Madagascar’s communities, an engine for change

Local entrepreneurship drives wildlife conservation and food security

Like other members of her community, small entrepreneur Nirina Razafindravelo benefits from training in poultry rearing to improve her income and quality of life. ©FAO/David Mansell-Moullin


My daughters and I, we don’t always get to eat enough,” says Nirina, a resident of the Malagasy village of Marovovonana. “There’s no supermarket here, so we mostly eat what we grow ourselves or find in the forest.” She is hopeful that the training she has been receiving in poultry rearing will improve her family’s diet and reduce the pressure on her to go hunting. 

Nestled in sumptuous vegetation, Marovovonana is among Madagascar’s remotest settlements. On the edge of Makira Nature Park, it sits next to one of the country’s largest tracts of virgin forest. The spot is exceptionally rich in biodiversity and a habitat for lemurs, an animal found nowhere else in the world. Conserving this unique fauna matters crucially in a community heavily dependent on fishing and hunting for its food and income.

But poverty, isolation and a shortage of domestic meat have forced the inhabitants of Marovovonana and neighbouring villages to hunt down species that are endemic, endangered or at risk of extinction. In a rapidly changing world, Nirina – much like the other 90 000 people living on the edge of the nature park – struggles to make ends meet. The wildlife around her is thinning out and flooding is increasingly frequent.

Even when available, meat is expensive to buy. Nirina can hardly afford it. “I just don’t have enough money. The hardest thing for me as a single mother is making sure I keep my two girls fed and well.” 

Not one to give up easily, Nina has started several small businesses, in an effort to expand her income and do better by her family. She has tried her hand at selling smoked fish and spices, and also at seamstressing. But the market is small for niche products and services, and the earnings far from dependable.

Communities that depend on Makira forest are involved in managing and preserving it. ©FAO/David Mansell-Moullin

Madagascar remains one of the world’s poorest countries and its people, intensely reliant on natural resources, are among the planet’s most vulnerable.

Unless hunting for bush meat is brought down to sustainable levels, wildlife populations will decline irreversibly, putting rural communities under further strain. There is an urgent need for solutions that reconcile the twin goals for eradicating poverty and hunger on the one hand and conserving precious fauna on the other.

The Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) programme in Madagascar is an attempt to do just that. It encourages sustainable use of wild species (as long as they are not protected or living within the Makira reserve) while increasing the supply of alternative sources of protein. Communities are meanwhile encouraged to join anti-poaching patrols.

It is under the SWM programme umbrella that Nirina has been offered a place in the poultry rearing workshops taking place in her village.

Armed with confidence-boosting skills and start-up tips, Nirina is determined to set up her own poultry business – for family consumption to begin with, and with an eventual option to expand into sales. Chicken meat and eggs both supply key proteins, reducing the need to continue hunting in the forest. 

One of 64 women enrolled in the programme, Nirina is eager to spread the good word. “The more people get this kind of training, the less will we want for money and basic food.” She seems to be onto something: altogether, 190 lakeside residents have acquired the technical knowhow to get a chicken coop up and running.

By renforcing the community’s capacities, the SWM Programme is supporting micro-enterpreneurship and promoting new sources of income. ©FAO/David Mansell-Moullin

Madagascar is one of 13 countries taking part in the SWM programme. This is a global move to reduce pressure on unprotected species, improve the supply of sustainably farmed meat and fish, and lower demand for bush meat, particularly in the cities. In every country, the programme also entails co-operating with national authorities to better regulate hunting and conserve wildlife.  

“If this works out, we won’t need to go hunting so much, and I’ll be able to help others get that little bit more out of life,” Nirina concludes.

The SWM programme is an initiative of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, funded by the European Union. It is being implemented by a consortium formed by FAO, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). In Madagascar, activities are run by WCS, working with the national authorities.

The programme aims to restore the balance between food security and wildlife conservation, an essential condition for creating a world free from poverty and hunger.

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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land