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Without machinery, all you need are arms and some imagination!

How saving wood in Madagascar can be good.
September 30, 2016
Clément Couturier
Madagascar Trees ovens oven construction


Madagascar is ranked among the ten poorest countries in the world (GDP of $ 440 per capita) but is also the fifth largest island in the world. Its multicultural population is a prime example. The climate is complicated in Madagascar because it is divided into 5 zones (monsoon, humid tropical, savannas, subtropical, sub-desert).

The biogeographical isolation of Madagascar and the variety of its climates and reliefs have encouraged the development of a flora and a fauna unique in the world. New species are still being discovered in the country.


Deforestation in Madagascar:

Three activities account for deforestation: slash and burn agriculture, logging, and the production of wood fuel and charcoal for domestic use.

1) Slash and burn cultivation , also called "tavy", is an important component of Malagasy agriculture and economy. The tavy is mainly used to convert the rainforest into rice fields. For example, one or two acres of forest are cut, burned, and rice planted. After 2 years of production, the plot is left to rest for 4 to 6 years, then the process is repeated. The problem is that after 2 cycles, the soil nutrients are depleted and scrub or grass are invading soil. The new vegetation is insufficient, which is causing landslides.

Unfortunately, for the Malagasy the tavy is the best possible way to meet their needs. They have no alternative but to continue burning the forest.

2) Logging is a problem in tropical forests. Due to the high value of wood (ebony and rosewood can reach € 1,500 per ton on the international market), illegal logging is a problem in some protected areas.

3) Fuel and charcoal production. Endemic spiny forests are cut at an alarming rate to produce charcoal. To increase their living standards, locals sell small piles of charcoal along the roads, often turning to the most common tree species, such as the Alluaudia tree.


A bad harvest

Despite the different climates on the island, Madagascar is suffering from a drought that has been raging since December 2014. In many areas, plantations are merely a vast desert area. In the southern parts, harvests are low and do not feed the population, while regions with a monsoon do not produce enough for the whole country.

This year, there is still a strong food vulnerability and starvation. Some Malagasy adults and children only eat once a day.
The Community of the Daughters of Charity present on-site runs many schools with canteens enabling thousands of children to enjoy a daily meal. Since the famine began, they have managed, thanks to donations, to buy food for distribution to the most vulnerable families.


Our objective

The Daughters of Charity are very active in the country. They have already carried out many actions that have enabled villages to evolve. While men cultivate the land, women of the poorest villages fetch wood and water to cook a meal. However, water is sometimes miles away from their village and, because of intensive wood cutting, forests are totally depleted.

We have already carried out reforestation and well construction projects. To help villagers as best as we can, our last project involves the construction of wood-saving ovens. This will allow to save wood (and therefore to reduce deforestation) and to protect the health of the women who, because of the smoke they inhale, get often sick (bronchitis, asthma, trachitis, conjunctivitis).

We asked Alain Guillez, a retired educator specialized in refractory materials and traditional masonry, to help us. Alain kindly taught all the men of the village how to build three types of ovens.

    - Field ovens that benefit the poorest because they are very simple to build and require very little equipment.

    - Double-end ovens, more elaborated, therefore more difficult to build.

    - Bread ovens for maximum heat preservation.

No machinery nor equipment were ordered to make these ovens. Each of them has been made with the materials at hand. Only training was necessary so that the villagers can now build the ovens by themselves, for their own village and for the others.


So as to understand better the benefits of these ovens, we asked Alain a few questions.

(PR) Are these constructions sustainable? What materials do you use?

Indeed, these constructions are sustainable for they are only made with materials at hand (clay, sand, wood ash, cysalite[GB1] , rice straw, basalt, granite, lateritic stone, hard limestone, clay bricks, adobe bricks. Trained on the job, villagers know how to build those ovens and repair them.

Everything that has been built elsewhere (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Vietnam) is very resistant to heat.

Experience and inspiration allow me to utilize all that surrounds me, and to use it for the most deprived. All you need to do is open your eyes: everything is virtually within reach. And maintenance is free of charge, which is perfect for these people.


(PR) How long does it take to build an oven?

It takes between 24 and 48h to 5 people to build a double-end oven. Then, there is a waiting time of 3 days before it can be used as materials need to settle down. The first day of use, a low fire with gradual firing is essential so as not to create overheating pressures.


(PR) What do ovens work with (to produce heat: wood, earth, clay, straw ...)?

The ovens work with rice or corn straw, twigs of dry wood, sawdust, wood shavings, red earth pellets or eucalyptus leaves manually compressed with water, turned into a round shape then allowed to dry.


Thanks to Alain's skills, villagers will be able to build ovens for other villages, thus earn money and feed their families. Deforestation and disease incidence will be lower.

Help us to carry on our actions:!


Sophie Mille

Equipe des Projets Rosalie

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