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Innovative reforestation project threatened by ‘regime change’ in Madagascar, an interview with Rainer Dolch

Third in a series of interviews with participants at the 2009 Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) conference.

In Madagascar the TAMS Program (Tetik’asa Mampody Savoka, meaning “the project to bring back the forest”) is under threat due to the new government’s unwillingness to provide funding. The current government, after gaining power in a coup this year, has frozen all funds slated for the project and has yet to sign a carbon credit agreement with the World Bank which would bring much needed funding.

“It remains to be seen if the recognition or not of Madagascar’s transitional Government will lead to signing the contract with the World Bank in the near future. This is of course essential for the continuity of the project and its future,” Rainer Dolch told in an interview.

The TAMS program combined reforestation of wildlife corridors and community development projects in the impoverished nation. It was being conducted in an area of unparalleled biodiversity—fourteen species of primates, more than a hundred species of frogs, 120 birds, and over 700 plants.

Dolch with lemur in Madagascar.

“Reforestation is crucial in areas where connectivity has been interrupted. Reconnecting these areas is essential in order to permit animal movements and genetic exchange between populations. The corridors are important to assure viable populations of many endemic and endangered species,” explains Dolch.

Despite its importance to dwindling species, the future of the program—and the local people that have come to depend on it for their livelihood—remains to be seen. spoke with Dolch in a September interview about the TAMS project, carbon credits, and the recent government upheaval in Madagascar.


Mongabay: What does TAMS mean?

Rainer Dolch: TAMS = Tetik’asa Mampody Savoka (“The Project to bring back the forest”).

Mongabay: Why reforestation instead of protecting forest that remains, i.e. why are these corridors important?

One of the ‘flagship’ species for TAMS: the Indri lemur. Photo by: Julie Larsen Maher with Wildlife Conservation Society.

Rainer Dolch: Protecting remaining forest is of course the most important thing to do. TAMS has an “avoided deforestation” (REDD) component and both us and other organizations involved in the region focus on preserving what is there. Yet, reforestation is crucial in areas where connectivity has been interrupted. Reconnecting these areas is essential in order to permit animal movements and genetic exchange between populations. The corridors are important to assure viable populations of many endemic and endangered species.

Mongabay: What species reside in the forest?

Rainer Dolch: The forest is home to 14 species of lemurs, making it one of the areas with the highest primate diversity worldwide. The flagship species are the Indri and the Greater Bamboo Lemur, which is the rarest of all lemur species. The area is also one of the richest in terms of amphibian diversity (with more than 100 species of frog). There is more than 700 species of seed plants and more than 120 species of bird. The degree of endemicity is extremely high in all of these taxa (70-100%).

Mongabay: You have locals working on the replanting, where is the money to pay them coming from? What happens to these people once the planting is done?

Rainer Dolch: Until recently, TAMS has been supported by the Government of Madagascar, with funds coming from PE3 (The National Environmental Plan). Major donors are the World Bank and USAID. With the recent regime change in Madagascar and problems associated with it, the Government has decided to end funding for TAMS. Future funding will be coming from the trading of generated carbon credits via the BioCarbon Fund of the World Bank. Local people are being paid for the planting; they will also be rewarded with carbon credit money for letting the planted trees grow on their land. Whether the reward is financial or in terms of technical assistance leading towards more sustainable forms of agriculture, is open to the choice of the local farmers themselves.

Mongabay: In what other ways will TAMS directly aid local people?

The diademed sifaka, one of fourteen lemur species in the region. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Rainer Dolch: TAMS assists people in addressing livelihood issues, basically improving and diversifying agriculture. There are agroforestry plots being created in the buffer zones to the reforestation areas. Farmers will also be assisted in terms of marketing their produce. The project assists people in securing land tenure. This is being done in the framework of the national land reform process. Titling of land will be made easier and cheaper for local farmers that participate in the “Programme National Foncier” (PNF). TAMS and PNF have agreed to give priority to people that participate in the reforestation project.

Mongabay: What role has carbon credits played in moving this project forward?

Rainer Dolch: So far, no carbon credits have been paid. The contract for trading carbon credits has to be signed by the Government of Madagascar and the World Bank. Carbon credit money is now urgently needed, given the freezing of funds within PE3.

Mongabay: Do you see this project as a model for other conservation work around the world?

Coiled tail of the panther chameleon, another denizen of the region. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Rainer Dolch: In its theoretical approach, this project could certainly be a model for other regions around the world. However, trading carbon credits within the CDM of the Kyoto Protocol follows strict and bureaucratic rules, involves a variety of stakeholders that have differing opinions about the project’s goals and is bound to be structured more top-down than bottom-up. Trading carbon credits and paying local people for maintaining ecological services is certainly an approach that could boost conservation in many areas around the globe. I would nevertheless recommend targeting voluntary carbon markets instead of CDM, just because they have easier procedures, are less bureaucratic, and also pay more money per ton of carbon sequestered.

Mongabay: How has the current political upheaval in Madagascar affected the project? What is the current status of the project?

Rainer Dolch: I have already partly answered that above: PE3 money has been frozen, the project has no government funding at the moment. It remains to be seen if the recognition or not of Madagascar’s transitional Government will lead to signing the contract with the World Bank in the near future. This is of course essential for the continuity of the project and its future (payment for carbon credits, improving rural livelihoods in the project area with that money, etc.)

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