Ranotenie: security through cattle

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Ranotenie: security through cattle

Ranotenie is a 46-year-old married woman from Tanandava, in Androy, southern Madagascar, who has 12 children. Together with her husband she farms fields that used to belong to her father. Some of her children have migrated for work. "…I their mother, don't want to release them, but there's no work in this land of ours…",she explains.

The land has become unproductive because of frequent drought. In the past, Ranotenie says, they had "sarete (ox-cart)loadsof harvest" whereas now "everything is lost that's planted… if the rains are good some will produce, but without rain they die and are cattle feed". In addition, they have little land left, having had to sell two fields recently to pay for burial expenses when close family members died.

Ranotenie is also a "bird raiser'', which enables her to buy essential household items. She explains: "…I sold chickens and I sold turkeys, and Rangahe [her husband] then bought a barrel [for fetching water]… Chickens and turkeys got this thing for me…" She and her husband also own two cows, a pulling team, which is crucial for their livelihood. Though prepared to sell poultry in times of need Ranotenie insists they should not sell their cattle, and opposes her husband on this issue. "Rangahe will say, ‘Sell that cow!' But I won't release it. [She replies,] ‘What are we going to do, Rangahe, if we always just sell off our possessions?...' In the end, it's here, because I held fast."

Ranotenie does not consider herself amongst the truly poor, such as widows or those with no possessions. Yet food has been so desperately short that she recently asked some Catholic nuns to feed and care for her youngest children for a while. "It was only Zesosy (Jesus) who kept those kids alive…," she says.

She feels it is time to complain to "those big people, the leaders" and call on them for assistance: "We here are hard hit, we here are starving," she says. "Begin to agitate your leaders, for we're dying of kerè (drought, starvation) now."

Looking ahead, Ranotenie is fearful that "the day will come when these hands are weak and can't plant, and I'll have to beg". "…We can't continue like this forever," she says. Her hopes lie with her children: "So what I'd really hope for is that they'd have employment, that they could support me… That they could maintain me, [by getting] a job as a teacher or as a rasaze (midwife), that's the thirst of my soul…" This is the main reason she "put them in school", she says, though she also stresses the importance of education and literacy in enabling people to participate in community development associations.

She has also been anticipating remittances from her oldest children working elsewhere. "Those children of mine should...send me some money [so] that I could purchase some things," she says. "But...those young women, those men, since they left, have not sent me so much as rai'ale (10,000 ariary note – 5 US$1)."

Ranotenie's immediate hope is that "the rains would fall" and she will be free of anxiety: "Yes [if] the rains come, I [will] plant and all those evil thoughts in my heart [will] vanish. Then I [will] plant and get something from that, get a harvest, get some chickens, and if the harvest is plentiful, I'll be able to have sheep, have goats, then those being with me I'd raise them."

Average exchange rate (1996 ariary = 1US$), November 2009, Interbank rate, source: www.oanda.com