Fisherwoman makes waves to protect Madagascar’s coastal resourcesNovember 22, 2022
Before the sun has a chance to grace the west coast of Madagascar with its morning gaze, the sandy white beaches of Belo-sur-Mer are already bustling with activity. Pale blue waters are lined with dozens of small, wood carved fishing boats sporting colorful sails being prepped for a morning at sea. And women whose faces are painted with masonjoany — a traditional sunscreen made from tree bark — are wading into the shallow waters to harvest seaweed.
The Western Indian Ocean nation is the fourth largest island in the world, and boasts 3,000 miles of coastline and impressive marine and coral biodiversity with 66 percent of marine species endemic to their waters. In addition to this breadth of biodiversity, the ocean is an important source of livelihoods for over two million people living in coastal communities, with the marine sector contributing 7 percent to Madagascar’s economy.
Historically, the fisheries sector has been dominated by men, who normally perform the more lucrative jobs in the industry, and form community fishing associations composed of fellow male fishers, leaving women out of conversations concerning the future of the sector.
But one local fisherwoman is on a mission to change the culture. Victorine Tafara is a 59-year-old fisher and algae farmer.
“I raised my five children on my own through fishing, without any other source of income,” Victorine states with pride.
Against the grain of cultural norms, Victorine decided she was better off on her own after unsuccessful marriages. She is now the head of her household and has become one of the few female leaders in the fishing industry in Belo-Sur-Mer, a village on Madagascar’s west coast.
In 2020, Victorine attended a leadership training organized by USAID through Hay Tao (‘know how’ in Malagasy), a five-year project working towards effective community-based management and protection of biodiversity resources in Madagascar.
The project empowers local communities to lead management of their natural resources to achieve effective, lasting community-based conservation of biodiversity. To date, more than 750 individuals have been trained on community-based natural resource management practices through Hay Tao supported initiatives, including 30 women during the FisherWomen Leadership Program, which proved to be a pivotal experience for Victorine. She credits this training with giving her the confidence, knowledge, and motivation to become a leader in her community.
“The training gave me the idea to create an association for fisherwomen — Ampela mpanjono miavaka,” she says. Since its inception, Ampela mpanjono miavaka (“distinguished fisherwomen” in Malagasy) has grown to 67 members, all from the Belo-sur-Mer fishing community.