Local communities need to be engaged when it comes to using their natural resources sustainably
Madagascar, island of a thousand wonders, is well known for its many endemic species of plants and animals. With more than 13 million hectares (more than 50,000 sq miles) of forest, it is home to more than 100 species of lemurs and seven species of baobabs, six of them endemic.
Yet sociopolitical and economic crises, intense slash-and-burn activities to expand agricultural land, exponential population growth and the illicit wildlife trade are threatening the country’s immense natural wealth and the world’s global commons.
Madagascar’s wealth depends on conservation. If our biodiversity disappears, we will not be able to say to the world that “we’re unique”. And the best way to conserve a territory’s biodiversity is to allow the people who live there to use their natural resources sustainably.
Conservation activities need to be combined with economic opportunities that are based on the environment, and so also help to protect it.
Thus biodiversity conservation can only be achieved by engaging local communities through sustainable agribusinesses, eco-tourism, educational radio programmes and participatory ecological monitoring.
Fanamby – a non-profit organisation whose name means “challenge” in Malagasy – has worked in this way since 1997 to reduce poverty through conserving biodiversity.
The main objective is good governance that promotes sustainable development at the local level. That involves restructuring local groups into associations that can respond to demanding markets. In 2010 Fanamby created Sahanala, a social enterprise owned by more than 5,700 farmers-producers.
The trend towards responsible sourcing of products, and worldwide awareness of the need for products to be traceable, has helped it improve the livelihoods of communities living in environmentally sensitive areas.
Farmers’ incomes have already been increased by 400 per cent, with hopes of more to come – a contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating poverty.
Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla, and Fanamby has also initiated a programme for the crop, supported by several multinationals such as Mars and Danone through the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming in three rural municipalities in the Soanierana Ivongo district of eastern Madagascar.
That area used to be known for its vanilla products, but after prices crashed the local plots of the crop began to be depleted.
This has had an impact on the environment. When farmers cannot make a living from crop production, they can be tempted to proceed with illegal logging – sometimes in protected areas – or with slash-and-burn clearing of forests.
The programme aims to support farmers in producing good-quality vanilla with sure access to international markets, but without it being their only source of revenue. So it also helps them to diversify crop production and ensure food security for their households.
The plan is to improve the standard of living of more than 3,000 farmers in 10 years through sustainable agriculture, empowering them by connecting them directly to existing markets and export channels.
This programme also aims to promote gender equality by involving the leadership of strong women producers such as Soa Lydia, the president of the Vanilla Women Producers Association in Sahabevava, Soanierana Ivongo. She says: “The programme is a life-changing approach, supporting active women to contribute to improving the income of their own families.” The women are now both producers and beneficiaries of change.
Twenty years of challenges have taught us that positive changes can only occur with long-term investment in local communities. Responsible value chains provide the solution for managing protected areas in the long run.
And empowering local producers and communities is also a sustainable solution, because it involves them committing themselves to protecting their own – and Madagascar’s – true wealth.
This piece was originally published for the GEF-Telegraph Partnership.