A huge potential for agriculture
My name is Enrico Palchetti and I am an agronomist. Currently on sabbatical from my work as a professor in tropical agriculture at the University of Florence, I manage JTF, the Malagasy subsidiary of Tozzi Green. It is one of the most interesting jobs I have had in my career.
Madagascar has a huge potential from many points of view, agriculture being one of them. Biotechnology, mechanisation, and the use of new fertilisers and plant varieties could help enlarge and enhance food production. Take rice, for example. People here are growing a very old variety, without the use of fertilisers or mechanisation, leading to low productivity.
JTF - the Malagasy subsidiary of Tozzi Green - is one of the few companies in the country that practices mechanised and technical agriculture. That is why the Ministry of Agriculture is asking for our support in strengthening the country’s food safety.
One of the problems is the lack of seed varieties suitable for southern Madagascar. Seeds need to be imported, which is expensive, time-consuming, and complicated. So, we are trying to help by using our skills and machinery to produce seeds on our farm that can be used by smallholders in the South, for instance, maize, sorghum, millet, and cassava.
Another problem is logistics. There are simply not enough internal transportation possibilities, like roads or bridges. Importing or exporting goods is very complicated, which has only been exacerbated by the recent global shipping crisis. The cost of importing food in this famine-struck country has almost doubled, which will probably lead to further trouble.
Over the last two years, rainfall in the south of Madagascar has diminished. For subsistence agriculture, without mechanisation or irrigation systems, one hundred millimetres less rain per year can be the difference between survival and famine. While droughts are bad enough for the environment, the increased difficulties for the farmers add to the problem, as many people from the south have been moving to the north, trying to find better plots to cultivate, practising slash and burn agriculture in - formerly - rich forest areas.
Climate change is affecting agricultural productivity in Madagascar, requiring different strategies, such as growing drought-resistant alternatives. The best candidate to replace maize, for example, is sorghum bicolor, also known as great millet. It is very similar to maize and well accepted in the country, but with much-reduced water demand.
We are checking if eucalyptus globulus could be sustainably cropped for essential oil extraction, from both an environmental and economic point of view. It doesn’t need irrigation and, when distilled, you are left with 99.9% of the biomass, which can then be plugged into the soil of other crops. This reduces the cost of fertiliser, enlarges the quantity of organic matter in the soil, stores carbon, and improves the quality of the land. With BIO’s and Finnfund’s support, we could set up a very modern distillery plant and have already found a buyer for the oil.
By adapting our major crops, we can strike a balance between the economic and environmental sustainability of the farm. Malagasy people are strong workers and have faith in their country, there is an inner resilience in the population. All they need is infrastructure, impact investors, and a supportive political class.
From the very start, JTF has worked to develop and maintain a good relationship with the local community.
- We have a hospital on the farm and have already treated more than 28,000 patients. Everyone who belongs to the local community, as well as pregnant women and children younger than 5 years old, have the right to free medical assistance. Our doctor is one of the most highly respected people in this rural area.
- We provide electricity to the villagers through a system of windmills, a renewable energy source that our mother company, Tozzi Green, is involved with in Europe.
- We have installed wells and pumps in the villages, so the villagers no longer have to go to the river for their drinking water
- We started a reforestation and agroforestry programme with the locals, where JTF provides soil plugging and plants for the reforestation of communal land, and villagers can continue to use the land between the trees for roads or cultivation.
Every year, we come to an agreement with the local community on a certain budget for additional needs, like water pumps, road maintenance or a new church building. This already vast programme was further expanded when impact investors like BIO and Finnfund got involved.
BIO has invested in JTF Madagascar, a Malagasy company involved in the production of maize, soya and Geranium Bourbon for essential oil.
Dr Enrico Palchetti is its CEO. This is his story.
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