Pierre-Brice Lebrun - 2011-09-22
On the route to Antananarivo – a few kilometres north of Antsirabé – a red dirt road runs into the countryside. The jeep bounces over deep ruts for a few moments before stopping in front of a farm. A lone black zebu disdainfully eyes the intruders who dare disturb his ruminations.
Thanks to the Zebu Overseas Board, Malagasy farmers can make use of and eventually own zebus originally purchased by European investors for € 300 per animal. The farmers subscribe to a hire-purchase plan and pay a monthly sum into a PEZ: Plan Épargne Zebu - Zebu Savings Plan - or Zolidarité.
The system also offers crossbred ‘métisse’ dairy cattle (€ 600); pigs that will end up as sausage (€ 100); and carts (€ 300). In Madagascar, a zebu without a cart is considered to be something like a bicycle without a rack, and with pigs, as they say, one can use everything but the oink.
ZOB is a singular venture and an unusually intelligent paradigm of economic solidarity. The European investor, who receives an officially stamped certificate of ownership, receives an annual interest of 7 %, payable at the end of a contract which runs for two years plus one day. The capital is invested in various agricultural projects; after two years financiers recoup their initial investment plus interest. The sum total is made available in Antsirabé – I tried it and I can assure you that the money is paid on the nail - thereby financing part of a journey to Madagascar.
The idea is not to further enrich the rich with interest paid by the poor, but to help the poor while making the rich happy. Plus, the local tourist industry profits and the zebus seem to enjoy the attention. While visiting, you see life in the Madagascan countryside as it really is: opposite Fifi’s home (Fifi is the hog I bought with the interest I got when my sow Charlotte was sold), the grocer sells peanuts... one by one. The inhabitants of this remote village - who could live for an entire year on what I paid for my plane ticket - can’t afford to buy them by the kilo.
Fancy spending a month in Madagascar? Buy two or three zebus per year and fly over five years later! All of the money you spend there will benefit the local economy.
The ZOB buys zebus from the livestock market and sends them to spend a few days in its educational farm where they are vaccinated, examined by a veterinarian and eventually assigned to a family. During our visit, the black zebu watches us with a mistrustful eye. He doesn’t look like an easy chap, unlike most of his fellows which are said to be rather debonair.
Pilot and cellist Stéphane Geay - he used to give cello concerts in Paris’s Miromesnil metro station before creating the Madagascar Flying Service in 1992 and the ZOB in 1996 - assures us that a zebu the perfect gift to offer your most apathetic friends. Even those who have been rendered blasé by consumerism and couldn’t care less about beauty, goodness and nature... yes, even they will brighten up at the idea that they own one of these noble animals and it has been named after them. Stéphane is sure of it.
With a zebu, a farmer can greatly expand the area he cultivates and relieve his wife: without zebus, women pull the ploughs in rural Madagascar. And zebus generously offer their fertilizer, a gift of nature that improves soil and increases harvests. Females willingly share their milk with the farmers’ children, and baby zebus grow up to constitute a herd. A zebu has a life expectancy of approximately fifteen years, and a female can produce four or five calves, giving farmers’ daughters the possibility to bring a good dowry to a desirable marriage.
The Zebu Overseas Board trains its personnel to look after the health of these hard-toiling animals. Employees (there are currently fifteen of them) ensure that the zebus are well looked after and properly fed - no mean feat in a country where the average revenue is one or two Euros per day. They also provide vaccines and take care of veterinary necessities.
The black zebu stares us down with a ferocious air. We learn that he has been baptized Letelo (PEZ 1122) and that he belongs to Jacques Chirac! Like his chum Triple Z (PEZ 1515), offered to Zinedine Zidane by a fan club, he’s on permanent holiday: to be a zebu belonging to a VIP - now that’s the life!
Zebu Overseas Board (ex Bank)
Centre of Antsirabé (in front of the small marketplace)
Tel: + (261) 20 44 492 04
(French only - but it’s worth the effort to use an on-line translation tool such as ‘google translate’)