Project NODE – Ikongo and Tolongoina.

Project NODE - teaching beneficiaries the terms and conditions of the contract with Ny Tanintsika (Ikongo and Tolongoina) On my most recent project visit to the most southerly parts of Madagascar’s forest corridor, and consequently the most marginalised, Ikongo and Tolongoina, I accompanied my four colleagues led by Ny Tanintsika’s Environment and Sustainable Livelihoods Project Officer, Dadah Mahatamama. Here he was to oversee the signing of contracts with new beneficiaries of Project NODE. These contracts due to last for six months, typically extend beyond this, a reflection in part of the local enthusiasim and participation in this project.

We spent three days in Tolongoina and two days in Ikongo town in the Ikongo district of the haute plateaux. These full two days are certainly necessary for the explanation of the terms of the contract. In regions such as Ikongo and Tolongoina – where illiteracy is extremely high it is essential to have this face to face explanation.

What is Project NODE?

Project NODE is a two year contract with our partner, Conservational International. It supports mini projects conserving the forest corridor as well as creating income generating activities in Madagascar’s south – central forest corridor. These projects extend from the northern point of the corridor Ambositra, to Vondronzo in the south.

The role of the beneficiaries

In effect Ny Tanintsika supports the beneficiaries who carry out these income generating activities. We supply them with various agricultural products and equipment and then train and supervise them on the cultivation of these products.

For my recent visit, the agricultural activities of the new beneficiaries involved the cultivation of hens and contrastly, of beans. The beans are transported on the country’s only train journey from Fianarantsoa. And the hen cultivation is supervised by our two technicians in the field.

As in the terms of the contact, the beneficiaries also carry out activities favourable to conservation; not just reforestation, but also the protection of endangered species, and the setting up fire walls (helping to prevent forest fires).

Micro Finance with TIAVO

In addition to providing materials and training beneficiaries on the cultivation of hens and beans, we also ensure that loans are set up for them, by collaborating with the biggest micro finance organisation in Madagascar, TIAVO. These loans ensure they have finances necessary to cover the initial cost of activities. After a period of time, when the activities make a net gain – they can start to pay this back after having made a profit.

By working with the beneficiaries in this way, they are assured responsibilities and independence which will help their abilities when the project comes to an end. They are taught financial responsibilities and how to make repayments using balance books. Although they are given instructions from technicians to grow beans and cultivate hens they must ultimately work independently to do this, which of course they are happy to do, with supervision from technicians only when necessary. The beneficiaries also select a president, treasury and secretary to lead and organise each association.

Meeting with beneficiaries to explain the contract

The problems that face beneficiaries

As the days progressed it became clear that the main problem when working with beneficiaries is their illiteracy. In Ikongo for example, in one particular association the president, treasury and secretary could not read or write, in this case, roles were handed over to other members as this was an impossible situation for continuing contracts.

Certain writing exercises were also a strain. Even to hold a pen was a difficult practice for some members. In particular, Ikongo seemed to face more problems with its illiteracy rates and this is certainly due to poor levels of education found in the region, further south in the corridor and further isolated. Books and pens are almost unseen and school children rarely attend school for a full five days a week. Here Dadah asked for the assistance of other colleagues to help in giving face to face explanation which was repeated throughout the day. Dadah also used various exercises to test the beneficiaries understanding and he asked them to fill in a table drawn on flip chart paper to see if they could calculate finances for themselves.

It was not just illiteracy that was a problem, but other members were clearly not used to having responsibilities. In Tolongoina, the president of one association didn’t show up to the meetings. Obviously without access to electricity or mobile telephone reception in this forgotten region this is a regular hinderence to communication and organising activities.

Emile Although perserverance is essential for the establishment of the contracts with beneficiaries, the dedication of associations is certainly not lacking by the end of the explanation of the contract.

On my visit, I had a chance to speak to Emile Ranivomalala, president of the association Soafianatra based in Tolongoina. She explained how she felt about the start of the contract: “I’m really happy because it will be necessary to change all the conditions in life from day to day to generate a new source of income.”

By the end of the five days, it seemed the associations were keen and ready to commence with the contract. It was clear to see that when they had understood the activities and signed the contracts – they were content with this chance and responsibility they had been given – which often goes amiss in these isolated regions.

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Implications of the political situation on NGOs in Madagascar

Wrapped up in everyday tasks and activities it can be easy to not consider the full implications of the political crisis in Madagascar and just how much of an effect the crisis has had and will continue to have on the island.  On my recent travels to the capital and to further northern parts of the country I was reminded again of how volatile the situation remains.

After the coup in 2009 which was backed by military support led by Andry Rajoelina to overthrow former president Marc Ravalomanana, international aid was cut off from the EU and the US to Madagascar. The international community immediately stated the newly claimed government the High Transitional Authority (HAT) had illegitimately come to power and it would not recognise either this regime or Rajoelina. This loss of funding since 2009 has had a devastating impact on the island’s development which has gradually begun to reverse. Alongside this, disappointment also persists in the South African Development Committee (SADC), the main intermediary in the crisis who continue to suggest solutions will be met quickly at their summits but in reality these often amount to little.

I recently visited Nosy Be just off the North – West coast of Madagascar, a tranquil tourist friendly island and for this reason it is evidently a wealthier region of the country, certainly in comparison to other smaller coastal towns such as Tulear in the south-west for example. Here I stayed in a guest house run by a French man who has resided on the island for the past six years. As I was about to leave I asked him how business picked up at certain times of year and generally how stable life was on Nosy Be. He explained the difficulties that have been faced to his business, initially when the crisis happened in 2009 with the sudden decline of tourists, but what seemed of more concern has been the lack of government spending on medical aid and education, as these vital sectors remain seriously underfunded. It was this that was his particular concern for bringing up his two young children. What was most interesting was that he attributed blame to the French for supporting Rajoelina from the outset.

Military drive through the Antananarivo street's at the end of a rally organised by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, March 16 2009.

What is constantly the theme of disappointment for Madagascar and the political situation is the untapped potential that the island holds for the tourist industry (in addition to what could be offered for investment opportunities and raw materials – especially for mining and gold exploration, Madagascar is said to have one of the biggest unwrapped potentials of gold mining in Africa). Not only does the island entice biologists, but Madagascar is a huge attraction for a range of tourists interested in seeing the surplus of endemic plant and animal species (found nowhere else on earth).  Over the past few months I have frequently heard of discoveries of new species of chameleons, birds and lemurs. But it seems for every new discovery a shadow is cast as others continue to be threatened by factors mostly a result of the political situation.

The illegal animal trade and poaching is now rife as profiteers have taken advantage of the instability. For many of the country’s poor who carry out the poaching this is simply a means to an ends, and those who control the trade are most likely to profit. Rare breeds of tortoise and lemur are now endangered as pet smuggling has also increased their likelihood of extinction. A report from the World Wide Fund for Nature in 2010 indicated that at one time at least 1000 terrestrial tortoises were illegally extracted from south Madagascar per week. It was once a cultural taboo to eat tortoise meat in the south, but this is no longer the case. And lemur meat sold in certain parts of the country is also considered a delicacy.

Deforestation has also increased hugely, especially of precious hardwood and other materials. Some reports have claimed deforestation has seen the felling of up to 400 trees per day in certain regions. Illegal shipping of precious rosewood is also a huge problem, which is often shipped out of the North – East and the North and occasionally the South as a means to avoid detection. Just last week Inter Press Service reported on 30 tons of rosewood being illegally transported in Antalaha, on the North-East coast which were seized by the police, and the week before three trucks transporting 115 rosewood logs were intercepted in the South – East of the Island.

The full implications of this deforestation on Madagascar must be realised. All too often donors prefer to opt to give to development over conservation but finding a solution which meets both these demands is essential on an island like Madagascar for a longer term development. Even the role the forest plays as a watershed must not be overlooked. In Madagascar it still remains that 23% of the population don’t have access to clean water. Not only will deforestation increase this figure but it will also affect rice siltation and agricultural fields ultimately affecting crop production and livelihoods. Environmental preservation relies on a good economy but also can help ensure the success of future economic stability and growth. Even before the more recent crisis of 2009, between 1990 and 2005 more than one million hectares of forest were lost to deforestation which the World Bank estimates cost the country 3 – 15% of its GDP annually. In light of this the solutions that Feedback Madagascar and Ny Tanintsika propose can be valued more so. These projects see that development and conservation are carried out hand in hand, interlinking reforestation alongside promoting health, livelihoods, education and the local stewardship and management of natural resources. 

Cultivation of plants for dyeing basketry materials

Despite the problems posed by the crisis that have and continue to face various organisations in Madagascar, it remains remarkable that NGOs such as Ny Tanintsika/Feedback Madagascar continue to remain dedicated, proactive and persistent in striving to reach the poorest communities – who have ultimately been affected the most since 2009. When I first arrived in Madagascar I read a report from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which spoke of the perseverance of such players and which sums up their position precisely; “International NGOs, local civil society organizations, civil servants and communities have continued to push forward and support the cause of healthy and sustainable management of Madagascar’s wonderfully important natural resources despite the temporary suspension of donor support, an evident lack of political will, and increasingly difficult circumstances. They are to be lauded for their persistence and dedication. But they need significantly more help.” 

Photo 1 Credit: Madagascar’s military drive through streets of Antananarivo at the end of a rally organised by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina March 16, 2009. [Pan-African News Wire File Photos]

Photo 2 Credit: Cultivation of plants for dyeing basketry materials as part of project Pailles, (preserving the endangered Pandanus species and promoting women’s livelihoods) [Samantha Cameron]

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Women’s and Children’s rights in Ambohimahamasina

Raja interviews Justine in BerkirindroProject Pailles is our project for women basketry weavers in the commune of Ambohimahamasina in the Ambalavao district of South – Central Madagascar. The project focuses on reducing women’s poverty through the promotion of basketry products at the same time as protecting the endangered Pandanus species in this region (Pandanus was traditionally used in basket weaving). Again, this is typical of Feedback Madagascar/Ny Tanintsika’s dual approach to tackling environmental problems through a development project. Since the project began it has developed to focus on women’s rights in addition to working towards promoting children’s rights, by aiding a youth club and health centre in Ambohimahamasina.

As a result of Project Pailles which has trained women on basketry techniques as well as  providing eco-friendly products for their work, the women of Ambalavao decided to set up an association for the basket weavers called ‘Soamiray’. This association was to provide a forum for the women to share ideas and practise good basketry techniques so they could improve their product to sell more on the local and international market. 

When I reached Ambohimahamasina last week we joined a meeting Soamiray were holding in our regional office. I accompanied my colleague Herizo (Ny Tanintsika’s marketing officer) to update Soamiray’s catalogue to include the new range of products sold by the women. The catalogue is available both electronically and in paper form which is mostly used in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo as well as the second largest city on the Island, Fianarantsoa. Since it began, Soamiray has also been able to extend its reach to the international market and has clients in both France and Italy who continue to make purchases.

I wanted to find out how Soamiray has aided the women in their lives. At the meeting I met Nantine Razafindravola, the president of the association who happily answered a few questions. Nantine has been the president since 2006 when Soamiray was first created. In this time she has been twice elected to lead the association. She explained passionately that she is pleased to be the president for the organisation which brings “much progress to the women’s households“. On asking her about her future hopes and plans she told me she wants other women to take charge and run more workshops in the region so Soamiray can continue to expand.   

Justine RAVAOMAMPIONANA, leader of one of the fithteen workshops in AmbohimahamasinaThe members of Soamiray run fifteen workshops assited by Ny Tanintsika in the Ambalavao region. On the Friday we walked to Bekirindro, the nearest village where a workshop on basketry techniques is held once a week.  In Bekirindro, the workshops were set up and have been run by basket weaver Justine Ravamampionana, for the past two years. When we arrived she had just been officially elected as the workshop leader. She explained that over the years they have made various announcements allowing them to increase the number of women who attend the workshops today. During this time they have also been able to make much progress. While we were at the workshop another woman who has attended Justine’s workshops from their beginning confirmed this: “I now have a lot of experience, I knew a few things before. But now I know so much more”.

It was a remarkable step that Soamiray was initially created and the fact that it has expanded and reached the spheres it has to sell its products is a great achievement, especially as the traditional role of the woman in the region is to look after the home and children.  The project has also provided an opportunity for women in the region who haven’t obtained the ‘baccalauréat’ (le bac) which is a series of exams at the end of secondary school adopted from the French system.  This project has helped to elevate the status of the woman in the region, by allowing them to have more economic freedom and independence.

If you would like to purchase any of the lovely basketry products listed in the Soamiray Catalogue please contact me by email:  

Photo 1: Herizo interviews Justine and other women who attend the workshop at Bekirindro

Photo 2: Justine Ravomampionana, the newly elected leader of the workshop at Bekirindro

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Our School Canteen Project in Tsaratanana, Ikongo

The School Canteen, Tsaratanana, Ikongo. The school canteen project was set up as part of Feedback Madagascar‘s health and environment initiative to help prevent deforestation and encourage school participation in the small rural area of Tsaratanana in the Ikongo district of South-Central Madagascar.

To get to Tsaratanana myself and my colleague Mamy (Ny Tanintsika’s Yam Project Technician) made the journey from the larger village of Ambotfosy mounting uphill passing dense vegetation, lush green fields, with small streams frequently crossing our path. As we passed the breath-taking scenery I felt as if I were seeing the typical depths of Madagascar’s rainforest corridor. As the rain started to fall by the afternoon we hurried our journey, aware that the lake near to the village where we were to stay for the night was likely to rise.

The School Canteen Project has been running since 2008. The canteen is a great asset for the school children in the villages of Tsaratanana. Before we made our way to Ikongo I read through some interviews from a year after the canteen was opened to get a feel for the project. It was interesting to read how something like the canteen could be such an asset to children’s study in this region. In these interviews the headmaster recalled how children’s attendance had shot up when the canteen was open, and the school day could continue uninterrupted (without children having to return home at midday). In areas like the Tsaratanana villages where the majority of pupils often live a distance from school the journey to and from home often takes a large part out of the day. In addition to the canteen serving to increase pupil’s attendance, the canteen also helps to prevent deforestation in the region so fewer logs are burnt to make food.  

When we arrived my colleague Mamy started to collect interviews from different members of the village, starting with the canteen president, Emmanuel.  Mamy wanted to interview the president, the headmaster of the school, in addition to a number of parents in order to assess the progress made both concerning the developments of the canteen and the impact of the canteen on school attendance over the past year. 

It was clear from speaking to Emmanuel that the canteen remains an asset and has countered some of the problems it first experienced which were most likely a result of the canteen being a new initiative for the region, for example that of a dispute between the canteen cooks and parents who now have a good relationship.

Emmanuel, president of the school canteen Emmanuel informed us that the children continue to enjoy the benefits of the canteen with the school day being longer and uninterrupted. And in the last semester state students can come to attend a special class on the Saturday. He told us that children even want to go to school on a Sunday because they love to eat at the canteen! It was also nice to hear that students continue to remark that they feel like studying for longer when they are well fed!  

Of course, the maintenance of the canteen has come across some external problems. The rainy season last year brought cyclones which damaged both the school classroom and the canteen which has meant the school period has been interrupted while these buildings have needed to be reconstructed. Problems were also encountered with the planting of seeds for food in the canteen garden which were stolen on a few occasions.

Despite these problems the pupils have seen a good series of results at the end of the academic year 2009 – 2010, a clear reflection of the fact that students have increased their attendance. At the end of the school year from 2008 – 2009 the past rate for students was 68% and at the end of the school year from 2009 – 2010 it was 92%.

With areas like Ikongo seeing a low attendance of school children having incentives such as the school canteen which encourage studying is vital for improving literacy in rural Madagascar.

Photo 1: The School Canteen, Tsaratanana, Ikongo. [Photo credit: Samantha Cameron]

Photo 2: Emmanuel, president of the school canteen being interviewed. [Photo credit: Charlotte Broyd]


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International Women’s Day

2011 marks the 100th year that International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the world – over the years it has grown in its strength and participation and is now a national holiday in 25 different countries, ranging from: Zambia, Vietnam and Russia. In Madagascar it is also a national holiday and certaintly doesn’t go unnoticed. I had a great chance to see how it is celebrated here on the island.

International Women's Day Celebration, IsoranaThree colleagues and myself travelled up to a small town called Isorana, about 20 km outside of Fianarantsoa (Madagascar’s second largest city). Here there was to be a two day celebration to mark the day. Amongst other organisations Ny Tanintsika (the partner of Feedback Madagascar) were asked to attend and join the parade on the day, and to enjoy the other festivities taking place in Isorana.

On the first morning we walked 10km to the spot where we would carry out a reforestation programme – which involved planting fruit trees to represent the life of the woman. Like the forest in Madagascar this symbolisation is significant in showing the many ways women contribute to life on the island. Throughout the morning I watched as men and women from various organisations and communities came to take part in the reforestation. It was a lovely experience to see the thought and effort that went into the day. In the afternoon we listened to various representatives speak on reducing the pressures of women in Madagascar, followed by a big celebration involving a competition with traditional Betsileo (the highland ethnic group) music and dancing. 

The march on the day itself led us from a little further downhill to Isorana centre where we followed other NGOs. A huge crowd has gathered at the top of the hill to watch and join in the celebration.

Photo 1: The parade walking up to the centre of Isorana. [Photo credit: Charlotte Broyd]

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Attenborough and the Giant Egg – lessons to be learnt

Attenborough and the eggThe last programme in the Attenborough series ‘Madagascar: Island of Marvels’ aired on Wednesday 2nd March featuring our silk project as a perfect example of providing a viable solution to deforestation. The programme titled ‘Attenborough and the Giant Egg’ looked back to Attenborough’s first visit to the island in 1960 when he gathered the shell of an elephant bird. The pieces of shell which remarkably constructed the whole egg is still held dearly by Attenborough today as one of his most valuable resources. It was interesting to read recently how Attenborough had no idea then how this venture would launch his remarkable career, consequently generating a huge interest in the natural world by his followers.

The elephant bird which is now extinct is similar in its structure to that of a giant ostrich. In the programme Attenborough tried to shed some light into what is happening on the island today and to send a clear message about protecting other endangered species before it is too late.  This message we hope will stick in the minds of those supporting the work of Feedback Madagascar and our local partner Ny Tanintsika enabling us to continue to conserve parts of Madagascar’s forests.

Since Attenborough’s last visit to the island 80% of its native forest has been destroyed, the human population has quadrupled and many species are now on the verge of extinction! It can be depressing to think about.

Of course as many reviews of the series have pointed out there are the positives that today’s times has brought. Many new species have and are still being discovered in Madagascar – most recently the new species of bird ‘Mentocrex Beankaensis’ which resides in the west of the island in the Beanka Forest (an area currently managed by Biodiversity Conservation Madagascar (BCM)). Another recent discovery has been the new species of Belalanda Chameleon noted by the Durell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. And of course we must credit how far we have come today with scientific progress greatly enhancing research – such carbon-dating techniques which were used on the egg to predict its age of 1,300 years.

However these developments cannot distract from the message of the programme. It is crucial for the people, wildlife and endemic species of the island for us to act now to up our conservation efforts and to stop all avenues enhancing deforestation.

To keep the island’s marvels we must seek solutions to problems preventing conservation. Feedback Madagascar’s silk project was featured on the programme as an excellent example of conservation and development hand in hand. The silk project works to conserve the Tapia forest by promoting silk production. Attenborough commented on this “I hope the Madagascar programmes will please you and that they will help in drawing attention to the island’s extraordinary wildlife and the work that…you and your organisation are doing to help conservation there“.

The Tapia forest is the food of the wild silkworms (both Tapia and wild silkworms are endemic to Madagascar). We pay protective households of the forest to protect the Tapia and we train them on breeding silkworms. By setting up firewalls, reforesting land and removing pine trees (which prevent Tapia growth) these households are helping to conserve the last remnants of the highlands as well as being able to make a living. At the same time we train women on how to weave silk, providing them with spinning wheels and other equipment as well as promoting marketing for their silk product so they also have a sustainable income.

For more on our project and to find out how you can make a further contribution please see our  silk project page on our website.

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First impressions of the red island

In mid-January this year I left a wet and cold England to arrive in Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo (or simply Tana). The island which was colonised by the French in 1886 and was given independence in 1960 is located off South-East Africa. Sure enough on the way from the airport I could see the French influence which has made its mark on the capital; with brightly painted houses, narrow and tall on cobbled streets; stalls selling baguettes and an array of other snacks; and polite addresses of French salutations ‘bonjour’ and ‘salut’ as you walk through town.

A rare breed of Chameleon found in Madagascar It was then that I also realised how different Madagascar would be from mainland Africa – explained by the fact that the Malagasy’s have an Indo – Malaysian descent. Not only that, but Madagascar’s geographical position puts it between the Mozambique channel and the Indian Ocean which has influenced its weathers and temperate climate, affecting the island’s land in different regions. Parts of Madagascar, especially the central highlands remind me of the lush green fields of southern India. In addition to this, as the island was discovered by man relatively recently (200,000 years ago) this has had amazing affects on its biodiversity allowing for an array of endemic species (meaning that these species are only found in Madagascar). Madagascar demonstrates an example of the destruction which is played by man on nature.

Over the past month of being in Madagascar understanding and seeing first-hand the threats that are increasingly felt on its forests and endangered species has also encouraged me further to get fully behind the organisation I am here to work with, Feedback Madagascar and its local partner Ny Tanintsika. Feedback realises the necesity of interlinking conservation and development so it carries out projects which promote health, education and livelihoods at the same time as protecting the forest and endangered species. 

The staff of Ny Tanintsika at its AGM in Tulear It was handy that Feedback’s Annual General Meeting fell in the second week of my arrival so the organisation headed down to Tulear in the South-West of the country where we would review the past year and put forward our plans and hopes for 2011. And I was able to learn a great deal about our projects. Tulear itself was hot and dry, a contrast to Tana which was cool and breezy as we departed. It was interesting to see Tulear with the coast, its incredible reef and spiny forest enticing tourists down here. It felt like we had entered a new country.

Photo 1: A Chameleon in Park L’Ankarana, Northern Madagascar.  

Photo 2: Ny Tanintsika staff at Feedback Madagascar/Ny Tanintsika’s AGM in Tulear.

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