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Discover luxury in Madagascar with Africa’s first caviar

The owners of this venture believe that luxury foods can play a part in improving Madagascar’s economy.

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Discover luxury in Madagascar with Africa's first caviar
A worker from the company Rova Caviar Madagascar shows a box packaging for caviar at the Acipenser factory, on June 4, 2019 in Mantasoa, Madagascar. - Renowned for its unique wildlife and vanilla production, Madagascar 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. (Photo by MAMYRAEL / AFP)

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 owners of this venture believe that luxury foods can play a part in improving Madagascar’s economy.

“A lot of people laughed at us,” says 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.”

Discover luxury in Madagascar with Africa's first caviar
A worker of the Rova Caviar Madagascar company holds a sturgeon after pulling it from the net, at the Acipenser factory, on June 4, 2019 in Mantasoa, Madagascar, in order to extract caviar from it. (Photo by MAMYRAEL / AFP)

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.

Last year Mozambique produced a tonne of caviar in a world market of about 340 tonnes a year.

But its ambitious promoters hope to soon increase production to five tonnes.

The unusual plan is the brainchild of Dabezies, her husband Christophe and their partner Alexandre Guerrier – all entrepreneurs based in Madagascar.

Learning skills

Discover luxury in Madagascar with Africa's first caviar
Workers from the company Rova Caviar Madagascar grade and analyse the caviar extracted from a sturgeon, at the Acipenser factory, on June 4, 2019 in Mantasoa, Madagascar. – (Photo by MAMYRAEL / AFP)

“At the time, our business in luxury ready-to-wear clothes had become sustainable, and we were seeking to diversify our activities,” Dabezies said.

“We are all gourmands, so this idea served our purposes.

“Madagascar has an exceptional environment that produces rare crops such as cocoa, vanilla, organic shrimp and lychees – we thought we could add caviar.”

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.

“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.”

Discover luxury in Madagascar with Africa's first caviar
Sahena Say, hatchery manager of the Rova Caviar Madagascar feeds small fish, at the Acipenser factory, on June 4, 2019 in Mantasoa, Madagascar. (Photo by MAMYRAEL / AFP)

Staff member Say Sahemsa, wearing white boots, tells 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.

When they reach seven grams (a quarter of an ounce), they are moved to freshwater ponds, and then into large cages in the lake when they weigh 500 grams (around a pound).

At 1.5 kilogrammes, the males are killed and only the females are kept on until their eggs are ready.

Colour, taste and smell

Discover luxury in Madagascar with Africa's first caviar
A worker from the company Rova Caviar Madagascar packs in a metal box the caviar extracted from a sturgeon, at the Acipenser factory, on June 4, 2019 in Mantasoa, Madagascar. (Photo by MAMYRAEL / AFP)

The process demands patience and skill.

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.

“At first, I was afraid to destroy or contaminate the eggs, but now everything comes automatically,” he said.

The eggs are kept in a refrigerated room at 0 degrees Celsius.

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 says.

From a lake high in Madagascar, Africa’s own caviar . Watch and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing stories about Africa.

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 – $144 per 100 grams – far cheaper than in Europe.

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 says.

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Culture and Tourism

Being Kenya’s International Tourism Ambassador is a Privilege – Naomi Campbell

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English model and actress, Naomi Campbell, has described her confirmation as Kenya’s international tourism ambassador as a privilege and an honour.

Najib Balala, the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, had announced the appointment of 50-year-old Campbell as Magical Kenya International Brand Ambassador in January, a development which was widely criticised by Kenyans.

News Central reports that Kenyans had queried why the appointment was not given to Hollywood’s Kenyan-Mexican actress, Lupita Nyong‘o. But, Balala defended his decision by saying Campbell had taken up the role pro bono.

He also added that his ministry had not been able to reach Nyong’o for at least three years.

Gushing over her role as the face of international tourism for Kenya, a country famous for its wildlife safaris and beach resorts, Campbell in an Instagram post said:

“I feel so privileged and honoured to be confirmed as Magical Kenya International Brand Ambassador. Not just because of the obvious benefits that tourism brings to an economy but also I am proud to be able to represent such an important country as Kenya.

“We all know about the astounding areas of natural beauty, the beaches and of course the wildlife but there is much more.

“Kenya has a history going back 100 million years and is considered by many to be the cradle of civilisation so I am humbled to be talking about the country.

“Of course the people are the wealth of any nation and it’s no different with Kenya. It’s people have excelled in the arts, sciences, political thought and sports just to name a few.

“Tourism does of course bring jobs to the local economy, vital for so many small and big entrepreneurs. It helps unleash ideas, creativity, talent and makes for worthwhile and productive lives.

“Tourism is vital on many levels and it is my hope that I can play a small part in helping remind the world about Kenya and on a bigger level wouldn’t it be wonderful if Kenya could help inspire the world after this terrible pandemic we have all been through. Reminding us to be grateful for nature’s beauty and enduring history of our wonderful planet. #NAOMIAFRICA🙏🏾 @magicalkenya 🇰🇪🇰🇪🇰🇪”

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Conservation News

Three Endangered Rothschild’s Giraffes Die of Electrocution in Kenya

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The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has confirmed that three Rothschild’s giraffes have died after being electrocuted by low-hanging power powerlines at a Soysambu conservancy in Nakuru.

News Central reports that Rothschild’s giraffe are one of the most endangered species of the animal with estimate putting their population at less than 1,600 in the wild.

Kenya has about 600 Rothschild’s.

KWS said officials from the state-owned power distributing company, Kenya Power, would replace the poles.

“Preliminary reports indicate that the height of the electricity poles crossing Soysambu Conservancy are low, below giraffe’s height,” a statement read in part.

Dr Paula Kahumbu, the Producer and Host of Wildlife Warriors CEO WildlifeDirect, alleged in a tweet that the deaths could have been prevented if experts’ advise was heeded.

In another tweet, Kahumbu added that these deaths were not the first, and that they could have been prevented if expert advice had been followed.

“These power lines have been killing giraffes, vultures and flamingos. Advice from experts was ignored. RIAs [Risk Impact Assessments] are notoriously poor on many development projects. Sad that it takes these kinds of deaths to wake some people up!” she tweeted.

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Culture and Tourism

Icons on Nigeria’s ₦10 Note Inspired Oscar Nominated Movie, ‘Milkmaid’ – Ovbiagele

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It may no longer be news that Nigerian movie, ‘Milkmaid’, is in contention for an award in the 2021 Oscars International Films Category, what is news is the revelation that the film was inspired by a denomination of the Nigerian currency.

“The screenplay was inspired by the two iconic figures at the back of the 10 Naira note, those are the Fulani milkmaids who were carrying their calabashes.

Desmond Ovbiagele, who produced Milkmaid, said his film was inspired by two iconic figures on the ₦10 note. The movie, itself, tells the story of two sisters who were abducted from their village during an insurgency in Northeast Nigeria.

“So I sought to imagine what would happen if the two characters were caught up in an insurgency situation. How would their lives play out and how would they adjust to the new way of life that would be imposed on them.

On the choice of language used in the movie, Ovbiagele said “one could have chosen the easier decision to shoot the film in English language, but because we were striving for authenticity, we didn’t think it would be authentic enough for people in that rural area setting to speak `Queens English’.

The former Investment Banker turned movie producer said he was overwhelmed by the nomination of the movie for the Oscars adding that it was an accolade to reward the efforts of the cast and crew.

“… to fly the Nigerian flag at the Oscars, a Nation of 200 million people, the most prolific film making industry in the world by volume is a tremendous honour,” he said.

The film has already won five Africa Movie Academy Awards, including Best Film.

Oscars organisers, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, will announce nominations for the Academy Awards on March 15 in Los Angeles, U.S.A.

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