World Rainforest Movement

The impact of Forest Conservation policies on forest dependent communities in SE Madagascar. Lessons for sustainability of Madagascar’s New Protected Areas

Madagascar is one of the world’s most impoverished countries. 70% of the population lives below the poverty line, the majority working in subsistence agriculture in isolated rural communities, relying on forest resources for their daily livelihoods – for firewood (42% of wood consumption), charcoal (39%) and timber (see ‘National Supply-Demand Study on Wood-based products’, as well as a variety of non timber forest products. Forests provide essential ecosystem services and hold an important place in the cultural-ancestral heritage of these communities: the rural population depends on the traditional practice of tavy (‘slash and burn’) to secure traditional land rights and provide fertile land for agriculture and forests are often sacred burial grounds.

Madagascar is widely recognised as one of the world’s most significant hotspots for conservation on account of the country’s staggering diversity of terrestrial flora and fauna, the majority of which are endemic to the island’s forest ecosystems. The problem of degradation of the primary forest in Madagascar has been widely documented since the 1980s. Biodiversity is perceived as a ‘global common resource’ and international conservation organizations see Madagascar’s forests as a global conservation priority. The state has therefore received significant international support and finance for implementation of forest conservation mechanisms for almost two decades.

Donor support funded much of Madagascar’s National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), a 3-phase programme running from 1991 to 2008, a major part of which was protection and management of the ‘national heritage’ of biodiversity. This established an institutional framework including the new Ministry of Environment, the national association for management of the country’s 1.7m ha of protected areas (ANGAP), followed by devolution of management responsibility from the state to community control under jurisdiction of community forest management committees (COBA), which enforce use/exploitation rights and bans on tavy. Perhaps the most significant event under the NEAP was the decision in 2003 to triple the total protected areas. A Madagascar Protected Areas System (SAPM) has been set up and 3.8 million ha of forest, dubbed the New Protected Areas, or NAPs, are designated for temporary protection.

The ‘Durban vision’ was the state’s latest response to the problem of deforestation. It conforms to the CBD and recommendations of the IUCN – and clearly conservation of Madagascar’s remaining forest habitat is critical on a number of levels. Yet since 1991 the country has lost almost 1.5million ha of primary forest cover. Biodiversity is now concentrated in 9million ha of forest ecosystems. The worst affected habitat is the humid forest, especially littoral zones. So, will the SAPM work?

The Government of Madagascar’s conservation policies are systems based on rules of exclusion and enforcement, based on two inherent assumptions: (1) that legislation is a pre-condition for resource conservation; (2) that communities are the primary degraders and will not be motivated to conserve without rules (see also Horning 2008 These rules impact greatest on forest-dependent communities. Forest-dependent communities in Madagascar have all too often been represented as the degraders of forest habitat; on account of factors such as ignorance of the damage of traditional cultivation practices and increasing population sizes leading to unsustainable exploitation. However, such a view obscures the fact that to date conservation mechanisms in Madagascar have tended to be imposed on communities with little or no consultation. In order for policies to be implemented correctly, regulators – be they the state or communities – must have not only the inclination but also the ability to enforce the rules. Communities may have the inclination, but having the ability will depend on whether SAPM is addressing the root causes of degradation. If the NAPs impact negatively on those who depend on forests for their existence, this will undermine sustainability of the SAPM. In this respect removing access to well over half of the country’s remaining natural forest given the annual wood requirements of 21.7 million m3/year and in the absence of alternative energy sources is just one of the things that will impact on those expected to act as environmental stewards.

In Anosy Region in the SE, problems of extreme poverty are seen in their most extreme form. The region is home to some of the largest remaining tracts of humid and low lying littoral forest habitat, designated highest conservation status in Madagascar. Forests have astounding biodiversity and are seen as a resource of untapped economic potential for future development. 14 NAPs have been designated in the region, at various stages of implementation. At 70,000ha the largest of these is Tsitongabarika (TGK), which will become the largest protected forest reserve in the country. This will impact directly on the livelihoods of 200,000 people in 37 villages. It is also the main source of wood for much of the region. In 2005 Anosy region also became the site for the first of a number of mining projects planned for the country. QIT Madagascar Mining (QMM), a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, was granted approval by the government to begin an ilmenite mineral extraction programme and the project has had significant impact on forest conservation in the region. Deposits are located under the remaining pristine littoral forest which will be replaced with exotic monoculture. The company made a commitment to conservation, forgoing revenue to protect the largest forest fragments in the vicinity of the agreed and proposed mining sites. These were some of the first NAPs to be enforced in the region, subsequently integrated into the SAPM network. There have been reports published that draw attention to insufficient consultation with stakeholders on whom the project directly impacts, including forest dependent communities (more can be found in the Panos report 2007, for Rio Tinto’s response see The interest in the QMM project and the TGK protected area from international environmental NGOs is enormous, meaning a great number of powerful stakeholders have an interest in development and implementation of the SAPMs, whose perceptions and interests may differ significantly from local actors.

Azafady is a Malagasy NGO which for 10 years has worked with forest dependent communities in Anosy Region on development and conservation projects. Since 2000 Azafady has been local partner of the coastal community of Ste Luce, a village made up of 3 hamlets in the vicinity of the Manafiafy littoral forest, parts of which are a proposed future mining site. Livelihoods are based on income from fishing supplemented by subsistence crops. Many families eat just 2 meals per day – mainly cassava (manioc) which can tolerate the poor soil. Villages use the forest for firewood, building and fishing materials and essential medicines. The remaining forest is seriously fragmented, made up of 17 sectors covering 1,950ha. The 2 largest forest fragments (S9 and S17) are the designated QMM conservation zones and protected from use, managed by a Committee involving community members, the Ministry of Environment and Rio Tinto subsidiary QMM. Following devolution of forest management to local control in 2003, the COBA now manages those forest zones designated for local use, with harvesting rules and fees set by the villages and the Ministry of Environment. A further site, S8 is a designated ‘conservation zone’ where some collection is allowed, and tavy in and around the forest is banned. This year Azafady conducted an independent survey of 60 households, including the head of the village and COBA committee members, to assess community perceptions and attitudes towards forest conservation mechanisms. Community responses and Azafady’s own experience working with the community on conservation projects are evidence that communities are in fact knowledgeable and committed stewards of the environment and supportive of protection despite being negatively impacted by state conservation mechanisms.

The protected areas are the forest fragments closest to the village, previously favoured by families in 2 hamlets for collection of firewood and forest products. Villagers now have to walk much further to supply their daily needs. Families reported walking up to 2 hours further per day to find firewood. Since community reliance on the forest has not diminished, this places further pressures on those fragments of the forest manned by the COBA. The head of the village said new conservation rules were not properly communicated to those who most needed to know, leading to criminalisation of some local people. In 2006 state fines were imposed on 6 villagers, although they were not enforced. COBA members reported finding it difficult sometimes to enforce bans on tavy when there has been no alternative fertile land provided to their neighbours for agriculture. Some reported that in areas where it is legal to collect deadwood, some people do still cut trees in the forest and leave the wood to dry and collect later. Committee members felt they had not only lost much of their access to parts of the forest but that they have been given the additional responsibility of ensuring its management without recompense (see also Harbison 2007 at Policies have put the legal onus of responsibility onto local people without addressing external factors which are the driving forces of and which can perpetuate degradation. There has been differential impact of policies within the community. Families in the 3rd hamlet traditionally use a different forest fragment for their daily fuel requirements, and felt that the impact on their livelihoods was lower than on families in the other two villages. The poorest households are worst affected, since they rely more on cassava which necessitates increased fuel consumption.

However, local people were resoundingly positive about forest protection and of the ban on tavy. All interviewees were in favour of the protected areas; by far the most common response was that it was necessary to conserve the forest for future generations. 90% of those interviewed approved of the ban on tavy for the same reason. These statements were qualified further – people were not happy about walking the extra hours for firewood, and pointed out they had no alternative other than the native forest. Over 50% said that tavy was, in the words of one woman, ‘bad but necessary’ because people need to plant crops. Others said tavy was necessary as the traditional means of securing local ownership of land. The important point is that, while the people of Ste. Luce are stuck in a cycle of poverty and malnutrition, they are not ignorant of environmental issues and understand the necessity of protecting the forest. Villagers report the quality of the soil deteriorating because forest cover had been removed from the land. They have a clear idea of the expertise and support that they need in order to reduce reliance on tavy and the forest, but said that such support was not widely available in their village. These statements are backed up with sound evidence of stewardship mentality. Since 2003 the community, including women and children, has readily participated in all Azafady’s reforestation activities. Azafady’s tree nursery is now locally managed. Seeds from native species are collected and cared for in the nursery. Reforestation has included endangered endemic species as well as those which will be of use to communities. Anecdotal evidence from villagers and management committee members suggests protected areas are being respected by the vast majority. Most interviewees acknowledged the COBA was successful in controlling the harvest of trees and that they had noticed substantial re-growth in protected areas.

There has been inadequate local consultation in the process of establishing rule-based systems of protection in SE Madagascar. As a result policies and programmes have not sufficiently considered significant local realities – in this case the complicated historical process of land title, the geographic isolation of communities, their subsistence livelihoods on nutrient poor soil – and have not responded simultaneously to root causes of forest degradation, namely that dependent communities have little alternative. Communities need to be equipped with the resources as well as the responsibility to fulfil their role as steward effectively. Villagers in Ste Luce understand ecological processes and negative impacts of human pressures on a resource which is of global and national importance but also, and critically, of local day-to-day importance. Communities value the forest for the materials it provides and the role it plays in cultural-ancestral practices. These are not the same as values placed upon the forest by environmental NGOs, corporations or government. Conserving the forest for ‘biodiversity’ and ‘ecosystem services’ means the provision of alternative resources and livelihood strategies for dependent communities has been left out of policy formulation. A sustainable management plan must be holistic and take into account local development needs. Community representatives should to be involved in the negotiation process as an equal stakeholder not only as their right but ultimately for the sustainability of the NAPs and conservation of Madagascar’s natural heritage, since they are the primary users. Given the unequal power relationships, local NGOs or associations with experience of local realities could play an important role in levelling the playing field and ensuring multi-stakeholder dialogue is exactly that.

In the last 2 years there have been changes in the political environment which suggest that regional, national and international stakeholders are perhaps coming to the same conclusions, and which will impact positively on the chances of forest conservation in the SE. In 2006 the government published the Madagascar Action Plan (MAP), a 5 year strategic framework for economic growth, with the aim of reducing poverty by 50% ( Natural resources are identified as the country’s key asset for future development and protection and sustainable management of these resources prioritised. The MAP recognises the rural population as the ultimate vector of economic strategies and that state’s conservation efforts will fail without ownership of forest dependent communities in the development process. Under the MAP goal for the environment, the policy for Reserve Foncière pour le Reboisement (RFR) enables land reforested by the community to become locally owned and managed, providing communities in the vicinity of the SAPM with alternative resources. Azafady is implementing one of the first RFR projects in Anosy region with Ste Luce and 2 other communities bordering the littoral forests and villages have allocated 30ha of land to be planted with 36,000 trees of fast growing species for community use. In 2008 the project has established 10ha with 12,000 trees and a nursery of 30,000 seedlings thanks to participation and enthusiasm from the village. Local women have requested and are attending training in fuel-efficient stove construction, another aspect of the project which is helping them to reduce daily firewood consumption by up to 80%. All villagers interviewed were positive about the project for the benefits it will bring to their children.

The positioning of forest dependent communities more centrally in the SAPM management process, on paper at least, is evident in the 2007-8 process of drafting the management structure and 5 year management plan for the largest protected area of Tsitongabarika, which has brought together community representatives, international environmental NGOs, local NGOs and associations, national, regional and local government, donors and private enterprises. In the management policy conservation is seen as inseparable from socio-human considerations and participation of and tangible benefits for dependent communities critical if this NAP is to succeed where others have failed. The management regime selected includes not only protected areas (for use only in ecotourism) but also conservation zones with some use/extraction rights for communities and production zones. The KoloAla concept is incorporated, which seeks to complement the Durban Vision by planning for long term needs of firewood, wood, and forest products through effective, sustainable management of production forests and significant areas of reforestation (documents on KoloAla and SAPM can be found at In the plan the zones of preservation, conservation and production all involve the affected communities in their management. The plan aims to improve conservation outcomes at the same time as improving livelihoods for local communities. Improvements to agriculture, sustainable exploitation of forest products and ecotourism were prioritized. Community representatives, local government and local NGOs are included in the management structure which is a great first step.

Rule-based systems can work, but they need to be compatible with local realities and provide alternatives for those who forego their use, and livelihood, rights. Effective communication and identification of common ground between actors is vital given the different values placed upon nature. Work at community level in SE Madagascar is not easy given the poor infrastructure and vast distances involved, however projects like Azafady’s show community members are in fact motivated to conserve, even when the benefits will be accrued to the next generation. The temporary protection order for TGK is scheduled to be undertaken in the next month, prior to a full community consultation process with an environmental and social impact assessment. The TGK management system last month was expanded to incorporate all SAPM in the region, meaning all protected forests in the region will follow the same model. The role of NGOs such as Azafady should now be to support these communities in getting their voices heard and in ensuring that community development (in fields such as agricultural and skills development, income generation and health) provides benefits to villages in return for essential management measures.

By Gabrielle Smith and Mr Emahalala Rayonné Ellis (Lala), from AZAFADY, Madagascar. E-mail: