First things first - we are revving up the work at the demonstration site and that means we need to bulid a house for a 24 hour watchman. The watchman is needed to protect the property from maurading cows, chickens, and individuals who might want to harvest our cocoons and vanilla. Included with the house will be a fancy composting toilet! We do things right at SEPALI Madagascar! What is a bit unexpected is that the toilet is more expensive than the house. Hmm - something is wrong here.
While getting ready for the training center the team has been making multiple site improvements with plantings of silkmoth host plants, cleaning out of a pond that is going to be used to raise dragonfly larvae for food as part of our insects for food program. In addition the team has been planting vanilla to gorw on the silk moth host plants to illustrate to farmers how they can use the Talandoha for an added income opportunity. In fact, Mamy has been growing vanillla at the demonstration site for two years and the flowers are quite beautiful. Did you know that vanilla does not have any pollinators in Madagascar and therefore each flower needs to be hand pollinated? Furthermore, each plant produces only one flower per day. With increased farmer activity in vanilla production we hope to increase farmer activity to tend the caterpillars - it all fits!
We are still trying to deal with our electricity conundrum. A new point of attack is to purchase manual sewing machines and therefore greatly reduce our electricity need for now. In that, case we could probably manage with a few solar cells for cooking, evening light, etc. We had hoped to have our office at the training center but we are being creative and looking for a secondary site in town. Stay tuned!
In our last report on the training center we told you about our chicken and egg conundrums . . . lack of electricity and lack of bamboo - unfortunately the electricity problem has not gone away although the bamboo problem may be solved.
The sustainable source of bamboo we had hoped to use to build the training center is not available. To supply it, we would need to build a bamboo processing plant in Maroantsetra. Alternatively, if we harvested the bamboo locally (and sustainably) we could ship it to the capital to be treated. But then the bamboo has to be shipped it back to the site. That is not feasible due to our isolated location. Nevertheless, the ever patient Boston Architects for Humanity have answered our clarion call and is designing a modified center to be made from bamboo - they never stop assisting us - thank goodness.
A second problem and one that is also related to location, is a lack of electricity. The demonstration site the team has devoted so much time to developing for faming does not yet have access to the town's electrical cable. Will we now need to find a new site that is on the electric line? (Likely to be out of our price range), lay a new cable? (Definitely out of our price range) or design a combination of wind, solar and generator power? If we simply buy a generator then we will be greatly increasing our program costs over the long term and will become slaves to fuel shortages and fluctuating prices. If we try to install solar panels, we will need many, as well as employ full-time, 'round the clock, on-site guards to prevent their theft. The biggest headache, however, is a budget for long-term maintenance. We are told that a maintenance officer will need to visit the site, at a minimum, once a year. Given that we are isolated, that air transportation is expensive and that hurricanes and storms that rack Maroantsetra every year, it is unlikely that we can get away with just one service trip a year. What to do? We will let you know . . .
Just back from Madagascar visiting the team, farmers and training center. It was great to see everyone and all of the terrific work they are doing despite Madagascar’s difficult economic circumstances.
Unfortunately, we have a slight setback in our plans – our first chicken with an egg. On the verge of surging ahead, we have discovered that we don’t have a ready source of bamboo to use for building. Unfortunately, the factory that treats the bamboo to protect it again insect damage and fungi in Tamatave was burnt down. While there is a functioning factory in Tana, the bamboo would have to be sourced from the Maroantsetra area, shipped to Tana, treated, and shipped back – a prohibitively expensive operation. We had wanted to use bamboo in hopes of mitigating the impact of harvesting wood, already extensive in the area, and encouraging farmers to begin to grow bamboo for construction and market. However, it now seems that the only other option is concrete. Will we be able to build the inspiring training center with soaring lines as we had planned? Is there anyone in our GG family who would like to invest in building a bamboo treatment in the Maroantsetra area? I can guarantee your first customer.
Our second setback - our chicken and egg conundrum - We don't have electricity. We have discovered that the closest electrical line is not close at all. We had not planned to build a training center when we first purchased the demonstration site thinking it would be used only for farming. We will now need to find a new site that is on the electric line (likely to be out of our price range), lay a new cable (definitely our of our price range) or design a combination of wind, solar and generator power. If we simply buy a generator then we will be greatly increasing our program costs over the long term and tied to purchasing diesel. The upshot is we can’t start building until we have electricity. Are there any “engineers without borders” available to help us plan an electrical system to support the center’s proposed current and future activities?
Despite those problems, Mamy sent me 200+ meters of textile back with me! Since adding a second species of silk producer (Ceranchia apollina) to the program, we are beginning to build up enough stock to supply a small designer, send samples to companies and sell the material online. Have you visited www.wildsilkmarkets.com lately to view our textiles? In addition to textiles, they team is designing an array of small products to be made from the scraps. Mamy’s jewelry is quite beautiful as are the hats and clutches whipped up by Mario and Lalaina – the purse interior is made from woven water hyacinth leaves. The purse the exterior is wild silk and emboidery -- these items will soon be online for holiday sales – and just wait until you see what we have planned for Valentine’s day . . . .
Thank you for your continued support – as soon as we get our chickens in a row, we hope to be cracking some eggs.
All the best,
Architects for Humanity have just delivered detailed site plans for the training center where women and men will be able to work any time and increase their earnings even more (see below). We had some problems getting materials for building the center as the bamboo factory we had hoped to purchase from is no longer. But not to be discouraged, Amelia Thrall of AH is in the midst of checking with a bamboo promoter in Madagascar regarding the potential of identifying an alternate source for obtaining the treated bamboo. If she hears from him that he has a source, AH drawings engineered and detailed by a bamboo construction expert in India who has previously worked in Madagascar. He could also potentially be involved in construction oversight.
An added activity for the training center will be cooking classes! The SEPALI team is planning to teach famrers how to prepare and enjoy insect protein. The team is currently wild about Rhinocerous beetle larvae that Mamy is learning to farm and from the picture above you can see Bertrand is contemplating the deliciousness of REALLY BIG beetle pupae and a very "full" future.
I don't know what is more exciting than our current income increases and the fact that, after 5 years we seem to be really getting somewhere! Below are exciting data that how for the first time we have more women then men earning money from the silk project and households are earning an average of $90/year. This is in addition to the mean average income of the area of $145/year (median $55/year). So the bottom line is, these projects would not be possible without you and progress is in the air.
Thank you again for all you have done to help save Madagascar wildlife and better the lives of the farmers with whom we work.
Catherine Craig, PhDPresident, CPALI
Meet Lalaina Raharindimby - Lalaina heads the SEPALI Madagascar women's team. Her work includes organizing workshops for women to make textiles and hats, traveling to their villages to oversee their basket production, encouraging them to strive and thrive. Lalaina is also SEPALI Madagascar's financial officer - and in her spare time, she is raising Ravu, her 2.5 year old son.
Since Lalaina has been working with SEPALI Madagascar, they have developed a presence in the lives of the women who live in the villages. The textile workshops are not only a chance to earn a salary but a time to meet with others from neighboring communities. The women are building new social networks that and artisan groups that may be useful to them when they begin working indepenently.
At the most recent workshop, the women made 60 m of sewed textile that CPALI hopes to sell on their behalf at the Dwell on Design tradeshow, 20-22 June in Los Angeles. In addition they made 6 new hats of unique styles - the hats are from wild silk, embroidered with rafia and decorated with beautiful hand-made flowers. Lalaina and the SEPALI team are planning more workshops to produce another 60m of textile by the end of August. With each workshop the women work a little faster and more effectively under Lalaina's guidance. The new training center, which we hope to break ground on in September, will not only secure a working site for the women's group but will also include facilities for overnight stays. Today, many women are camping out on site becuase travel back and forth to their villages takes one day each way.
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