Learning from each other - Rural Women micro-entrepreneurs of two Indian Ocean islands come together – Day 7

Today we met with the leading women entrepreneurs of the island (Women Entrepreneurs Forum of Rodrigues). We greatly admired them not only for the way they carried out their individual activities but also for their great sense of civic duty towards more vulnerable women. As stated earlier, this solidarity is what really spurred communal development in Rodrigues.

These ladies were most interested in the incredible amount of knowledge that the Malagasy ladies possessed and shared. The latter talked about the different uses of several plants and trees common to both islands.

In Madagascar, nothing is wasted. All parts of a tree or plant can be used, whereas in Rodrigues such resources are underexploited or in some cases not used. For example, in Madagascar, the bark, the heart as well as the leaves of the ravanale tree are used to make houses, fences and handicrafts.

In Rodrigues, only the leaves of the same tree are used to make handicrafts. In fact, it is considered more of a nuisance as it takes up a lot of water, which is already a scarce resource in Rodrigues. It was therefore interesting to learn that the heart of the ravanale tree contains water that can be used for drinking. In Madagascar, it is known as the traveller’s tree. The bark and leaves can be used as rudimentary fencing for small livestock which is both economical and ecological. Such other practicalities for other plants, trees and fruits were also discussed.

Rice cultivation, a major agricultural activity in Madagascar, surprisingly caught the attention of the women of Rodrigues. Even though rice is a staple food, it is not cultivated due to unfavourable climate and scarce land. The Malagasy ladies were grateful to IFAD projects in Madagascar which helped to promote a special technique of rice cultivation. The production doubled and tripled whilst saving greatly on water, seeds and land. In hearing about the Rice Intensification System (SRI), the ladies of Rodrigues seemed to have been enlightened by the prospect that if such a system could work for them as well, it would considerably lighten their rice importing dependency on Mauritius.

Even though we had little time to expand more on the above discussions, they nevertheless permitted us to realise the importance of creating a communication link of a continuous nature that would eventually lead to positive, concrete actions towards mutual development.