Tree Planting & Conservation in Madagascar

Arabella Worthington

05 Jul 2013

Madagascar Conservation Blog

In the afternoon at Palmarium Lodge, after spending the morning in the reserve, many guests took the time to catch up on their diary, read and sunbathe etc. Those who know me well (including my poor colleagues who have to put up with me on a daily basis) will know that I am useless at sitting around and have an abnormal amount of energy that needs to be used before bed time. So after lunch, Miahy, my guide made a plan to visit Andranokoditra, a local fishing village where I could plant a tree.  Perfect. This sounded like fun but also a great opportunity to understand more about the local culture and see a bit more of the area. Luckily a boat was available, so we hopped in the crystal clear lake waters and set off. 

I am always slightly wary about rocking up in other people's village without prior consent, and I certainly wouldn't want some stranger snooping around my backyard and taking a photo of my kids (should I have a backyard, or kids that is), but this village had had assistance from a Malagasy NGO and had been warned about our arrival, and by the sounds of things could do with some tourism revenue.

We approach to find palm trees, a few pirogues (local dugout canoes) and a white fine sandy beach. I took a photo and told Miayh that it is the sort of photo that sells holidays. It looks like paradise. He laughed nervously. The village has 400 inhabitants and relies solely on fishing (although they sell medicinal plants but it wasn't clear if this is to outsiders). They haven't managed to fish for 3 weeks as the seas have been too rough to launch the pirogues. It resembles a typical African village, with small huts, a few selling everything and anything, and children seemingly happily playing in and amongst the litter in the dusty pathways. It lies between the Pangalanes canal and the Indian Ocean and has a rail track passing through it, which I guess does make it a little different. I met the chief, Nada, who looked like the fresh prince of Bel-Air, his grin stretching around to his ear lobes. Nada is 30, which I thought was very young for a chief, and had the energy and youth of a teenager. Amazingly he spoke good English. 

Behind the glossy brochure front cover however, the story is different. To cut a long story short earlier this year, the village had suffered from one of the worst cyclones in years and everything (apart from the museum) had been wiped out. Why this village had a museum I will get to in a minute. All the houses were re built at each owner’s expense, but the school was a right off. It's was a government school, and with the current government, the rebuilding of it is low priority, that is if it even made it onto 'list of things we must do in 2013'. A local NGO had been working alongside the villagers to teach them the importance of the environment and tourism. It built a tiny natural oil production area, 8 outhouses (all survived the cyclone) including a museum (for the 10 tourists a month who take the time to visit) and they had started a nursery project. As soon as the cyclone hit, it left. Leaving behind no one to manage it or more importantly fund it, and a few rather lovely thatched huts which stand empty apart from the museum, which is just a bunch of posters. The nursery is promising though and for a mere 7 euros you can plant a tree and they'll give you the GPS and update you. I planted a tree that is good for alleviating sore backs and look forward to its progress. They plant 10 a day to counteract the huge amount of deforestation that is occurring locally and nationally.

Another activity tourists can do to support the community is to purchase locally made handicrafts. On this topic, on exiting the village, a make shift market rapidly emerged, with twelve little stands with rather little people beaming over the top, all selling naturally dyed coloured jewellery made of beans. Being a solo traveller, I encountered a regular conundrum. Who do I buy from? I knew I must buy something as it’s my way of supporting the community without handing out money (I had had a few kids ask me for 'Bon bons'), but it’s not fair to just buy from one person and if I did, how would I choose? It would be like at school when you had to pick a team at sport. A quick bit of maths revealed that for 8 euros, I could buy one necklace from every store. This meant I not only provide amusement by looking prat with twelve necklaces on, the old woman who was still drunk from Independence Day parties two days ago nearly died cackling away, but I also made 12 people very happy and it also meant I could get some great photos without feeling like a predator. Back at the lodge later the day, the manager Silva, also nearly died laughing.

Seriously though; can tourism be a tool to help alleviate poverty and improve the welfare of these people? I believe so, though of course there are many challenges. Number one, the new chief has been at his job for 3 weeks, though keen and apparently trustworthy, he is young and inexperienced. The old one stiffened most of the tourist money unfortunately so the trust needs to be gained from tourist and villager. The village in some places also resembles a rubbish tip and needs to be cleared up and maintained (maybe by a local lodge as was the case in Masoala reserve). There also needs to be a stronger involvement with the private sector. Every day from May to December there are tourists just around the corner staying at one of the three lodges on the lake and every afternoon they are 'at leisure'. If the village receives two more tourists per week they will double their much needed revenue from tourism. This of course needs to be carefully managed. This could not only help them to support their families but also retain their traditional culture through handicraft production. I really enjoyed my visit. From wandering through the village, visiting the local pharmacy (all indigenous potions of some sort), buying a ridiculous amount of colourful necklaces, to walking through the woods to plant my own tree, ah sorry Will, company tree. It was not only a lovely break from wildlife but a glimpse into the life of the fishermen and their families who live just around the corner from the tourist lodges.

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Comments

medai

27/7/2016 9:31 AM

hello,I am from Iran . I love madagascar for natural beautiful and plants and sea . if you have picture or information from that place and hotels , pleas help me. I have telegram by number 00989155047366 .

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