Noah Jackson — a trainer and auditor for the Rainforest Alliance – shares a series of stunning images from a recent trip to Madagascar.
Outside the small room where I’m sleeping, chickens have begun to stir and scratch. The soundtrack of the day is drifting through my window — the first bush taxis have started running and the diesel engines of pickup trucks are rumbling. The smell of raw cocoa and coffee mixes with the diesel, dust, eggs, vanilla and other scents.
I climb out of bed, still tired. The days have begun to mix in my mind. I’m on my second waterproof field notebook and, before my time is finished in these forest and farm trails, I’ll fill another notebook with questions and observations.
We’ve been tackling some hard questions lately: How do you get products to market? How do you grow rice – a staple crop in this country — without enough land? How do you ensure a supply for wood construction? How can you protect farms from cyclones? How do you build forests? How do you grow enough food?
These are the questions that plague farmers. We discuss them openly, in village movie halls and while touring the landscape.
In the first part of this photo essay, I share some behind-the-scenes images…
A boy and his dog take shelter under a mix of coffee plants and fruit trees while gathering firewood.
A high contrast aerial view of the landscape reveals that many of these upland parcels are highly denuded and eroded.
Some of this damage is the result of uncontrolled fires. In this image, Phillipia floribunda, which can be used for firewood and fencing, is growing back.
In addition to restoring upland forest in Madagascar, farmers here need to find a way to increase production of rice — a local staple crop. This experimental parcel involves rotating cattle to provide fodder and boost rice field fertility.
A farmer weeding his rice plot points out the boundaries of his family’s 3.7-acre (1.5-hectare) reserve land. Poachers caught harvesting timber illegally have to participate in village reforestation projects.
A woman walking along the forest trail to her part-time residence pauses for a portrait. The ground avocado seeds in her basket are believed to increase skin vitality.
Although the vanilla will not be ready until June and people cannot yet legally sell to registered collectors, a farmer shows of his low quality, early harvest. He’ll sell it now for much-needed cash.
Introductions and stories are shared on long walks from forest parcels to village markets.
This woman carries beans, which capture nitrogen and improve soil quality, from her upland rice plot to the market.
Maintaining land quality on steep upland plots means carefully planting shade and using a mixture of techniques to hold soil. This farmer also manages a large bamboo forest that is harvested lightly to support construction projects.
Moving rice to lower elevations and agroforestry crops to higher elevations is one of the best strategies for environmentally sustainable land management in Madagascar. In a participatory workshop to map farm plots and conservation lands, farmers talk about this shift and long-term protection strategies.
With the rice harvest in and the vanilla harvest yet to begin, roadside rice prices are on the rise. Ensuring adequate food supplies is a key part of the sustainable farming in Madagascar.
Even at night, the road is alive with smallholder farmer’s produce — fruit, maize and seeds — being transported to larger towns late in the evening.