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Every year, Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo holds what is likely the largest agricultural fair in the country, FierMada. This annual event is famous the country over and even people in the far-off villages who have never been to the capitol know about it. This year I had the pleasure of attending the fair.

People from all across the country flood the fairgrounds just outside of the city. Farmers come in search of products not easily found in their regions and sellers come to showcase their products. Everything from the newest, most cutting-edge rice seeds to brand new tractors can be found in the booths that stretch probably half a mile from one end to the other. NGOs promoting new, sustainable farming techniques promote methods like cover cropping and crop rotation at their stations. Nursery owners bring out their best starts and saplings, every herb and tree endemic to Madagascar can be purchased. Right next to the station selling tractors is the station selling brand new, cattle-driven plows. Many people who have grown a uniquely exceptional crop will bring it to demonstrate how their techniques or product grew such a huge crop. One prize that was particularly common was cassava roots. Cassava (yucca in Spanish) is a root crop commonly eaten out here. The most successful farmers brought in massive, intact root groupings of the plant probably about three feet tall and well over probably 150 pounds.

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After stuffing myself with all the typical fair junk food I could find, and getting a massage, I went about the business for which I had come. I picked up a large variety of seeds to bring back to my farmers’ association, gathered business cards of people and organizations near my village, and picked up a few herb starters for my personal garden.

Somewhere between the second beer and the ice cream, after the shawarma but before the popcorn, I almost forgot I was in Madagascar. I am ceaselessly amazed by this beautiful country and was grateful for the opportunity to spend some time with like-minded farmers simply trying to grow things a little better out here.

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Stephan Laboy is an agricultural extension volunteer serving with the Peace Corps in Madagascar. His story can be followed at stephanlaboy.wordpress.com.

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