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Located in the southeast of Madagascar, Tsitongambarika tropical forest is a protected area home to unique wildlife. New species of plants and animals continue to be discovered, and the forest is a vital water supply for local people. It also provides them with valuable materials on which their livelihoods depend, including food, firewood, charcoal and timber. Yet the site is extremely threatened, and with it, the essential services it provides.

Madagascar is renowned for its rich and peerless fauna and flora. More than 80% of its species are found nowhere else on earth. The island has more unique species than any comparably-sized landmass. However, this country also has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, having lost around 23% of its forest cover since 2000.

The vast majority of forest clearance takes place in order to to make way for local subsistence agriculture. This threat is further amplified by a growing rural population experiencing extreme poverty, which drives farmers to open up new croplands by felling and burning forests.

In Tsitongambarika, the practice of tavy – a traditional Malagasy farming practice that uses the ‘slash-and-burn’ method to clear forests – together with bush fires, illegal logging, hunting, and various types of harvesting, are the main pressures that threaten the survival of this irreplaceable forest.

by Elena Serra

Above: inauguration of the Development Showcase Centre by the State Representative in Manatantely © Asity Madagascar

Asity Madagascar and Vohimaintso Tsara Tantana (VTT) team in front of the Development Showcase Centre building © Asity Madagascar

“All these pressures are linked to four factors: bad governance, bad management, lack of environmental education and, above all, the poor standard of living of the local population,” explains Andriamandranto Ravoahangy, the coordinator of the Forest Conservation Programme at Asity Madagascar.

Asity Madagascar (BirdLife Partner), together with Vohimaintso Tsara Tantana, a confederation of 55 grassroots communities surrounding Tsitongambarika, came together to co-manage the 60,000-hectare protected area. Together, they are working to reduce pressure on the natural resources of the rainforest by promoting environmentally-friendly income-generating activities for the surrounding communities.

In this region, most farmers lack the technical know-how, financial means and sometimes motivation to adopt more sustainable and efficient techniques. Furthermore, education levels are low: fewer than 50 per cent of children attend school, and some areas even lack schools altogether.

In order to preserve Tsitongambarika, it is essential to make the population aware of the importance of forest conservation and to train them in sustainable ways of using forest resources. “It is through training that we hope to see a transformation and a behaviour change,” says Ravoahangy.

To achieve this, Asity Madagascar opened a training centre in Manatantely on 11th June 2021. At the inauguration ceremony, local community members and public and private partners welcomed the creation of the centre, which was set up with the support of the Hempel Foundation, Vanguard and BirdLife International.

The centre will help improve income sources, and consequently living standards, of Tsitongambarika’s local communities through activities that contribute to the sustainable management of the forest. Further, trainees will be supported financially to start sustainable micro-projects, such as agriculture, livestock, beekeeping or fishing and fish farming, to encourage them to take up economic activities that do not harm the environment.

Beehives in the Development Showcase Centre in Manatantely © Asity Madagascar

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