'The moment to act is now’: Pact’s Hanta Rabefarihy reflects on a career protecting Madagascar’s natural resources

March 7, 2022
A 2019 national dialogue on dry forests in Madagascar. Credit: USAID Hay Tao

The 2022 theme for International Women’s Day celebrates women and girls around the world who are leading the charge on climate change response for a more sustainable future for all. Pact is recognizing three women leaders among our staff who are making a difference. Read about Vanessa Coronado here and Christy Owen here.

In Madagascar, the fourth most vulnerable country to climate change, Hanta Rabefarihy is working “to leave a legacy of hope for the future” as she approaches her retirement. “As a woman, I feel that the precariousness of life hurts, thinking about the children and future generations. But my past experiences have shown that positive changes are possible so that people can have sustainable livelihoods while the natural resources are well managed.” 

After studying agronomic sciences specializing in the agricultural and food industry, she started her career working in rice production and promoting small and medium enterprises in agricultural industries. “Considering the environmental impact of these activities awakened in me an interest toward environment challenges.” 

She joined the first Malagasy environmental foundation, Tany Meva, as its first grants Program Manager and since 1996 has remained in the environment sector. Her experience has spanned natural resource management, waste management and chemical pollution to protected areas, and sustainable development interventions. These have included classic activities such as beekeeping, fisheries management and ecotourism to more complex approaches like payment for ecosystem services. 

Thanks to the reform of the “Code des Aires Protégées,” laws that regulate the protected natural areas of Madagascar, Rabefarihy contributed to the creation of 1.5 million hectares of new protected areas, co-managed with communities to ensure both biodiversity conservation, natural resource management and economic growth. In 2015, she attended the Conference of Parties, COP 21, in Paris, as a member of Madagascar’s thematic group on climate change.  

Today, she is Deputy Chief of Party for the USAID Hay Tao project, implemented by Pact, which is working to improve the governance and management of natural resources in Madagascar with more effective, common and constructive engagement of communities, civil society, private sector, and public administration. USAID Hay Tao has invested heavily in capacity and skills development of its partners as well as in the development of the Hay Natiora portal to facilitate access to data and information for decision-makers. One third of the cooperatives of social and conservation enterprises supported by USAID Hay Tao, integrating climate change adaptation measures, are women-led. With improved capacities, skills and information, the hope is that better analyses and reflections will lead to solutions for a sustainable future. 

“Our main achievements have been the reform of protected area management and natural resources management transfer contracts, with the aim of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development for communities,” Rabefarihy says. "We've seen increased denunciation of infractions by communities. Regional civil society organizations (CSOs) are more capable of conducting advocacy on environmental issues such as deforestation and illicit agriculture in protected areas. CSO coalitions are mobilizing foreign “green” ambassadors to fight against impunity. There has been better law enforcement by environmental agents and sentences by prosecutors.”


“As a woman, I feel that the precariousness of life hurts, thinking about the children and future generations. But positive changes are possible so that people can have sustainable livelihoods while the natural resources are well managed.”

Fisherwomen supported through the Fisherwomen Leadership Program participating in the Fisheries Products Fair in 2021. Credit: USAID Hay Tao.

With the support of USAID Hay Tao, a new system is taking shape for improved law enforcement and environmental justice for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. “The mutual commitment and combined actions of the agents of the Forestry Administration, the Gendarmerie, BIANCO (Bureau independent anti-corruption), and the Ministry of Justice in the face of infractions, and the extension of the project's regional legal clinics to local mobile clinics, is a real success.” 

In addition, the two Malagasy foundations Tany Meva and Madagascar Biodiversity Fund (FAPBM) have updated their financial strategies thanks to USAID Hay Tao to get more and diversified sources of funding. This enables them to finance the management of more protected areas and community development activities. FAPBM has already received many millions of dollars thanks to Hay Tao and other partners’ support.  

Despite progress, she recognizes that many challenges remain. “Access to land and land security remain a major challenge for most rural Malagasy, but it is even more so for women and youth because of the culture here.” To this end, USAID Hay Tao produced a guide in the form of a comic book to help women know and fight for their land rights.

A comic book guide in Malagasy helps women understand and fight for their land rights. Credit: USAID Hay Tao
“USAID Hay Tao works in the field of politics and strategy, and it takes a lot of time, patience and tact to achieve change because everything depends on the political will of decision makers in the public administration,” she says. “There is a semblance of listening, openness to all proposals, appropriation of the inclusive participation approach. Unfortunately, nothing obliges the government to retain the improvements and amendments proposed and validated along the consultation process, even if the minister carrying the bill is willing to take up the cause.” The greatest challenge is the lack of political will at the national level. "USAID Hay Tao's greatest success is to have been able to obtain solid commitments from the ministers and their respective administrations and to be able to put them into practice," she says. Change is slow and hard-earned. “One cannot change an entire system in the duration of a project, especially in the environmental crime environment where a sense of impunity seems to have gained ground,” says Rabefarihy. “I also hope that communities have learned from past mistakes in the management of their natural resources by adopting a longer-term vision even if the context of poverty pushes them to prefer easy solutions. In short, I hope for a more pragmatic environmental justice.” Rabefarihy recognizes that the future looks quite difficult despite the efforts of all stakeholders, the international community, and the various governments of both rich and poor countries. "However, our success would be determined by the respective commitments agreed during the conference of parties on the climate such as COP 21 and the last, COP 26. It means that for vulnerable countries like Madagascar, all efforts must lead to an increased effectiveness of resilience capacity. On the other hand, developed countries must follow through on their commitments." Wrapping up her career, Rabefarihy maintains a positive outlook. “What gives me hope is that young people are mobilizing to demand a sustainable environment for their future, and the awareness of decision makers and leaders that the moment to act is now. Tomorrow will be too late to save the world.”