In Madagascar, where 85% of the population still lives in rural areas, micro-finance projects have been particularly successful, exceeding their initial objectives and enabling some regions to boost development and begin exporting agricultural products.
At the end of 2006, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) adopted a new country strategy for Madagascar to build upon this initial success. It will double its loan facilities to $64.2m for a six-year period covering 2007-2012. Under the new strategy, new micro-finance and micro-development projects will be launched to consolidate previous achievements such as the vanilla scheme in the northeast of the island and the rice irrigation project in the Southern Mandrare basin.
The southern region of Madagascar is one of the driest regions of an otherwise relatively fertile island. Until very recently it was also one of the poorest areas, suffering from recurrent poor rainfall and famine. Growing rice, an activity developed there in the past, could no longer provide adequate food stocks to the area and the whole region was in economic decline.
An Ifad project to rehabilitate rice production and develop more efficient farming methods managed to turn the situation around and transform the Mandrare basin, near the Mandrare River, into a rice growing area. The Mandrare rice project was so successful that a second phase began in 2001.
"Before the Mandrare project, rice irrigation had fallen into disuse and very little was produced in the area," said Benoit Thierry, country programme manager at Ifad. "The region was completely cut off, it took about 12 hours to drive the 120km from the regional capital Tolagnaso (Fort Dauphin) to the inland basin, and the area was shockingly poor."
Under Ifad's Mandrare project, irrigation systems were introduced, infrastructure such as roads was rehabilitated and more intensive farming methods were encouraged. In addition, during the second phase of the project, these measures were extended to additional communes and villages, and a network of microcredit institutions were put in place based on the success of a similar system in the vanilla producing Sava region in the northeast of the island (see box).
"What is spectacular regarding this project is the fact that the area can now supply up to 20,000t of rice to the whole southern region; it is not only self-sufficient but it also supplies rice beyond the...