Metal Workers in Madagascar recycle to earn a living
Julie Larsen Maher
July 6, 2007
Rice is the Malagasy food staple, the main course three times a day at their meals. They grow rice themselves or shop for it, and their other supplies including aluminum rice cooking pots, in open-air markets that are their cultural centers.
Tucked away in Ambatolampy, a small town in central Madagascar, is the source of traditional manufacturing of the aluminum rice pots used all around the country. Rather than a massive, high speed production line, ten Malagasy people working in teams of two in a yard surrounded by one room buildings, make about 40 rice pots a day as both an economic means and a way of providing necessary goods for day-to-day life.
Recycled aluminum from old fuel tanks is cut and liquified by hand in hot charcoal fires to begin the process.
Once the aluminum reaches its melting point, it is handed off to one of the teams of men to pour into a mold prepared from black volcanic dirt found only in the rice fields on the hillsides surrounding Ambatolampy. The special dirt is stomped into place with bare feet.
A pot is complete in only minutes, and still hot to the touch, it moves onto the finishing building where the women are allowed to work. Rough edges are rasped or sawed off with a hack saw. The finishing room is considered less physical and better adapted to a woman's role, although it appears to be as difficult and dangerous as the making of the pot itself. The 54-year old woman who is the lead "finisher" of the rice pots, is petite, except for her biceps, which, after 20 years of sawing edges off lids and pots, are bigger than those of a professional athlete. She looks years beyond her age.
Madagascar is recovering from a recent series of deadly cyclones and tropical storms, one of the worst cyclone seasons in years. Floods and famine are affecting this already poverty-stricken country which is ranked among the poorest in the world. The Malagasy government estimates nearly a half million people have been affected by the resulting damage of the storms that have devastated the communities in remote areas of Madagascar. Farm families have lost their crops just before harvest, and many homes have been destroyed. Rice fields were especially hard-hit risking food security.
Conservationists are still assessing the damage but say that crop losses and destruction of buildings could put pressure on protected rainforest areas due to villagers seeking timber for reconstruction and wildlife meat to replace lost agricultural crops.
Also by Julie
Dodging leeches in Madagascar's unexplored rainforest
It is called a rainforest for a reason—because it rains.... and rains. As my field partner, Angelin Razafimanantsoa, and I make our way down muddy mountainsides in the endless downpour, we stop only long enough to pick squirming, bloodthirsty leeches off each other's face. Hours pass as we wade through knee-deep streams rushing over smooth, slippery rocks and thick forest stands. Seven hours ago, we anticipated arriving at our next base camp in three hours' time. Now, as night is falling, it seems we have at least five hours more to go.
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