Environmental justice and advocacy to save Madagascar’s largest dry forest

August 18, 2021
Illegal maize cultivation inside the Menabe Antimena protected area. Credit: AVG.

Inside the protected area of Menabe Antimena is Madagascar's largest dry forest--45% of which has disappeared in only the last 10 years due to massive deforestation, fires, migration, illegal maize cultivation, corruption and unscrupulous private interests. Menabe Antimena is one of the many critical ecosystems that the USAID Hay Tao project is working to protect. USAID Hay Tao, part of the larger Conservation and Communities Project, is creating an enabling and empowering environment for effective community-based management and protection of Madagascar’s biodiversity and natural resources. The project focuses on reducing vulnerability to climate change, promoting sustainable natural resource management and improving the conservation of the country's unique biodiversity.

A jurist receiving a visitor in the legal clinic of Maroantsetra. Credit: AVG.

Alliance Voahary Gasy (AVG), the only organization in Madagascar working on environmental justice, is part of the consortium that implements USAID Hay Tao project. With the majority of work now supported by USAID Hay Tao project, AVG is taking the lead on the civil society organization (CSO) strengthening and serves as a platform for environmental justice advocacy, networking and capacity development, outreach, information and dissemination of environmental laws. USAID Hay Tao project is enabling AVG to become a more robust network and better serve their network CSOs, improving the impact of their advocacy.

AVG’s training curricula aids investigative journalists and judicial police officers to understand environmental justice. So far, AVG has worked with 50 journalists who have published more than 200 articles on environmental topics, 15 of which were investigative reports (some are still ongoing).
AVG also runs legal environmental clinics for the public to better understand laws and legal procedures around issues pertaining to park borders, land clearing, wildlife trafficking and illegal logging and mining. Two of these legal environmental clinics are supported financially through the USAID Hay Tao project. “The AVG legal clinic was initiated in 2012 in response to the needs of legal environmental literacy and advice, and to the high rate of corruption in the justice sector in Madagascar,” said AVG president Ndranto Razakamanarina. Now with USAID Hay Tao, AVG is training communities and protected area managers how to report on infractions to the Ministry of Environment, police and courts.

AVG, which is linked to more than 4,000 active community members nationally, has been instrumental in assisting the Government, CSOs and NGOs to collaborate more closely, leading to better reporting and law enforcement within the environmental sector.

"Communities are more involved in controlling natural resources and contributing to law enforcement. The number of infractions is decreasing,” said Jean-Solo Ratsisompatrarivo, Chief of Party for the USAID Hay Tao project.

One success that’s been achieved is stopping the illegal trafficking of rosewood, a lucrative product valued for its use in traditional Chinese furniture. Since late 2008, hundreds of thousands of trees have been felled in protected areas resulting in millions of dollars' worth of exportation. After AVG began advocating on the issue in 2009, several environmental platforms and CSOs were set up to constitute a critical mass against these abuses. This initiative led to the adoption of a new law in 2010 that prohibits the exportation of rosewood, and its integration under the Annex 2 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Since then, the exportation of rosewood has declined significantly.

The legal clinic office in Maroantsetra. Credit: AVG.

AVG’s 512 hotline is a green number for people to call if they see illegal activity in the forest or the sea. With a motto of “distribution of rights - support - advice,” this hotline allows any citizen to testify, inform or denounce any environmental crime. Calls are free and are treated with the utmost confidentiality. Thanks to the 512 hotline, launched in 2012, every citizen can be an actor in the fight against biodiversity loss and illegal exploitation of Madagascar’s natural resources, free from the fear of personal reprisals. Trafficking and possible corruption attempts can be averted by these tips. The line also serves as a means of providing legal advice in environmental justice matters. With the support of USAID Hay Tao, the use of the hotline has increased by 35% since September 2020.

The “Wanna Be” TV segments aired on national television in May to educate and inform young people related to Menabe Antimena’s issues. (Credit: Pact)

For Menabe Antimena, with support from USAID Hay Tao, concerned stakeholders and civil society are putting pressure on the Government of Madagascar through the “Save Menabe Antimena” communication and advocacy campaign. The campaign is raising national awareness of the urgent decisions needed to protect this area, including controlling migration and allocating more budget to the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. As part of the national campaign, USAID Hay Tao collaborated with DHL to sponsor eight episodes of a popular morning show to educate and inform young people among others about Menabe Antimena.

The campaign also hosted a photo contest to showcase the biodiversity of the region of Menabe and raise awareness of the need to protect the area. Here are the top ten photos. Photos will be printed and posted in Menabe to promote pride in the wealth of biodiversity in their communities and to raise awareness that it needs to be protected.

USAID Hay Tao is providing the convening power and the knowhow for effective participatory and collaborative natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. The project is highlighting best practices that not only reduce the burden on biodiversity but provide a sustainable source of income for impoverished and internally displaced communities ensuring that there are ample alternatives to illegal and unsustainable land use practices. There is still time to turn the tide and foster true sustainable development so long as all actors work in concert and translate collaboration into effective conservation.

This content is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This content is the sole responsibility of USAID Hay Tao project and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.