A Bit of the American Midwest in Madagascar
Guerrilla Aid was deeply impressed by MBG’s ecological initiatives, and based on our experience working with under-resourced communities, we knew we could help the MBG design more effective programs to boost local economic and educational opportunities for nearby residents. We contacted Chris Birkinshaw, the MBG director in Antananarivo, and with funding from the Anheuser Charitable Trust created a community development program to benefit three endangered forests – Matanga, Analalava, and Ankarobolov-Agnakatrika.
After conducting initial research, Guerrilla Aid traveled to Matanga, Madagascar, and met with local school teachers and village elders. We asked them how we might help turn MBG’s investment in the local environment into educational and financial opportunities for the local community.
When we learned that the most pressing need was to make improvements to local facilities, we set out to refurbish local schools that had fallen into disrepair. Each school received aid according to its specific needs, and the most common repairs included new cement floors, roofs, latrines, and new books for students. In total, 43 schools received aid, and thus refurbished, the schools took in more students and enabled educators from the Missouri Botanical Gardens to teach classes on local conservation tactics. The classes emphasize the need to protect the forest to maintain the ecosystem, retain water in the soil to benefit nearby crops, and to keep the area’s rare plant and animal species safe from destruction.
The Analalava Forest in Eastern Madagascar:
At the Analalava Forest the opportunity for enhanced tourism was plain to see. If properly managed, tourism in the region has the potential to radically improve the financial situations of local residents. The forest is located just 30 minutes from the bustling beachside town of Mahavelona (Foulpointe), and provides an excellent opportunity for local tourists to explore the forest’s dynamic ecosystem and its range of rare animals which include lemurs and fruit bats. With the majority of the national parks and Malagasy tourist destinations focusing on the lemur, Guerrilla Aid and MBG changed tack and decided to promote the area as a unique place for viewing fruit bats and outdoor camping. These fruit bats, or “Flying Foxes” roost in trees during the day and are large, lively animals. To date, ten campsite grounds have been cleared, and fruit-bat viewing platforms have been built. In addition, it was decided that members of a local women’s association who were unemployed or underemployed be trained and certified as cooks who could cater to a growing number of tourists. Besides providing start-up funds for a communal kitchen, Guerrilla Aid set up a special fund be set aside for emergencies such as the replacement of materials and back-stock of food in times of inflation or scarcity.
The Ankarobolov-Agnakatrika Forest: Changing Economies, Changing Tactics
The Ankarobolov-Agnakatrika Forest is a MBG conservation site in Madagascar where deforestation poses a real threat. The 2250 hectare area is a low elevation evergreen forest which is home to a variety of endangered plants and animals such as the Dypsis elegans palm and the grey-headed lemur. But unsustainable logging practices over the last two decades have seen nearly a 50% loss of trees in the territory. To stem this trend, Guerrilla Aid partnered with MBG and local community organizations to fund and staff six tree nurseries. The initial arrangement was for local women to establish and maintain small seedling sheds where native tree species could be grown and eventually turned over to the Missouri Botanic Gardens. In exchange, the MBG would provide start-up funds for rice-banks – granaries where rice purchased at low prices during the high season is (rice is) sold for higher prices in times of shortage.
To supplement the native tree reforestation project, Guerrilla Aid also funded a research study on alternative methods of planting delicate tropical seedlings directly into the ground in designated areas. This project was conducted by Chris Birkinshaw in cooperation with James Aronson, an internationally recognized restoration ecologist. To date, tens of thousands of native tree seedlings have been sown directly into grassland under varied environmental conditions, and in November 2011, a local nurseryman reported that the seeds of two of the three trial species had begun to germinate.
In many ways work of the Missouri Botanical Gardens in Madagascar is a model for international conservation and development work. It has a long-standing commitment to specific sites, operates in-country field offices, employs local villagers, and educates future generations about environmental protection. Over the course of our collaboration we learned valuable lessons about strategy and steadfastness which we can bring to bear on future projects elsewhere. Guerrilla Aid was thrilled to have partnered with the Missouri Botanic Gardens as it continues its important conservation work and expands its community development programs in Madagascar.