SNAPSHOT2 min read

How Kew Gardens is fighting famine in Madagascar

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is deploying its researchers to help increase food security in Madagascar as part of its wider conservation work on the island.



Victoria Beckett
Editor and Copywriter

"Hungry season” lasts from May to October in Madagascar, as this period of dry weather means food insecurity for locals. In mid-2021, the droughts were so severe that hundreds of thousands of people were plunged into famine. As the global climate changes, people all over the world will need to change the way they farm and eat if they are to adapt. For some, this is a matter of life and death.

Despite being one of the world’s foremost biodiversity hotspots, with a unique assemblage of plants, animals, and fungi, much of Madagascar’s biodiversity is threatened. “Nature is our biggest asset in the fight against climate change and food insecurity. Yet, we’ve degraded every ecosystem on this planet to a fraction of their past extent, killing off large numbers of species and putting many more at risk,” says Professor Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

As such, the Royal Botanic Gardens is leading a consortium of international institutions in Madagascar, called “Sustainable Management for Future Generations” – a six-year project funded by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Mobilising a team that is predominantly Madagascan, will implement and explore interventions with a holistic approach to support livelihoods and restore ecosystems.

We wanted to showcase this global hotspot and outline the actions required to reset our relationship with nature and ensure its protection and sustainable use. The key solution is addressing the needs of people.”

- Professor Alexandre Antonelli

Why yams?

Much of Madagascar’s population lives in rural areas, where their incomes and diets rely on the natural environment. As such, Kew and the consortium want to help communities grow food that is more drought tolerant and therefore reduces the risk of famine.

The team believes that yams, a root vegetable native to Madagascar, could provide an invaluable tool against hunger. In rural communities, they are wild harvested and used to supplement diets in drier times or when staple crops such as rice fail. Not only are there many wild species of edible yams that are unique to the country, but the edible portion is in the underground storage organs which are protected from temperature extremes above ground. Kew’s team is also collecting information on the drought resilience and nutritional composition of these yams.

While the cultivation of yams in western Madagascar is not prevalent, Kew’s team of scientists believes that cultivating them can help local people adapt to drier conditions. One of their projects focuses on yam cultivation, training and planting with local communities around the Montagne des Français Reserve – a protected area consisting principally of dry forest in northern Madagascar. Successful yam cultivation could also offer an additional income stream to locals if a market for yams could be established, as it has been in west Africa.

Local people and the planet are inextricably linked

In Madagascar, as in many parts of the world, the prosperity of local and indigenous people is inextricably linked to conservation. It’s estimated that indigenous practices are responsible for conserving 21% of all land on Earth, according to a 2021 report titled “Territories of Life” by the ICCA Consortium, a group that advocates for indigenous and community-led conservation. To put this into perspective, protected and conservation areas overseen by governments – such as parks and forests – cover just 14% of the planet (of course, there is overlap with indigenous lands here).

Various methods are employed by indigenous communities to safeguard their natural environments. These include but are not limited to, controlling entry to sacred areas, marking certain zones as animal sanctuaries, and prohibiting hunting at particular times of the year. While indigenous and local groups vary greatly in their cultures and practices, they often share a view that nature holds cultural or spiritual value.

We were proud to sponsor Kew Garden’s orchid festival this year, an event that attracted thousands of people to the gardens. If this is an event you would like to attend next year, please speak to your usual Cazenove Capital representative.

Did you know…

The Schroder family – majority owners of Cazenove Capital – have long had a passion for orchids. In 1864, Johann Heinrich Schroder’s had about 20 orchid houses built to cultivate this new and exotic flower that was causing a sensation in Europe. Johann’s passion project was continued by his son, John Henry. By the end of his orchid-growing career, John Henry had won 13 gold and 21 silver Royal Horticultural Society medals. These plants were passed down several generations with Baron Bruno Schroder displaying them at the Chelsea Show in 1921.

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Victoria Beckett
Editor and Copywriter


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