Suzanne Tsovalae: belief in commerce

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Suzanne Tsovalae: belief in commerce

"We do everything we can not to slip into poverty," says Suzanne Tsovalae, aged 23, of Tanandava, in Androy, southern Madagascar. She describes how she and her husband provide for themselves and their three children through a combination of agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and petty trading.

They own one field. "The part I play," Suzanne says, "[is that] I plant sweet potatoes, harvest vañemba (small red bean), dig for sweet potatoes". She also raises poultry and has been able to sell enough chickens to buy a ewe.

Although she believes "we will always be farmers", she explains that agriculture has become increasingly risky with changing weather conditions. "There were good harvests before…the fields were full of food," she says, "but last year, though we planted, it all died from no rain. This year also, the fields have no value, there's been no rain."

Fishing, too, depends on the weather. "My husband goes fishing and out to sea when it's calmer…," Suzanne says. "Sometimes he paddles out in the canoe, at other times he works the lobster near shore." Likewise, her own trading activities partly depend on the catch: "If the canoes come in, the weather being fair, then we go straight away to the canoes for fish, and we sell their fish, the profit of which feeds our children."

If there are no fish Suzanne travels to Faux Cap to buy prickly pear, which she brings back to sell locally. She urges other women to "get into commerce" and would like to see a local market set up.

Suzanne talks about migrating to the north for work as another way of getting out of poverty, and says that successful migrants invest any money they have earned back into farming. She is considering migrating for up to two years herself.

Although as a child her education was cut short because of a lack of funds, Suzanne feels she has gained from the small amount of schooling she had. Numeracy has been particularly valuable: "Having learned…I knew how to make a profit from those fish I purchased, and in selling raketa (prickly pear), I know how to make a profit, I know how to give change."

Suzanne is optimistic about the future. "Our life is definitely improving…," she says. Asked how she imagines herself in 10 years' time, she says: "At that time our children will be older, and I'd hope that we would…be well off enough to send our children to school, and have many cattle, and even that our chickens would be many. But especially to have many cattle in order to support the schooling of my children."