The Union of the Comoros consists of three very densely populated main islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Mohéli. Agricultural production in the Comoros, however, is low, and the country is very dependent on importing food. To make matters worse, communication between the islands is difficult because they are so far apart from one another, and this makes the exchange of food among the islands difficult as well.
Supporting smallholder organizations in fair trade markets
AVSF first began working in the Comoros in 2006, when it joined an existing cooperation program launched by its colleagues at VSF Belgium. AVSF assisted in government projects, providing expertise on livestock farming and animal health systems.
Ylang-ylang, clove, and vanilla are the most heavily exported crops from the Comoros. Traditional marketing chains put producers at a disadvantage, and traditional methods for processing essential oils often turn out products of inferior quality. Smallholder organizations do exist at the local level, but smallholder federations at the island and national levels are still rare. This means that big private investors (processors, fund-raisers, exporters) are in a position to impose their prices on smallholders. AVSF therefore helped the Syndicat National des Producteurs des Comores (SNAC) strengthen its governance and its presence on the vanilla and spice fair trade markets. As a result, the Fédération pour la Vanille was able to obtain fair trade certification.
Agro-ecology: a response to the high pressure on natural resources
Finally, AVSF is currently partnered with an environmentalist NGO in helping to spread agro-ecological practices on the island of Anjouan. Due to the country’s high population density, pressure on natural resources is extremely high in the Comoros, and the country’s biodiversity is in danger. In addition, overexploitation of natural resources (forest, water, land) undermines the archipelago’s economic prospects year after year. Proper management of these natural resources, however, enables smallholders to get more out of the land while still preserving its potential for the future. AVSF therefore drew on its experience and its references in Madagascar to train managers, technicians, and smallholder leaders in agro-ecology and agro-forestry techniques.