Photos: High up in Madagascar, a gamble making Africa’s own caviar

Madagascar, renowned for its unique wildlife and vanilla production, has a new claim to fame -- the island nation is Africa's first and only source of caviar. The business is an unlikely project in a country beset by grinding poverty, but its owners are determined that luxury foods can play a part in improving Madagascar's economy. The island off the coast of Mozambique is still only a minor player in terms of global production, which is dominated by China, Italy and France -- though producers in the Caspian Sea still boast the most prized caviar, from Beluga sturgeon.

Updated On Jul 05, 2019 09:53 AM IST 11 Photos
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A worker from the company Rova Caviar Madagascar shows a box for caviar at the Acipenser factory, in Mantasoa. “A lot of people laughed at us,” said Delphyne Dabezies, the head of Rova Caviar, admitting that the enterprise was a big gamble. “But we took the time to prove that this is serious. Madagascar caviar is now the only caviar produced in Africa and the Indian Ocean.” (Mamyrael / AFP)

A worker from the company Rova Caviar Madagascar shows a box for caviar at the Acipenser factory, in Mantasoa. “A lot of people laughed at us,” said Delphyne Dabezies, the head of Rova Caviar, admitting that the enterprise was a big gamble. “But we took the time to prove that this is serious. Madagascar caviar is now the only caviar produced in Africa and the Indian Ocean.” (Mamyrael / AFP)

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Workers prepare the nets. The island off the coast of Mozambique is still only a minor player. Last year Mozambique produced a tonne of caviar in a world market of about 340 tonnes a year. But ambitious promoters hope to increase production to five tonnes. The plan is the brainchild of Dabezies, her husband Christophe and their partner Alexandre Guerrier -- all French entrepreneurs based in Madagascar. (Mamyrael / AFP)

Workers prepare the nets. The island off the coast of Mozambique is still only a minor player. Last year Mozambique produced a tonne of caviar in a world market of about 340 tonnes a year. But ambitious promoters hope to increase production to five tonnes. The plan is the brainchild of Dabezies, her husband Christophe and their partner Alexandre Guerrier -- all French entrepreneurs based in Madagascar. (Mamyrael / AFP)

Updated on Jul 05, 2019 09:53 AM IST
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“Madagascar has an exceptional environment that produces rare crops such as cocoa, vanilla, organic shrimp and lychees -- we thought we could add caviar,” Dabezies said. The sturgeon that produce unfertilised caviar roe are kept in Lake Mantasoa, perched at an altitude of 1,400 metres east of the capital Antananarivo. Training the staff has been a major part of the project. (Mamyrael / AFP)

“Madagascar has an exceptional environment that produces rare crops such as cocoa, vanilla, organic shrimp and lychees -- we thought we could add caviar,” Dabezies said. The sturgeon that produce unfertilised caviar roe are kept in Lake Mantasoa, perched at an altitude of 1,400 metres east of the capital Antananarivo. Training the staff has been a major part of the project. (Mamyrael / AFP)

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Workers make an echography of a sturgeon, at the Acipenser factory in order to extract caviar from it. “Caviar professionals have come from abroad,” said Ianja Rajaobelina, now assistant director of the production plant, which employs 300 people. “I had to learn everything on the job.” (Mamyrael / AFP)

Workers make an echography of a sturgeon, at the Acipenser factory in order to extract caviar from it. “Caviar professionals have come from abroad,” said Ianja Rajaobelina, now assistant director of the production plant, which employs 300 people. “I had to learn everything on the job.” (Mamyrael / AFP)

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Workers pull a trolley with sturgeons in order to extract caviar. Staff member Say Sahemsa, told AFP: “You have to take care of the spawn and avoid giving them too much or not enough food, to have the lowest possible mortality rate.” Sturgeon are imported from Russia in the form of fertilised eggs, which hatch in a special nursery facility in Mantasoa. (Mamyrael / AFP)

Workers pull a trolley with sturgeons in order to extract caviar. Staff member Say Sahemsa, told AFP: “You have to take care of the spawn and avoid giving them too much or not enough food, to have the lowest possible mortality rate.” Sturgeon are imported from Russia in the form of fertilised eggs, which hatch in a special nursery facility in Mantasoa. (Mamyrael / AFP)

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A worker opens up the sturgeon in order to extract the caviar. When they reach seven grams, they are moved to freshwater ponds, and then into large cages in the lake when they weigh 500 grams. At 1.5 kilogrammes, the males are killed and only the females are kept on until their eggs are ready. The process demands patience and skill. (Mamyrael / AFP)

A worker opens up the sturgeon in order to extract the caviar. When they reach seven grams, they are moved to freshwater ponds, and then into large cages in the lake when they weigh 500 grams. At 1.5 kilogrammes, the males are killed and only the females are kept on until their eggs are ready. The process demands patience and skill. (Mamyrael / AFP)

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Workers pull out extract the caviar from a sturgeon. The first imported eggs arrived in Mantasoa in 2013, and the first grams of caviar did not go on sale until June 26, 2017, Madagascar’s independence day. The quality of the harvest depends on the dexterity of one man, 23-year-old Gaston Soavan’i Thomas. Knife in hand, Thomas has no margin for error as he extracts eggs from the entrails of each sturgeon. (Mamyrael / AFP)

Workers pull out extract the caviar from a sturgeon. The first imported eggs arrived in Mantasoa in 2013, and the first grams of caviar did not go on sale until June 26, 2017, Madagascar’s independence day. The quality of the harvest depends on the dexterity of one man, 23-year-old Gaston Soavan’i Thomas. Knife in hand, Thomas has no margin for error as he extracts eggs from the entrails of each sturgeon. (Mamyrael / AFP)

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Workers fgrade and analyse the caviar extracted from a sturgeon. “At first, I was afraid to destroy or contaminate the eggs, but now everything comes automatically,” Gaston Soavan’i Thomas said. The eggs are kept in a refrigerated room at 0 degrees Celsius. (Mamyrael / AFP)

Workers fgrade and analyse the caviar extracted from a sturgeon. “At first, I was afraid to destroy or contaminate the eggs, but now everything comes automatically,” Gaston Soavan’i Thomas said. The eggs are kept in a refrigerated room at 0 degrees Celsius. (Mamyrael / AFP)

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A worker packs in a metal box the caviar extracted from a sturgeon. Once it is judged up to standard, the precious output is sold to high-end shops and restaurants on the island and to its neighbours of Mauritius, Seychelles and Reunion. Its price is a relative bargain -- 100 euros ($144) per 100 grams -- far cheaper than in Europe. (Mamyrael / AFP)

A worker packs in a metal box the caviar extracted from a sturgeon. Once it is judged up to standard, the precious output is sold to high-end shops and restaurants on the island and to its neighbours of Mauritius, Seychelles and Reunion. Its price is a relative bargain -- 100 euros ($144) per 100 grams -- far cheaper than in Europe. (Mamyrael / AFP)

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But before the precious roe heads to buyers, expert taster Georges Heriniaina Andrianjatovo taps each box with a small hammer to detect any air bubbles, which are removed as soon as possible. Colour, taste and smell are all important. “A good caviar rolls in the mouth and exudes an odour of fresh butter,” he said. (Mamyrael / AFP)

But before the precious roe heads to buyers, expert taster Georges Heriniaina Andrianjatovo taps each box with a small hammer to detect any air bubbles, which are removed as soon as possible. Colour, taste and smell are all important. “A good caviar rolls in the mouth and exudes an odour of fresh butter,” he said. (Mamyrael / AFP)

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An employee of Rova Caviar among stock ready to head out. According to Guinness World Records, a kilogramme of the costliest caviar from albino sturgeon off the coast of Iran regularly fetches over $25,000. Last year Rova Caviar’s stock sold out in just a few weeks. Among those impressed is prominent Madagascan chef Lalaina Ravelomanana. “I prefer to serve it in its natural state, with salmon or oysters on ice,” he said. (Mamyrael / AFP)

An employee of Rova Caviar among stock ready to head out. According to Guinness World Records, a kilogramme of the costliest caviar from albino sturgeon off the coast of Iran regularly fetches over $25,000. Last year Rova Caviar’s stock sold out in just a few weeks. Among those impressed is prominent Madagascan chef Lalaina Ravelomanana. “I prefer to serve it in its natural state, with salmon or oysters on ice,” he said. (Mamyrael / AFP)

Updated on Jul 05, 2019 09:53 AM IST
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