Saving the tsingy forests in Madagascar
Kara Moses, special to mongabay.com
August 17, 2009
Biodiversity Conservation Madagascar (BCM) has been granted a 25-year lease on a 14,000-hectare area of dry hardwood forest, the Beanka tsingy, situated 75 km east of Maintirano in western Madagascar.
‘Tsingy’ are spectacular razor-sharp limestone pinnacles found on the west and north of the island, formed by acidic rain erosion. The deciduous forests that inhabit them are characterized by high plant and animal endemism.
The Malagasy organization plans to apply the same principles here – protection of the forest, socio-economic development and forest restoration – that brought them success with their last project, the 2,500-hectare forest block of Sahafina on Madagascar’s east coast.
BCM’s approach to conservation rests on one basic truth: as long as people have nothing to eat they will continue to exploit the forest, thereby causing its doom. The organization aims to help local people improve their standard of living through education; and believes the best way to achieve this is by recruiting them as partners.
Biodiversity Conservation Madagascar, an NGO set up and funded by Bioculture (Mauritius) Ltd, has been working with local communities to protect threatened areas of high conservation value in Madagascar since 2003.
Over the past six years, BCM’s basic principles have been put into action at Sahafina. Following a successful plea to the Malagasy government, the area now enjoys National Protected Area status. And the move came not a minute too soon; studies conducted by the Missouri Botanical Gardens show the forest to be of high biodiversity importance.
Over the past 18 months, a BCM-sponsored Malagasy student has been compiling a comprehensive list of the most important plants within the Sahafina ecosystem as part of their DEA (Masters) thesis. The soon-to-be-published results will give BCM a better idea of which species should be grown in their two nurseries, which currently focus on producing seedlings of ten important lemur food plants. These are eventually planted in areas of forest decimated by loggers. With a 95% survival rate for forest-planted seedlings, the nurseries have so far been a great success. ‘I am even wondering if it's time to have a third one.’ says Managing Director Aldus Andriamamonjy.
In an effort to raise the living standards of the local population, the project has been providing training and support for improved rice cultivation. Farmers have already benefited from a significant increase in yields. However the efforts have not come without challenges. There is reluctance to change traditional practices that have been used for generations, ‘But we keep on assisting and encouraging.’ says Andriamamonjy. A constant dialogue with the farmers is maintained; understanding their needs and showing them the benefits of the programs.
Expat staff from the mine pay BCM forest guards to guide them on walks at weekends and the forest is open to locals, but Sahafina does not currently host any ecotourism. It is future possibility though. Andriamamonjy says that if a serious came about they would be keen to work with it.
BCM’s attention is currently focused on its next challenge however; the Beanka tsingy. ‘We hope to control the bush fires,’ says Andriamamonjy, ‘communicate our goals regularly with villagers, involve them in the team and give agricultural, educational and health support. For such a small NGO like ours working in this region, if we achieve these targets there is something to be proud of.’
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