ANTSIRABE, Madagascar — In Madagascar, where per capita rice consumption is the highest in Africa, Indonesian farm experts are lending a hand to help increase production of the staple crop.

Jakarta sent the advisers to the Indian Ocean country, one of the world’s poorest, at the request of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Madagascan farmers favor Indonesian equipment over Japan’s state-of-the-art technology, which carries a higher price tag. Furthermore, the economic and cultural similarities between Madagascar and Indonesia mean assistance from the Southeast Asian country gets a warmer welcome.

Dispatched by the Indonesian government last October, 42-year-old Joko Ptioyo demonstrated a wooden thrasher he made at a cost of about 200,000 ariary (about ¥9,000) to farmers in Antsirabe, a city about 2 1/2 hours from the capital of Antananarivo.

His mission is to develop and popularize small machines for poor farmers, including a winnower and a weed-eater. “Most important is to develop machines easily made at cheap prices,” he said.

A rural scene similar to Japan, with paddy fields divided by small paths, is spreading in the suburbs of Antsirabe.

“I am really looking forward to having machines, but if they are expensive, I cannot pay for them,” a 62-year-old local farmer said.

When Joko said, “You don’t have to worry. At first, they will be lent to you free of charge,” the farmer smiled broadly.

According to JICA, the average annual rice consumption per person in Madagascar is about 120 kg, more than twice that in Japan. But environmental degradation and population increases in recent years have made the country dependent on Southeast Asia for 20 percent of its rice needs. It therefore must boost production.

People of Malay descent live in Madagascar’s central highland areas, including Antsirabe, and their ancestors are said to have crossed the sea from Indonesia.

Since there are cultural similarities between Indonesian and Madagascar rice production, and Madagascar’s technological capabilities are similar to Indonesia’s, JICA started asking the Indonesian government to dispatch agricultural experts in 2001. A total of 20 such experts, including Joko, have so far been sent.

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