- Madagascar brewer STAR, owned by the French Castel group, is under pressure for allegedly sourcing maize from a rapidly deforesting area in the country’s west.
- It has agreed to support an independent study led by Malagasy NGO Association Fanamby to investigate whether the maize in its supply chain is linked to deforestation in the Menabe Antimena protected area.
- The protected area hosts endangered and endemic species like the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae) and the Malagasy giant rat (Hypogeomys antimena).
- More than one-fifth of the dry deciduous forest in Menabe Antimena was lost between 2006 and 2016, and there are no signs of the deforestation abating.
Facing growing scrutiny for sourcing maize from a region in Madagascar that is suffering massive deforestation, the Madagascar beer maker STAR, owned by French brewer Castel, announced its support for an independent investigation into its supply chain.
“We have requested an independent audit, in this area, whose conclusions will be made public as soon as possible,” Francis Ambroise, the STAR group’s deputy president director general, said at a news conference held in the capital Antananarivo on Sept. 17.
The study will be carried out by the Malagasy NGO Association Fanamby, which manages the Menabe Antimena protected area, located on Madagascar’s west coast. The dry deciduous forests of Menabe Antimena host a number of endangered species, including the endemic Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae), which is the smallest primate on the planet, the Malagasy giant rat (Hypogeomys antimena), and Grandidier’s baobab trees (Adansonia grandidieri).
The forests are being cleared to grow maize and peanuts. More than one-fifth of the dry deciduous forests in Menabe Antimena were lost between 2006 and 2016, and there are no signs of the deforestation abating. In a story published earlier this year, Mongabay highlighted the role of corn farming in the deforestation. STAR is one of the companies sourcing maize from the wider Menabe region, but it has in the past denied allegations that its supply chain has contributed to deforestation in the protected area.
STAR said in a statement last week that its demand for maize only accounts for about 13,000 tons, or 2.65 percent of Madagascar’s annual maize production of 490,000 tons, and that only a fraction of it comes from the Menabe region. However, Ambroise also noted at the news conference that the group could not verify the provenance of all the corn it uses.
STAR makes the popular Three Horses Beer and is the leading brewer in Madagascar; it has dominated the domestic market for decades. The company was acquired by the French Castel group in 2011 and is Coca-Cola Madagascar’s bottling partner.
While barley is the traditional grain from which sugars are extracted and then fermented to produce beer, brewers often substitute starch-rich corn. The STAR group has four subsidiaries that collect and process raw ingredients in Madagascar: STAR Madagascar, Malto, Sema Eau Vive, and New Brewery of Madagascar. According to an industry publication, Malto alone relies on 20,000 peasants to supply its raw materials, including corn.
Corn farmers in this region practice slash-and-burn agriculture, clearing forestland by burning it. The practice creates a layer of nutrient rich top-soil but is also highly unsustainable. Corn requires rich soils and after a few planting seasons depletes the nutrients in the soil, so farmers must seek more land to grow it. They continue to plant peanuts in the depleted soil until it is no longer feasible, and then abandon the land, leaving grassland or bare earth in their wake where forest once stood. On a visit to the region in July, months before the start of the typical burn season, Mongabay founder Rhett Butler documented dozens of fires burning.
The Menabe Antimena protected area, spread across 2,100 square kilometers (811 square miles) has come under severe pressure as a messy network of middlemen and traders, supported by the local elite, exploit local and migrant labor to clear forest for cropland.
The NGO, Fanamby has been trying to find a link between the local traders who collect maize from farmers and the people who finally sell it to companies, exporters or consumers., according to Tiana Andriamanana, executive director of Fanamby. “Since December 2018 as we’ve heard rumors about the implication of various companies,” she said.
The declaration of Menabe Antimena as a protected area in 2015 does not appear to have stemmed the deforestation. The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, an international NGO that works in Madagascar, has predicted that nearly 45 percent of the forest will be lost by 2020 and just over 83 percent by 2025.
“In the absence of immediate actions, the dry forest of the west, the hard core of the protected area, will disappear,” Anselme Toto Volahy, project manager for Durrell’s Menabe program, said in an email, adding that it creates a real threat of extinction for several species like the Malagasy giant rat, the flat-tailed turtle (Pyxis planicauda), and the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur.
Fanamby will lead a research team that will look into supply chains for not just maize but also for peanuts. “The idea is to get facts about the capacity of production in the area, facts about the value chains, from field to final product, and recommendations about how we can move forward based on these facts,” Andriamanana said.
Fanamby is funding the recently announced investigation itself, at least initially. The STAR group is offering support and information about its procurement chain, but is not financing the investigation. It is not the first time Fanamby and the STAR group are working together.
“We work with Fanamby to control our suppliers, respect the contracts’ clauses and to ensure the traceability of our maize supply,” Ambroise told Reuters in an interview published earlier this month, “using maize from protected areas would be against what we consider to be our society responsibility.”
To meet its obligations under ISO 9001, a widely used set of international standards to manage quality, STAR has to ensure that it is not sourcing materials from protected areas. However, the investigation, which is expected to be completed by November, will cast a wider net.
“Chasing one or two potential suspects won’t resolve any of these issues. We need a long-term solution and we need all the stakeholders on our side,” Andriamanana said. “Knowing the CSR [corporate social responsibility] activities of the STAR [group], we’re hoping they can be one of these stakeholders.”
STAR did not respond to queries sent by Mongabay by the time this article was published.
Banner Image: Fires burning in the Kirindy forest of Menabe Antimena. Image by Rhett A. Butler
Malavika Vyawahare is the Madagascar staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter: @MalavikaVy
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