Learning the theory and practice of the utilisation of VAM with Mitsinjo

Dissemination of knowledge and sharing of experiences and best practices in forest restoration form an essential part of the Manondroala 2 project. A workshop on dry and humid forests had been organised by FANC and Association Manondroala in Mahajanga in October 2019. The next workshop had been planned for the year 2020, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it had to be cancelled. In last October, Association Manondroala and Mitsinjo could finally welcome participants to a three day training on Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhiza (VAM) and its utilisation in Andasibe.

The first day was dedicated to presentations. All participants introduced themselves and their organisations. Christin NASOAVINA, Mitsinjo’s president and the local coordinator of the Manondroala 2 project, welcomed the guests. He also told about the history of Mitsinjo as well as about the activities and achievements. Angela TARIMY, the national coordinator of the project, made a review of the Manondroala projects and shortly presented FANC’s objectives and activities. She gave basic information on Finland as well.

20211013_111612Guests and hosts

Most of our guests came from Mahajanga. They represented four organisations and other actors working in dry deciduous forests and mangroves of western Madagascar. The University of Mahajanga has a botanical garden for educational purposes at the campus where they have planted trees given by the Eden Reforestation Projects. This cooperation is one of the outcomes of networking as part of the Manondroala 2 project. The University also manages the dry forest of Mandravasarotra, an area of 47 ha in Antsanitia. 200 different plant species are growing there and the University is committed to protecting them.

The National Museum of Natural History of Paris (MNHN) and the Association Antrema Miray (AMI) comanage the Antrema biocultural site in Katsepy, Mahajanga. The surface area is 20660 ha including a marine reserve of 1000 ha. The site is also protected under the Ramsar convention. MNHN and AMI have various treatment methods of improving the germination of the seeds they are using for growing trees. In addition to restoration, the local Sakalava traditions promote the protection of environment. Mr Noery from Antrema Miray told us about a belief held by the Sakalava. They consider crowned sifakas (Propithecus coronatus) as representatives of their ancestors. Therefore these lemurs are sacred. It is fady (forbidden, taboo) to kill them.

The fourth organisation from Mahajanga was PAGEII/GIZ (Programme d’Appui à la Gestion de l’Environnement). They are implementing a program of sustainable exploitation of natural resources. They have already restored 800 ha of mangroves and 10 ha of landscape destroyed by mining activities. Acacia trees have been planted on 20 ha in the forest station of Marohoga. In last October, PAGEII/GIZ was preparing reforestation with honey plants and moringa. They were also planning management of cashew trees.

20211013_090303The workshop offered an opportunity to test the educational material
that Mitsinjo had prepared with help from FANC and Association Manondroala

Our guest from Antananarivo represented BNCCREDD+ (le Bureau National de Coordination du Changement Climatique, du Carbone et de la REDD+). Mr Ravoninjatovo showed us detailed figures of the development of Madagascar’s forest cover in 2000-2019. He also told about the plans for implementing REDD+ programs (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) of carbon sequestration and trade.

Apart from Mitsinjo, two other actors from Andasibe participated in the workshop. One of them was V.O.I. MMA, an association formed by local guides. They manage a community park and have been collaborating with Mitsinjo for years. The other was a private initiative that has recently started working in Anevoka, a village situated about 9 km from Andasibe.

Every presentation engendered a lively conversation about the subject. Other participants were interested in knowing more and made a lot of questions.

In the afternoon, it was time to focus on the main theme of the workshop and begin the training. The floor was given to Youssouf, Mitsinjo’s VAM expert and restoration specialist. As most participants were unfamiliar with Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhiza, he explained first the differences between types of fungi and described the role of mycelium for the plants. The symbiosis formed by endomycorrhizal fungi with plants is profitable for both parties. In Mitsinjo’s nursery, the use of VAM has considerably increased the survival rate of seedlings. After having explained the theoretical basis of the Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhiza, Youssouf presented the process of VAM production step by step with the help of images. Precise practical instructions would be given during the next two days.

20211013_163745Youssouf explaining the significance of mycorrhiza

The following morning, the training continued at the expertise centre in Farahevitra. At first, it was the turn of the guests to give feedback on the previous day. They were very satisfied, but wanted to know even more. Thus, many questions were asked again. When the conversation was over, Angela presented the expertise trail created by Mitsinjo, explaining how the sites along the trail had been restored. The participants would see some sites later during the day. Before that, Youssouf introduced the tree nursery to them. They heard about the principles and methods Mitsinjo follows in restoration, beginning from the selection of the species to be grown. Youssouf also explained the purpose and functioning of the dry toilet standing in the nursery. The toilet was built during the Manondroala 1 project with the idea to promote improved sanitation in Andasibe by familiarising villagers with the use of toilet and by encouraging them to end open defecation. Secondly, it was planned that the composted excreta would be utilised as fertilizer in the nursery and the urine would have made a natural repellent against harmful insects. Because of unexpected events and adversities, Mitsinjo has not been able to realise the plan. During this year 2022, measures will be taken to secure the use of the toilet.

20211014_090200Our guests were very interested in the dry toilet

20211014_091230Feedback conversation at the expertise centre

From the nursery, the group moved to the nearest restored site on the trail, where Youssouf showed with the conservation team how to collect mycorrhiza for the production of VAM. Given the opportunity, several participants wanted to try themselves. Following the example, they looked for spots where to dig. The roots they unearthed were collected and saved for later use. After this practical exercise, the team led the way to three other restored sites that were relevant for the training. Nasoavina and Youssouf told about the history of each site as well as about the techniques used, lessons learnt and strategy for the future. The walk ended at Mitsinjo’s office where lunch was already waiting.

20211014_100601Looking for roots with mycorrhiza

IMG_8154Studying mushrooms with Nasoavina

After the break, the training was resumed in Farahevitra. First, the experiences of the morning were discussed. Next, the training proceeded to a practical exercise of VAM production. Mr Tamby from MNHN/AMI volunteered and performed the initial steps of the production. The nursery team had dug a hole for the purpose in one corner of the nursery. Mr Tamby lined the hole with plastic bags, added previously made VAM and fertile soil on the bottom, spread seeds of rice and beans that had been soaking in water for 24 hours and covered them with a layer of fertile soil. Then he watered the surface to make it moist and put straws on the top as protection against the sun and to keep the humidity. All the while, Youssouf observed the performance and explained to other participants who were taking notes and watching attentively.

The nursery team had also prepared other VAM holes to show different stages of the production. In one hole, rice and beans were growing leaves and mycorrhiza was visible among the roots. In the second hole, VAM was ready for the last step. The plants had been growing for three months, so it was time to cut them. Again, Mr Tamby made the exercise, now accompanied by Youssouf. Leaves and roots were cut into small pieces, put back into the hole with previously made VAM and covered with straws. After ten days, the new VAM would be ready for use.

20211014_144935The plastic bags prevent the roots of the growing
beans and rice
from reaching the ground

20211014_153536The plants are ready to be cut

Another exercise dealt with the technique of using VAM in the planting of seedlings. Youssouf first explained and planted a seedling into a plastic pot. Mr Tamby followed his example. The other participants were watching with interest. A long conversation ensued, going on until hot drinks and pastry were served to finish the day.

A recapitulation made by Angela opened the training on the third morning. Youssouf had a feedback conversation with the participants about the previous day. During the conversation, a journalist from the National Television of Madagascar (TVM) interviewed Angela and Nasoavina as well as the representatives of the University of Mahajanga, Prof. Vololomboahangy RANDRIANJAFY and Dr Botovao Auguste RAMIANDRISOA. The journalist had joined us in the morning and documented on video what was happening in Farahevitra. After the feedback, Youssouf presented the three VAM holes to the camera. The seeds that had been sown the day before showed already signs of germination.

Angela_interviewedAngela is being interviewed

20211015_095506Youssouf presenting the hole with cut leaves and roots

There was still one exercise. Together with Mr Tamby, Ms Baomelina from AMI and Mr Ramiandrisoa, Youssouf gave a demonstration of the plantation of seedlings in plastic pots. They would be later moved to a seedbed to continue their growth. To leave a memory of the training, participants then moved to plant other seedlings on the nearest restoration site. The journalist recorded the planting event before leaving us. Parts of the day’s video were broadcasted by TVM News on October 19, 2021.

The workshop continued at Mitsinjo’s office. Angela wrote down the plans the participants had for utilising the VAM technique and for sharing their experiences. Lastly, the guests were asked to evaluate the training and the general organisation of the workshop. The answers were flattering. The participants were very satisfied with everything. Distribution of certificates officially ended the workshop.



Exercise of the use of VAM

20211015_102402Making memories


However, there was still program for the afternoon. Our guests had expressed a wish to see Mitsinjo’s activities in Torotorofotsy. Thus, two cars took us to Menalamba, where Mitsinjo has a building for local meetings and other gatherings. From Menalamba we walked to Maromahatsinjo, a nearby hamlet with a view to the Torotorofotsy wetland. Our hosts told about the threats the area is facing and Mitsinjo’s work to save and protect it. After the visit, we took the road back towards Andasibe. On the way, we stopped at the tree nursery in Sahaparasy to have a look at the seedlings and learn about the activities from Youssouf. Then it was time to return and have dinner. It was already dark as we arrived. The day had been long but very interesting.

20211015_162827The core of the Torotorofotsy wetland lies behind the rice fields

20211015_172917At Sahaparasy tree nursery

Photos: Ulla Aitakangas

Originally published in the Manondroala blog of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation – FANC