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Rural development
The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in Madagascar has been implementing a rural development programme in all seven districts of north-western Madagascar’s Sofia Region since 2005. To date, the programme has provided more than 43,000 smallholder farmers with technical support and training on improved rice farming.

This support has on average increased rice yields by three times in Sofia. In turn, greater yields have led to more food-sufficient households, with food stock reserves that can be sold within the region, as well as to neighbouring areas.

In additional to technical support and training, the programme is focused on enhancing rice production by promoting market integration of rice producers and facilitating household access to basic financial services. This latter focus complements the work of the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance in the area. In 2010, AKF piloted community-based savings groups in two of Sofia’s districts to promote access to basic financial services for the broader community. By 2013, AKF had trained more than 1,050 savings groups with more than 20,580 members (62 percent women).

A rice farming programme in Madagascar.
AKDN / Mamy Mahenintiana

Today the programme has broadened to include new initiatives in new regions. To the north of Sofia, in the Diana region, AKF is supporting coco farmers to improve the quality of their crop and help them access markets. Currently AKF supports 125 farmers in Diana but aim to scale this into the 1,000s over the next five years.

In addition to coco, other cash crops such as vanilla and Artemisia (used in anti-malarial drugs) are being introduced to improve farmers incomes. Nutrition is also becoming a key focus with the introduction of sweet potatoes and ‘edible forests’ (which include banana trees, jackfruit and breadfruit) which not only add nutritious fruit and vegetables to the rice stable but also improve crop diversity and soil quality. Environmental improvement efforts are complemented by the introduction of conservation agriculture techniques aimed at protecting natural capital and mitigating against some of the effects of a changing climate such as hotter summers and wetter winters.

Taken together, AKF’s efforts in Madagascar are focused on three core objectives: improving food security; environmental protection; and connecting the poor to markets.