Madagascar’s plight: how do we create better Global-Local linkages?

Madagascar’s record of biodiversity– 600 species discovered in a decade (including 6 new coffee species!)

“Over the past 20 years, Madagascar has lost more than 1 million hectares of forest, and in the aftermath of a coup in March 2009, the rainforests were pillaged for hardwoods such as rosewood, destroying tens of thousands of hectares of some of the island’s most biologically diverse national parks – including Marojejy, Masoala, Makira and Mananara.

Protecting the island’s biodiversity will have to involve locals, said Wright, and it will have to include incentives for them to look after their forests. “If they have no practical way of making a living, of course they are going to turn to the natural resources sector and see what they can get from that, and who wouldn’t do it?”

There is a long way to go, Wright added, but he was optimistic. “There are some signs that things are good – there are growing local groups who are trying to conserve biodiversity. There is a local recognition and a need to protect it for their own reasons – that is very healthy.”

What can the Global community do to support local community organizations? Stricter sanctions on illegal logging? Stronger incentives for sustainable investment by palm oil and mining companies? Offer better alternative livelihood strategies? Offer Fair Trade options?

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Conservation vs. Development

The age-old adage. Had an interesting discussion with a co-working about conservation in a development context. We were both frustratingly wondering how to promote the idea of conservation in a community struggling to survive. Obviously I don’t have the answer to this question, but from what I’ve observed, there aren’t too many options.
The bridge between policy and conservation science is key. No matter what the communities attitudes are towards conservation, without a solid policy framework, not much conservation can take place. My observation in Madagascar was that communities made the link between conservation and their livelihood on their own. The intrinsic value of the forest to them was not only a cultural one, but they expressed their need of external help to preserve their watershed. Under a strong national conservation strategy, the community worked to preserve their forest according to national restriction. Within that context, environmental education was relatively simple.
Take away the government, take away the conservation policy and the community, no matter what their feelings are towards the forest, are vulnerable to external exploitation—a more lucrative endeavor than the free boots and jackets forest wardens used to get for protecting the forest.
This isn’t quite so simple. Under Ravalomanana’s rule, there was a lot of state-supported illegal exploitation. However, this was rather indirect, and not compromising the conservation attitudes of the individual farmers.

Such a different development context

The poverty in rural central Asia is so different than the poverty I witnessed in rural Madagascar.  Sure, this area of the world deals with an array of other problems, not least of which is the opium trade or the vulnerability to extremism.  And I’m not so naïve as to compare a rural with an urban context.  But the basic infrastructure which exists here surpasses anything that I saw in mid-sized African or Indian towns.  I think the largest difference is the low population density.  Despite a growth rate of over 300 % in some regions of the Pamirs, the population density is still very low (3.5 per km2).

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief.

I previously posted about Madagascar’s dire political state. In that post, I questioned whether Rajoelina’s despotic rule was perhaps the lesser of two evils, since it kept the socially and ecologically destructive MNC Daewoo at bay. Turns out I was wrong. Although I commonly, and in this case erroneously, like to blame MNCs, industry and rampant capitalism as the primary drivers of ecological destruction, the case in Madagascar has proven that a divided and utterly impoverished population, led by a desperately corrupt, illegitimate government is far worse than I could have ever imagined.
As I read through today’s Globe and Mail (my weekly Saturday treat), I finally came to the Focus and Books section, tucked all the way in section F of the paper. I had chills running down my spine, and fought to hold back tears of anger and despair as a I read through “The gangs of Madagascar: Armed looters invade fabled forests.” Gangs of armed criminals are taking advantage of the political disarray and are “assaulting the fabled forests of Madagascar, one of the world’s most sensitive biological zones.” Foreign businessmen (mostly Chinese) are organizing thousands of illegal loggers and animal traders, who are stripping the forests of any remaining rosewood and ebony, smuggling out rare animals, and in so-doing, destroying the habitat of endangered wildlife.
Many of you know that I spent the greater part of this year writing a thesis concerning community-based natural resource management in rural Madagascar. My conclusions spelled out that community-based organizations are generally a good way to organize existing knowledge and recouple societies with ecosystems. Communities have taken the protection of the rain-forest seriously, as they themselves directly suffer the consequences of a rising water table and eroding soils. No doubt, these communities face incredible challenges, and the associations are far from perfect. But with support from the national and local government, and international donors, the protection of the vulnerable rainforest by communities was becoming a common and fairly successful management practice. One way in which communities were protecting the forest was through local dina, or laws. However, the current situation has park staff and communities discouraged by the non-existant state support. In fact, it seems that the state-armed militia is supervising the transportation of the wood.
“It’s very alarming. We’ve been working with the local communities for years to better manage the parks, and now they suddenly see that the law is unenforced and you can break the law and even be paid for it.” –Nani Ratsifandrihamanana
Enter deep collapse
For someone who is in love with the island, its lore, its nearly unfathomable beauty and its bounty of endemic organisms, this news is devastating—Madagascar and all of her ‘hotness’ (of biodiversity) seems to be on an unstoppable spiral of decline. For those of you that are resilience followers, Madagascar is falling into what Buzz Holling would describe as a DEEP collapse.
But as I hang onto the memories I have of the island, I refuse to give up hope. There must be some way out of here—out of this downward spiral. I read yesterday in a book chapter by Alcorn et al. (2003) that despite the potential for local peoples’ movements to form the basis for a global movement, local/indigenous peoples cannot focus their energies on nurturing a global social movement from the grassroots. “They are struggling to survive.” The authors argue that support for local/indigenous people’s survival and social movements could nurture allies for a global social movement to recouple Earth’s societies to ecological feedback across scales.
The discourse that was emerging among local people regarding environmental protection has been crushed. Is it not then, the responsibility of national and global actors to reengage with this local discourse and protect not only the vulnerable ecosystem but also the local livelihood to which it is necessarily coupled?
The gangs of Madagascar: Armed looters invade fabled forests

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