A group of journalists went together to Ambatomanga on March 23-24, 2007. This is the report of that nice trip.
Ambatomanga is 36km to the east from Antananarivo. It is a village of 6,010 people; the population regrouped in 5 Fokontany.
Long time ago Ambatomanga belonged to the Milk Triangle constituted by three regions (Antsirabe, Ambositra and Manjakandriana). Until now Ambatomanga is well reputed for their milk quality and delicious cheese… (I believe we have never eaten so much cheese in our lives). And if you ask me to rename Ambatomanga I will call it “Cheese land”.
There are 7 Home-Cheese-Makers in Ambatomanga. And guess what: the oldest one started in 1984. Some of the cheese-makers supply the supermarkets of Antananarivo; but since the road was built, people from town come to visit the place (especially on weekends) and most of the products can be sold there.
Consumers do not have to worry about the hygiene of the cheese produced in Ambatomanga. Once a year the Home-Cheese-Makers have to send samples to the Ministry of Health. There; they test the cheese samples and deliver a certificate to the producers if everything is normal. Then, some men from the same Ministry, travel to Ambatomanga. They do not tell in advance that they will come. That is to control the workshop. So again they make sure that the cheese-making process is within standards.
If you are not a cheese-maker in Ambatomanga then you must be a farmer.
The price of milk is getting higher and higher. In 2004, it was Ar380 per liter, now it is more than Ar500.
People of Ambatomanga do not drink milk. They prefer to sell it so they can make money. (The reason why they drink milk on holidays is because cheese-makers do not work on those days).
Farmer families get only a little amount of money by selling milk so they have to do other work to fulfill their needs.
During our trip we met 2 ladies who transport 150l of water to the cheese factories.
They can get Ar1500 for doing so. Just after that, they cut grass and cultivate their parts of field.
We met another brave widow. She sells yoghurt and can get Ar2,000 per day to support her 4 children.
We have also met a handicraftsman by the name of Rado. Rado received us at his little place and showed us how to make a very nice necklace with horn. He was very kind with us. A lucky journalist from our team received the necklace.
PEACE CORPS HOSTS:
We interviewed Jao. His family has lived in Ambatomanga for generations starting from his grandfather. He is married and has 2 children. He is a farmer.
Jao is one of the 30 lucky families in Ambatomanga to have received a U.S. volunteer from Peace Corps in 2005 to live at his place for 3 months. His family and the volunteer had a good working relationship. The female volunteer from the States was really simple and accepted to follow the family’s rhythm of life.
Receiving a volunteer from Peace Corps was a real benefit for Jao’s family. She taught them cleanliness (body, home, food, clothes); they built a bathroom to enforce what they learnt.
The volunteer explained that we, Malagasy people, are lucky to live in a tropical land and have various kinds of vegetables. She advised Jao and his family to balance their diet by having 3 different colors of food at each meal [for instance rice (white), grass (green), carrot salad (orange) or pineapple (yellow)]. They do not necessarily have to eat meat. Thanks to the volunteer, Jao and his family discovered that it is possible to eat raw vegetables by preparing salads with them; it is advised to eat fruits and sometimes cook soups.
Jao also wanted to add that medical treatment in Ambatomanga is good and the clinic has all the necessary medicines. But he admits that because of the balanced food he and his family are eating, they rarely have any health problems.
The people in Ambatomanga were really nice and helpful to us. On behalf of the journalist team who went there I want to thank all of the nice villagers of the “Cheese Land”.