Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Effects of Social Safeguards on the Communities in Madagascar

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Effects of Social Safeguards on the Communities in Madagascar

Madagascar, also known as the Republic of Malagasy, is the fourth largest island in the world. It is situated in the Indian Ocean off the coast of South-East Africa. The communities of this nation were formed by the early Austronesian people, followed by other migrants like the Arabs and the East Africans who settled over time and shaped the mixed culture that exists today.

The ethnic group is sub-divided into 18 or more smaller groups. The Betsimisaraka is the second largest ethnic group in the country. [1] The country is home to diverse fauna and flora, 90% of which are found nowhere else in the world. [2] The once stable economy was weakened by the 2009-2013 political crisis and the quality of life continues to decline. [2] The country is riddled with poverty, corruption and epidemic outbreaks, the most recent one being a deadly type of pneumonic plague which has taken more than 150 lives. [3] The frequent cyclones and droughts add further misery to the population, majority of which lives below the poverty line with no access to basic life needs. In the recent past, a number of Social Safeguards were implemented with varying degree of success.

The Betsimisaraka Community

The Betsimisaraka of Vohibazaha is a farming community that lives between the steep hills of the Eastern Central plateau of Madagascar and the Indian Ocean. The first settlements occurred in the early 20th century. The residents managed their land in a traditional way with shifting cultivation practices known as tavy. [4]

The eastern trade winds from the Indian Ocean bring daily rainfall to this region. The neighboring community of Volove region farmed the land to the south. The residents observed no boundary between the villages [4] For generations, the Betsimisaraka community like the others maintained one permanent house per family which was occupied only during the harvest of rice crop near the low lying marshlands and farmers would grow market crops such as vanilla, cloves, and coffee near the hills. [1]

The rest of the time, the families would make temporary shelters near their tavy [4] In the midst of the fallow lands, some areas remained untouched because of a taboo. The villagers did not clear this land because they believed that cutting down trees would bring them bad luck. [4]

On the hills were the ancestral tombs which were maintained permanently as the Malagasy society revered their dead. Surrounding the family tombs were the land units in a concentric arrangement which were strictly controlled by the Sembontrano covenants which required the land to be left fallow for a period of 8 years. [5]

The farmers who cultivated vanilla through agroforestry practiced traditional techniques of hand-pollinating each vanilla flower.[1]This required skill and knowledge which was handed down to the children by the parents and the grandparents.

Land Use and Colonization

Subsequent to the French colonization, a forestry administration was established to explore the rational exploitation of all the forest resources. The French government now claimed all the Malagasy forests as state property and aimed to increase the agricultural produce for exports. [6] These policies affected the land use practices of the local people especially with the construction of the two railways, to facilitate the extraction of resources. This involved the clearing of forests for the railway lines and to provide for the sleepers for the tracks and the fuel to run the locomotives. Commercial logging generated government revenue. Concessions and rights of extraction were granted to foreign companies [6] [4] . Land titles were held by the mining companies, the railroads and private enterprises. Resistance to policies of the French colonial regime led to many uprisings and these events have gone down in history as “the world’s bloodiest colonial repression.” [7]

National Environmental Action Plan

From the time Madagascar regained independence in 1960 and up to the 1980s, the practices from previous periods continued, involving the management of the natural resources which came under the direct control of the State. This exclusionary model of legislation gave sole power to the State to decide on granting licenses and to exploit the forests. It also gave power to define the rights and duties of all the users of the forests. [8] As the destruction of the forests continued, the exploitation of the forests became uncontrollable by the government. “There was a paradoxical conflict between the illegal local-level forest exploitation, which was regarded as legitimate by the local people, and the legally sanctioned forestry policies, as illegitimate by the local people.” [8]

International concern was rising and by mid-1980s, the forest degradation was beginning to be quantified with the advent of satellite imagery and aerial photography/ [4] As a result, Madagascar became the first nation to adopt the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP). [9]

By the early 1990s, there was a flurry of activity focused on conservation and development efforts. Many international agencies like the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and World Bank, increased their involvement and funding levels. Harnessing this support from the international agencies, the government prepared an Environmental Action Plan (EAP) in 1988. This was to be implemented in phases and was programmed for 15 years. [8] The main management tool for protected areas was the Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs). These projects were different in defining the conservation area. The “fortress conservation” of the colonial period which did not allow people to live or use the forest resources was replaced by creating a buffer zone to the protected area with the participation of the local people. However, these strategies did not prove to be easy to implement and resulted in poor integration of the local people. Principles of exclusion and subordination which were rooted in the policies, continued to prevail. Many of the Malagasy stakeholders looked for natural-resource policies which adopted a more bottom-up approach in developing countries. This international approach was a move from being a purely conservation based one to one which took the economy and society into account and was both dynamic and integrative in involving all the concerned stakeholders. [8]

The APAM Project

Since the mountain forests near the Vohibazaha were home to many of the endangered species of the lemurs, this forest became the prime candidate for becoming the protected area under the NEAP. Many communities in the periphery of the forests were declined access when the 10,000ha Mantadia National Park came into existence. A few years later, the neighboring 810 ha land was consolidated for the Andasibe-Mantadia Protected Area Complex (APAM) [4] Most of the land that was used by the farmers was technically public land because it had little documentation of land ownership, by default it belonged to the state. The state had given the land titles to mining companies, railroads and other private enterprises [4] The main aim of this project was to protect the remaining intact rainforest while generating income through eco-tourism and to provide incentives to the local communities for the conservation efforts [4]

Social actors

The APAM project was funded by the US Agency for International Development’s Sustainable Approaches to Viable Environmental Management Project. This was project was to be implemented in a 5-year period. The subcontracts were given to the Malagasy NGO called SAF-FJKM and also to Clark University for the community development and technical planning of the project. However, the communities were greatly affected by the land constraints imposed by the Park boundaries. [4]

APAM Efforts and Failures

The APAM team initiated several activities to help the communities define their needs, but due to time constraints, the team spent less than a week in each community and were unable to address the needs of the people with due diligence. They assumed that promoting intensive agriculture in the areas that were encroached would be the way of achieving the goal. [4]They proposed the creation of another buffer zone which would have controlled occupancy and use. The Malagasy NGO project partner drafted a contract for this proposed buffer zone with restrictions in relation to soil and water conservation measures in the tavy fields [4]

The demonstration plots in the proposed buffer zone were neglected and since the farmers did not meet the contract stipulations, they were expelled at the end of the farming season. All the farmers who would have farmed in the buffer zone, farmed in the sembrantrano during that season, but found the land to be infertile as the land had not been left in fallow for the right amount of time. The negligence of the irrigated land in the villages brought back memories of the paddy production of the colonial era [4] Some of the recent studies reveal that deforestation is significantly less in community managed forest (CFM) areas than in areas without the community involvement or those which fall under the category of protected areas. [10]

A Case of Eminent Domain

The creation of the Park can be considered an eminent domain “taking” of land which would have been under the control of the local communities [4] APAM conservation staff initially thought that the farmers were negligent in taking care of the buffer zone, but after studying the spatial patterns of the land tenure realized that the land they farmed was linked to their lineages and corresponded with the location of the ancestral tombs. In the process of devolution, “projects devolve only the authority to implement rules created elsewhere” [11] [4] The interesting thing about Vohibazaha land-use pattern was that it closely resembled the land management concept of Biosphere Reserve [4]The APAM project concentrated on creating a transition zone without appreciating the complexity of the communities that relied on this land. Unable to control the rapid rise in deforestation and the improper forestry practices, the Malagasy government pushed for a community-based natural resource management policy known as the GELOSE (Gestion locale sécurisée or Secured Local Management). [7][8] This policy signed in 1996 is applied to forests, pastures, wildlife and water. Its main aim was to promote better resource management and better stewardship of the environment. It has been found that direct users of the forest make a better assessment of data which correlates with the established scientific inventories. [12] The last phase of the Environmental Program was intended to strengthen the environmental agenda and to expand the protected area network. Following the 5th World Parks Congress held in Durban, the President Mr. Marc Ravalomanana pledged to increase the protected area from 1.7 to 6 million hectares corresponding to the IUCN standards. [4]

REDD and other Safeguards

Carbon mechanisms like the REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) have led Madagascar to stop deforestation and degradation of land and also sequester and store a large amount of carbon. But the debate about the climate mechanisms is an ongoing one. Reduction in the rate of deforestation results in the local opportunity costs to the farmers.

Also, it is difficult to identify the affected households and provide compensation. [13]

The growing concern that REDD+ could exacerbate poverty by restricting the access to land and forest resources by the local communities is one of the major concerns, while others argue that REDD+ offers a win-win solution in mitigating climate change, conserving tropical forests and also protecting the rights of the indigenous people. [13] The long-term funding for community based forestry involves carbon sequestration through REDD+ and the establishment of protected areas. These have been funded by the World Bank and it requires that the environmental and social safeguard plans follow the World Bank guidelines. The framework of this process is to identify and compensate the households which come under Project Affected Persons (PAPs). According to this anyone whose source of income or standard of living is negatively impacted by the restrictions on the use of natural resources wherever the protected areas are created fall under the PAPs This specifies the need to pay attention to the poor and vulnerable communities who are marginalized in the society. [13]

Probability of being identified as a Projected Affected Peoples.[13]

According to the guidelines set by World Bank, the safeguard processes further classified households into major and minor categories. The major PAPs were people dependent on the resources in the protected areas as their main or only source of livelihood. These were people who were users from the core of the protected area and who practiced shifting agriculture. and minor PAPS were people who used the natural resources occasionally and were not solely dependent on the resources for their livelihood. [13]

The introduction of the Payments for Environmental Services (PES) schemes has generated tremendous interest among land-use managers and the conservationists as they serve as a promising tool to support both biodiversity and rural development by involving private sectors in conservation finance. [8]


As per the Gelose law [13] the need to integrate the rural communities in the management of forests was overlooked by the APAM project. The focus of the project was narrowed down to conserving the demarcated protected area. The heterogeneity of the population was not taken into consideration. [13] The lessons learned from the failure of projects like APAM and the many other such initiatives can pave the way for better management of the ecosystems.

To the Government

The National Strategy for Sustainable Management of Biodiversity (NSSMB). The principles of NSSMB are to reduce poverty and improve the living condition of the entire population. [5] . The reports from these projects claim that significant improvements have been made. However, the improvements have been in areas of conserving the protected areas, curbing on the wildlife trade etc. Improvements with regards to the Indigenous People (IP) have been few and far apart. An effective strategy to address the needs of the IP would be to endorse FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent).

Incidents like the poor farmer being denied access to the general meeting of Rio Tinto to voice out his concerns about losing the community’s land could be avoided with FPIC in place.

  • More stringent measures towards corruption can be taken.
  • Investments compatible with environmental protection can be considered.
  • National Education Policy can be improved to provide better educational facilities.
  • Mistakes learned from existing safeguard procedures can be used to make improvements in the future iterations of these programs.

To Interested Stakeholders

  • Support mechanisms like capacity-building of the local communities can be incorporated.
  • Awareness about the plight of the people in Madagascar can be spread to generate more funding and support from international organizations.
  • Thorough investigations and monitoring measures could be adopted to maximize the benefits and minimize the harm from any new projects.

To Affected Stakeholders

  • Resist the temptation to take bribes from corrupt individuals or organizations.
  • To actively take part in progressive initiatives for the betterment of the communities.
  • To show full cooperation and encourage educational endeavors.


“The ingredients for the happy landscape are unique, just one thing may go wrong to make a landscape unhappy but many things must go right all at once to make a landscape happy” [1]

Any one strategy or safeguard method does not guarantee the success of conservation or the welfare of the communities of the region. To ensure overall effectiveness, different strategies with region-specific applications which progressively improve the status quo need to be incorporated. As with the case of Madagascar which is dubbed as the “richest poor country” a lot more effort needs to be put into effect to bring the country to its full potential glory.[14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Osterhoudt. R. Sarah (2017) Vanilla Landscapes: Meaning, Memory, and the Cultivation of Place in Madagascar. Advances in Economic Botany.Vol (18)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Madagascar country profile - BBC News. (2017). Retrieved from
  3. . Kmietowicz, Z. (2017). Pneumonic Plague Outbreak Hits Cities in Madagascar. BMJ: British Medical Journal (Online), 359 doi:10.1136/bmj.j4595
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 McConnell, W. J. (2002). Misconstrued land use in Vohibazaha: Participatory Planning in the Periphery of Madagascar's Mantadia National Park. Land Use Policy, 19 (3), 217-230. doi:10.1016/S0264-8377(02)00016-9
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bloch, M. (1971). Placing the dead: Tombs, ancestral villages and kinship organization in Madagascar. New York; London; Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Sq., W1X 6BA.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Rives, F., Stéphanie, @bullet, Carrière, M., Montagne, P., Aubert, S., & Sibelet, N. (2013). Forest Management Devolution: Gap Between Technicians’ Design and Villagers’ Practices in Madagascar.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kull, C. A. (2002), Empowering Pyromaniacs in Madagascar: Ideology and Legitimacy in Community-Based Natural Resource Management. Development and Change, 33: 57–78. doi:10.1111/1467-7660.00240
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Froger, G., & Méral, P. (2012). Towards an Institutional and Historical Analysis of Environmental Policy in Madagascar. Environmental Policy and Governance, 22(5), 369–380.
  9. Status and Trends of Biodiversity, Including Benefits from Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from
  10. Rasolofoson, R. A., Ferraro, P. J., Jenkins, C. N., & Jones, J. P. G. (2015). Effectiveness of Community Forest Management at reducing deforestation in Madagascar. Biological Conservation, 184, 271–277.
  11. Agrawal, A., & Gibson, C. C. (1999). Enchantment and Disenchantment: The Role of Community in Natural Resource Conservation. World Development, 2, 629-649. doi:10.1016/S0305-750X (98)00161-2
  12. Nagendra, H., & Ostrom, E. (2011). The Challenge of Forest Diagnostics. Ecology and Society, 16(2), 20. doi:10.5751/ES-04189-160220
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 Poudyal, M., Ramamonjisoa, B. S., Hockley, N., Rakotonarivo, O. S., Gibbons, J. M., Mandimbiniaina, R., … Jones, J. P. G. (2016). Can REDD+ Social Safeguards Reach the “Right” People? Lessons from Madagascar. Global Environmental Change, 37, 31–42.

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Shabana Zabi.