When it comes to natural resources, Madagascar is a particularly blessed country. Besides being one of the most biodiversity-rich countries – with 90 per cent of its species found nowhere else on Earth – it has lots of cropland, a good climate for agriculture, vast mineral resources, and abundant labour.
Despite this natural bounty, Madagascar has become poorer in recent decades: Nearly 80 per cent of its people live on less than $1.90 a day. Twenty per cent suffer from lack of food security and the number of hungry are expected to grow over the coming decades.
Its decline is closely linked with the degradation of the natural resources on which four out of every five of its people depend. The country's total wealth declined by 10 per cent in real terms between 2005 and 2011, and its natural capital by 26 per cent. Its cropland potential fell by 33 per cent, and its pastureland by 31 per cent.
Now a pioneering project, catalysed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is setting out to reverse this trend by working out how both to increase its agricultural production and conserve its environment at the same time.
The project represents a new approach by the GEF. It has long financed projects that address single issues like biodiversity, land degradation and climate change. But now it is increasingly focussing on more integrated programs that address these challenges at the same time – and on addressing the drivers of environmental degradation and not just the symptoms of it.
“We are switching the focus of our operations to address the underlying negative drivers of environmental degradation – rather than merely its effects – and to support innovative and scalable activities that cost-effectively deliver the highest impacts,” says Naoko Ishii, GEF CEO and Chairperson.
The GEF realises that these challenges cannot be tackled in isolation, because they are irrevocably interlinked. Food production, for example, urgently needs to be increased to meet the demands of growing, and increasingly wealthy populations globally. But trying to do this in isolation will lead to deforestation and the loss of biodiversity- including vital pollinators, the wasteful use and depletion of water resources, and the exhaustion and loss of soils. And all of these, in turn, cause smaller harvests.
Indeed, the global food system is already having an overwhelming impact on biodiversity and ecosystems and the services they provide. Agriculture is a major driver of land use change and accounts for 70 per cent of all the fresh water drawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers worldwide. It contributes around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions and it has caused deforestation and the degradation of almost two billion hectares of land. A more sustainable food system is urgently needed – and could generate 80 million jobs and create an extra $2.3 trillion in productive growth worldwide by 2030.
The Madagascar project - Projet d'appui à l'agriculture durable par une approache paysage (PADAP), or Sustainable Land Management Project in English - focusses on the large-scale restoration of degraded landscapes. The country's soil has eroded as forests have been cut down, as slash and burn agriculture has spread, and as successive crops have exhausted it. Land has degraded and watercourses, irrigation canals and paddy fields have silted up. Although it has 15 times as much water as it would need to meet its potential for irrigation, little of it is stored and scarcity is widespread. And as the climate changes, floods and droughts are becoming increasingly common and severe.
And yet the deterioration can be halted and even reversed. Large parts of the country have not been degraded; 16 per cent of it is still covered in forest. The productivity of partially degraded land can be restored, cultivation can be sustainably intensified, markets can be better connected, and administration improved.
The GEF project – described as “a trendsetter for Madagascar” by Erik Reed, a Natural Resources Management Specialist with the World Bank aims to reverse degradation of natural resources, while increasing the value of production, thus developing a model for integrated landscape management that can be replicated and scaled up across the country.
Focussed on five areas with differing characteristics, the project will cover more than 1.13 million hectares and benefit 38,000 smallholder farmers at a cost of around $108.3 million. The World Bank's International Development Association is contributing $65 million and the GEF $13.6 million, while the French Development Agency has pledged $26.6 million. About 30-50 per cent of rice fields in the five areas are no longer adequately irrigated; some 14,000 hectares of rice fields will be rehabilitated so as to reverse this decline. Six thousand hectares will be terraced, and 500 hectares of gullies stabilised as part of work to improve agriculture on hillsides.
Endemic species of trees will be planted over 1,500 hectares to protect river banks, and 4,500 hectares of community forests will be established to provide fuelwood and construction materials. Agroforestry will be promoted. A cash-for-trees program will be supported to provide incentives for smallholders to reforest their lands. And payments will be made to landholders to compensate and reward them for protecting and providing ecosystem services like water resources or biodiversity.
Technology and technical support will be provided to increase production, including fertilisers, improved planting materials and seeds for improved, climate-resilient varieties of crops. “The issue is to showcase practices and technology at a landscape level and then apply to a national level,” says Johan Robinson, Chief of the GEF Biodiversity and Land Degradation Unit in UN Environment's Ecosystem Division. “The GEF financing does exactly that.”
Effects are already being seen on the ground. Rakotoaridon chief of the village of Andaingohazo says there has been a “drastic” improvement in productivity of land protected from erosion and that water is flowing more reliably.
And Andrianotarhinanahary Hasindrainy, Head of the Bongolava Regional Service of Ecology in Madagascar's Ministry of Environment and Forests, praises the GEF's efforts to address a rapidly deteriorating environment through planting trees in eroded areas.
Given these challenges and the positive experiences with GEF projects in this field, the GEF is launching a new initiative on Food, Land Use and Restoration (FOLUR) as one of three Impact Programs under its seventh operational phase (GEF-7); the other two focus on sustainable cities and sustainable forest management.
It will promote comprehensive land use planning as the foundation of transformational change and aims to embed production within landscapes that protect soil and natural ecosystems and provide ecosystem services. And it sets out to increase crop and livestock production while stopping encroachment into forests and other high biodiversity habitats, erosion of generic diversity, overexploitation of land and water, overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and the inefficient practices causing the emission of greenhouse gases.
The Impact Program focusses on three interrelated priorities: promoting sustainable food systems in entire value chains; promoting deforestation-free agricultural commodity supply chains; and promoting large-scale restoration of degraded landscapes.
The new FOLUR program is on the agenda of the 56th GEF Council meeting which will take place in Washington DC from June 10 to 13, 2019.
Also watch the new film about the GEF National Dialogue Initiative in Madagascar.