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It's market day in Tsianisiha, a rural town in the district of Toliara in south-west Madagascar. In the central square, the stalls are overflowing with the thousands of products that attract an ever-greater throng of shoppers every Monday. And for good reason: in just five years, Tsianisiha has been completely transformed, much to the benefit of its inhabitants.
"Since they built the secondary irrigation channels and concreted the old ones, agricultural production has doubled or even tripled," said Mr Mamanjisoa, the mayor of this large market town with some 20,000 inhabitants and which each Monday welcomes members of the Federation of Water User Associations, among whose interests the management and upkeep of the irrigation canals feature prominently.
The commercial activity of Mr Razafimandimby, president of the Federation, epitomises the stunning agricultural growth in the region of Atsimo-Andrefana. Mr Razafimandimby practises crop rotation on his five-hectare plot: rice, lima beans, cassava, maize and cotton. And with increased quantities of irrigation water supplying his plot more often, he has been able to double his production. In under five years, for example, he has passed the threshold of two tonnes of maize per year. While half of his production goes to feed his family and to anticipate future contingencies, the other half is sold to buy livestock - the Madagascar farmers’ preferred way to save . With his additional income, he has been able to send his children to school in Tsianisiha.
"Before, I wasn't thought of as anyone in particular, and I didn't talk to anyone. Now, I negotiate with the men and protect the interests of the warehouse. I feel stronger"
- Délicia Zaname
Toliara district can boast many success stories like Mr Razafimandimby's. They are the result of the funding programme launched in 2013 by the African Development Bank with the goal of improving local agricultural infrastructure. At the time, the Bank had two goals: the first was to compensate for the budget cuts made by the Malagasy Government that particularly hit the poorest after Madagascar’s political crisis between 2009 and 2013; the second was to mitigate the impacts of the region's extreme vulnerability to climate change.
By the end of December 2018, the district of Toliara had 74 km of canals and 40 km of protective dykes covering 5,800 hectares of irrigated land, as well as three warehouses.
To support this expansion of local agriculture and to reduce poverty, the African Development Bank also financed the refurbishment of a 107 km section of the RN9 highway. Since then, Tsianisiha has been just an hour and a half's drive from the neighbouring town of Analamisampy. Before the refurbishment work, it took up to five hours to travel between the two towns. "Since the renovation of the RN9, not only can we sell our products faster, but we can also accommodate more traders and carriers," said the chair of the town council, Mr Mamanjisoa.
The three warehouses are used to store large equipment and production offered for sale in a particularly innovative way. Thanks to recommendations made by the African Development Bank, women's groups obtained exclusive management rights, promoting the empowerment and emancipation of women in the region.
Délicia Zaname, president of the Tsianisiha warehouse management committee, elected by its 45 member associations, can vouch for this. Her quality of life has improved, but especially as a woman her responsibilities have transformed her:
"Before, I wasn't thought of as anyone in particular, and I didn't talk to anyone. Now, I negotiate with the men and protect the interests of the warehouse. I feel stronger," she said, not without a certain pride, adding, "And I can send my children to school too, because it is school that will help them to develop."
The warehouses are managed in a participative manner: the district's farmers are required to pay a contribution - a few euros per year - to the women's groups for storing their produce or equipment in the three warehouses at Tsianisiha, Tsiafanoka and Ankilimaliniky. All three sites are managed in the same way: the warehouse's member associations elect a 6-woman management committee, responsible for the upkeep and management of the warehouses. The distribution of income from contributions is as follows: 30% goes to pay the expenses of the committee members; 20% is for petty cash (as the cash fund is termed); and the remaining 50% is used to fund projects initiated by the women's groups. On 8 March each year - a symbolic date as it is International Women's Day - they consider funding projects such as the purchase of chickens and goats, irrigation, or digging equipment.