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Stephan Laboy

I’ve mention in previous columns about the prominence of rice farming in Madagascar. Every community across the island grows rice and nearly everyone has a role in the shared effort of sowing and harvesting. My community is part of the minority that actually grows corn too. How fitting for a Nebraska boy?

As America enters the full swing of harvest season, we’re just starting to plant here (I’ll remind the reader that in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed). It’s a significantly less mechanized process in Madagascar. There are a few hand driven tillers that are shared among numerous families but for planting, it’s all done by hand. Many people in the community have a plot of land. Usually it’s been passed down to them or was acquired by marriage. My host father in the community has a good amount of land that he and his kids work. They invited me out for the last planting session. Once the plot had been tilled, we stretched a string along one end of the plot. The string is marked every two feet or so. Then we ran another string with the same interval markings to intersect with the original string. The markings on the second string are where to seed. As each row was completed, we moved the second string down one mark on the original one and repeated the process. It’s an elegantly simple way to farm. It’s hard for even me to mess up.

As we were walking back home my host father showed me some more of his plots and told me which of his kids had taken ownership of each one. I jokingly asked him if I had any land. To my surprise he said yes! When the tiller came by again he would designate some land that I could farm as my own. I’m ceaselessly amazed at the generosity of the Malagasy people. I was never a farmer back in the states but it seems like even half away around the world, I can’t get away from corn country.

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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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