests his beans after nine months and sends them to a spice factory in Central Java, where some 700 Indonesians work.

Sam Filiaci, senior vice president for Southeast Asia at CBI, explained the broader scope of such partnerships. “Even though we talk about the 700 people working in this facility,” Filiaci said, “the employment that it creates in the United States or the destination markets is even greater.”

He continued, “Vanilla and these other high-value crops that we grow and produce are a tool to improving people’s lives … helping farmers educate their children, build their houses, get health care. I think it’s extremely important and strategic for the U.S. government to invest in opportunities like this.” Thus, international aid has a large role to play in using vanilla in Indonesia to lift Indonesians out of poverty.

Olivia du Bois
Photo: Flickr