TSIRO Alliance in Madagascar

Did you know that you can have a positive impact on the world while enjoying fine chocolate? Commodity chocolate has been harmful to the environment in recent years but by eating sustainably produced fine chocolate you can actually help people, animals, and the environment.

Join us on a journey to discover fine-flavor cacao and spices, beautiful but endangered forest and wildlife, farmer communities, and a few dedicated organizations and companies trying to make a change in Madagascar!

Discover Madagascar

Madagascar is an island nation off the Southeast coast of the African continent in the Indian Ocean. At 144 million acres, it’s almost the size of Texas. Madagascar is unique for its incredible biodiversity. The island harbors lush rain forests, tropical dry forests, plateaus, and deserts. Its more than 3,000 miles of coastline and over 250 islands are home to some of the world’s largest coral reef systems and most extensive mangrove areas in the Western Indian Ocean. Approximately 95 percent of Madagascar’s reptiles, 89 percent of its plant life, and 92 percent of its mammals exist nowhere else on earth.

Madagascar’s climate favors the growth of an heirloom variety of cacao known as criollo, which accounts for less than three percent of the world’s chocolate supply and is prized for its fruit-forward flavor. This rare crop has attracted the interest of fine chocolate companies in the United States and Europe.

Map of Africa showing Madagascar off the east coast
Map of Madagascar

Image credit: Wikimedia

Madagascar’s Biodiversity at Risk

Madagascar’s incredible biodiversity is slowly disappearing as communities resort to destructive farming practices to cultivate their land. With already high rates of deforestation, poverty, and malnutrition, the island nation of Madagascar has an urgent need for holistic, innovative solutions. This is where you come in! Through purchasing and consuming sustainable fine chocolate, you help improve the livelihoods of many Malagasy farmers and contribute to biodiversity maintenance. Currently, Madagascar faces many problems:

  • Deforestation: Over 75% of Madagascar’s forests have been lost to deforestation. Unsustainable farming practices such as “slash-and-burn” put the country’s biodiversity at risk and destroy wildlife habitat, including highly endangered Lemur species per WWF.
  • Extreme Poverty: Over 75% of the population is living off of less than $2 per day, according to the World Bank.
  • Malnutrition: Madagascar has the fourth-highest rate of child stunting (47%) in the world, according to INSTAT/ENSOMD.

Together we can help Madagascar!

Meet the TSIRO Alliance


USAID, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and a group of international companies working in cacao and spices joined forces to help address some of Madagascar’s critical environmental and economic problems, with the creation of the TSIRO Alliance. TSIRO stands for (Thriving & Sustainable Investments for land Restoration & economic Opportunity) and means “flavor” in Malagasy.

The alliance focuses on conserving biodiversity and improving the livelihoods of smallholder cacao and spice farmers to support agroforestry systems, and enhancing biodiversity in Madagascar. This public-private partnership will invest in diversifying income streams, using climate-smart agriculture techniques, and reasserting the value of healthy trees and ecosystems to support Madagascar’s fragile ecosystem.

Over 5 years the TSIRO alliance will:

  • Invest $5.8 million towards these efforts;
  • Support 2,000 participating farmers;
  • Strengthen 30 local farming communities;
  • And plant over 1.5 million trees!

Fine Chocolate Industry Association logo

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) links to a global network of experts and consumer touchpoints.

USAID logo

The United States Agency of International Development is funding 50% of TSIRO activities. It has a long track record of public-private partnerships and scalable development programs.

Catholic Relief Services logo

CRS brings its climate-smart agriculture, value chain development, and community engagement experience.

Beyond Good Chocolate logo

Beyond Good has Madagascar-specific experience and links to the U.S. and European markets.

Guittard Chocolate Company-Logo

Guittard Chocolate Company will be engaged in the purchasing of cacao and other spices.

Akesson's logo

Åkessons’s Organic will also be engaged in the purchasing of cacao and spices and has production and harvesting expertise.

Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund logo

Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund will identify tree species and farmers interested in and capable of growing cacao varietals to be designated and scaled up.

TSIRO’s Impact

  • Target 1: By 2025, TSIRO’s farmers will use sustainable agroforestry and agriculture techniques for cacao and spice production to protect Madagascar’s biodiversity.
  • Target 2: By 2025, TSIRO farmers will have improved financial and organizational management capacities.
  • Target 3: By 2025, TSIRO farmers and their households have diversified and sufficient income streams to support (agricultural) education, health, sustainable energy, and other basic needs.
  • Target 4: By 2025, chocolate consumers and companies will have an increased awareness of the environmental and biodiversity benefits linked to responsibly producing and purchasing cacao and spices.

Photo Credit: Åkesson’s Organic

TSIRO project areas

The Tsaratanana Forest Corridor (COMATSA) and the Fandriana-Vondrozo Forest Corridor (COFAV) landscapes are important ecological zones under threat. Located in the northeast and the southeast of Madagascar (see map on the right), both have an extremely high potential for sustainable agricultural production; however, poverty, malnutrition, and a lack of access to essential resources (education, training, inputs) continues to contribute to their degradation.

More than 180 species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, and moths living in TSIRO project areas are on IUCN’s list of endangered species.

Map of the TSIRO intervention area in Madagascar.

Learn more about TSIRO

How is the TSIRO Alliance funded?

The TSIRO Alliance is a joint initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Catholic Relief Services, the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, and the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund as well as private sector companies Madecasse-Beyond Good, Guittard Chocolate, and Akesson’s Organic.

Over a five-year period, the alliance will invest $5.8 million, dedicated to conserving biodiversity and improving the well-being and prosperity of local communities in Madagascar through sustainable fine cacao and spice production.

How will TSIRO help the farmers in Madagascar?

Farm Management Training

Two thousand Malagasy farmers will receive hands-on training in various agroforestry practices and the planting, maintaining, and harvesting of cacao and other spices. TSIRO will establish demonstration plots in strategic areas of the program area and will organize training, exchange visits, and pilot innovative techniques. Additionally, field technicians will conduct site visits to individual farm plots to provide more site-specific support.

Vocational Training

TSIRO will also support a vocational training/education program to encourage youth to learn cacao and spice production techniques, literacy, numeracy, and languages linked to economically viable and environmentally friendly opportunities. For example, Akesson’s Organic and Guittard Chocolate will reutilize plastic to build/sell bricks or green charcoal that could provide energy for value chain activities.

Tree Nurseries and Agroforestry

TSIRO will continue to support existing and new tree nurseries. Access to inputs is critical for farmers to expand the production of key cacao and spice trees and plants. To diversify production, agroforestry systems will also include fruit trees, endemic trees, and other trees & plants such as fruits, medicinal plants, and others.

Post-Harvest Materials & Training

To increase cacao quality, the Alliance will provide fermentation boxes and drying pads. In addition, TSIRO will train farmers on fermenting and drying techniques to produce fine flavor cacao using fermentation boxes rather than banana leaf fermentation. Fermentation centers will be developed on larger farm plots or community sites for optimal “bulking” of farmers’ products and leveraging markets to larger buyers, including TSIRO partners Beyond Good, Guittard, and Akesson’s.

Business Development Tools & Infrastructure

The TSIRO Alliance will provide basic tools, infrastructure, and supplies to improve farmers’ business management skills & access to financing early in the project (Years 1 and 2).  As businesses grow, TSIRO also plans to bring a Business Services Development Specialist on board to support well-performing farmers groups to become “investment ready.”

Basic Financial Education

Through CRS’ Savings and Internal Lending Committees (SILC) approach, 4,000 young people will learn basic financial skills. Youth participants will learn financial management, household budgeting and have access to small loans that can cover costs for agricultural inputs or other needed items and also save money for education or health fees.

Basic & Advanced Marketing Training

CRS will work with the private sector partners and field technicians to roll out a basic and advanced marketing curriculum. Further, CRS will work with farmers to incorporate and learn to collect data on farms using Farm Trace software. TSIRO will also work with private sector partners to strengthen Farm Trace systems (environmental and supply chain data) to help better monitor and adaptively manage the different parts of the supply chain to make it more efficient and effective.

Land Tenure & Land Rights

The TSIRO Alliance will conduct a land tenure assessment in the first year to determine the true nature of land tenure in target communities. In communes where land tenure impedes agricultural production or farmer safety, TSIRO will help secure land rights for farmers to the extent possible.  Finally, TSIRO will determine if resources are available to support land tenure programming in these areas by working with the local government and the World Bank Land Tenure Program.

Why is Madagascar’s biodiversity at risk?

Madagascar consists of 95% of the land that makes up the Madagascar & Indian Ocean global biodiversity hotspot; One of the 36 priority areas identified worldwide. The extreme diversity and high levels of taxonomic endemism combined with the high levels of degraded natural ecosystems make Madagascar a global priority for conservation and biodiversity investments.

The Tsaratanana Forest Corridor (COMATSA) and the Fandriana-Vondrozo Forest Corridor (COFAV) landscapes are important ecological zones under threat. Located in the northeast and the southeast of Madagascar, both have high potential for sustainable agricultural production. However, poverty, malnutrition, and a lack of access to essential resources such as education, training, and inputs contribute to their degradation.

Because more than 90% of animals live in forests or woodland, deforestation has a devastating effect on Madagascar’s wildlife. Of the world’s 25 most endangered primates, six are Madagascar lemurs. According to the World Bank, slash-and-burn agriculture (tavy) accounts for 80 to 95% of deforestation. Fuelwood collection and charcoal production using timber from non-plantation forests account for 5 to 20% of deforestation. Seventy percent (70%) of the population uses wood, and 26% use charcoal as the primary cooking fuel per United Nations (UN). Indirect drivers include poverty, lack of infrastructure and investment in agricultural productivity, illegal timber exploitation and artisanal mining, poor governance, and corruption.

What is TSIRO’s theory of change?

TSIRO Alliance’s Theory of Change fruits from a strong analysis of evidence-based approaches and promising practices that partners have implemented in Madagascar and other countries:

The TSIRO Alliance believes that

  • IF markets incentivize rural farmers (including youth) and farmer groups to improve and scale-up sustainable fine cacao and spice-based agroforestry systems (integrated with spices, fruit, endemic trees/plants) that increase forest and biologically diverse habitats; and
  • IF rural farmers (including farmer groups) and their families stabilize their incomes through improved resource management and participation in more efficient and well-managed value chains (led by the private sector);
  • IF communities actively engage in environmental stewardship of critical biodiversity and ecosystem services; and
  • IF consumer demand for environmentally friendly and responsible cacao and spice products is increased;
  • THEN biodiverse ecosystems will be conserved, and the well-being of small and medium holder farmers and communities will be improved in the Tsaratanana (COMATSA) and the Fandriana-Vondrozo Forest Corridor (COFAV) landscapes.
How will TSIRO protect unique cacao varieties?

TSIRO Alliance will work with the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP) to identify tree species and farmers interested and capable of growing unique cacao varietals. Later on, these trees can be designated and scaled up in collaboration with interested private sector partners. TSIRO partner Akesson’s Organic already has HCP designation, while Beyond Good is moving towards designation at some of their farms in the northeast of Madagascar.

How you can stay involved and help!

Sign up for our TSIRO Progress Updates

Every quarter we send out comprehensive Progress Updates, highlighting the milestones, achievements, and challenges of the project. Watch interviews with TSIRO partners, read blog posts, and dive into the world of Madagascar’s cacao and spice production.

Buy Madagascar Chocolate

FCIA & Make Mine Fine feature a network of sustainable chocolate makers producing delicious bars from Madagascar caca0 and spices. Get your hands on a variety of Madagascar chocolate and indulge in the unique flavor while supporting the island’s ecosystem and biodiversity.

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