Mālama Honua in Madagascar
Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island, separated from all other land masses for at least 60-80 million years; most of its plant and animal life has evolved in isolation and is unique to the island. Madagascar is known for its “megadiversity,” featuring an extraordinarily high number (circa 12,000) of endemic plant species. The general level of endemism (species that are found in Madagascar and nowhere else) is estimated at over 80% – which means 8 out of 10 species are only found in Madagascar – with many species yet to be named or even discovered. In contrast to this environmental richness, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, and despite this megadiversity, has also lost 90% of its original forest vegetation and habitat to development and unsustainable agriculture.
There are several government and non-government initiatives that are working to support the reclamation and restoration of these unparalleled natural resources, as well as support locals in their endeavor to rise out of economic depression.
One such NGO, Azafady, works to eradicate poverty, suffering, and environmental damage in Madagascar. Their work focuses on empowering communities to lead themselves out of poverty while still protecting and conserving the biologically rich and endangered environment of Madagascar. Through initiatives such as Project Miaro, communities are being supported in identifying their own priorities, while working with conservation and economic advisors to alleviate economic stress, feed their families and villages, while also protecting their natural resources. Azafady also works in schools in and around Port Dauphin through Project Fanaka and Project Sekoly to improve the infrastructure and conditions of schools, providing furniture and writing surfaces for students as well helping to build classroom and learning spaces to increase the 50/50 chance students have of ever attending school.
Another NGO, the Eden Projects, focuses on reducing extreme poverty while restoring healthy forests. Since beginning their work in Madagascar in 2007, the Eden Projects has employed local villagers to replant the native mangrove forest habitat on the west coast of the island, now at a rate of 1.4 million trees per month. The mangrove work to stabilize the soil so farming is possible in the region, and provide habitat in coastal marine environments. Seeds from the original endemic forests are propagated in nurseries and cared for by Malagasy, in hopes of restoring the dry decidious forests that provide abundantly to all who live within them. So far, over 79 million trees have been planted through this work.
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At the same time that Eden Projects began their work in Madagascar, six National Parks of Madagascar – Marojejy, Masoala, Ranomafana, Zahamena, Andohahela and Andringitra – were in 2007 jointly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site named the Rainforests of Atsinanana. The serial property comprises a representative selection of the most important habitats of the unique rainforest biota of Madagascar, including many threatened and endemic plant and animal species. This type of biodiversity reflects Madagascar as a whole, a range of biodiversity afforded by its unique geological history and geographic placement. These forests have offered important refuge for species during past periods of climate change, and will be essential for the adaptation and survival of species in light of future climate change.
One of these national parks, Ranomafana, has a unique history tied to the famous lemurs of Madagascar. Ranomafana National Park encompasses 41,600 hectares (161 square miles) of tropical rainforest, and is home to several rare species of flora and fauna. When researcher Dr. Patricia Wright of Stony Brook University (recently featured in the IMAX 3D documentary, “Island of the Lemurs: Madagascar”) discovered the existence of two rare species of lemur in Ramonafana, she worked to help establish the national park to protect the species and their rainforest habitat.
As part of that work, the Centre ValBio research station was established. Adjacent to the park, the Centre ValBio research station focuses on helping indigenous people and the international community to better understand the value of conservation in Madagascar and around the world through research, training and education. In addition to the conservation of the rainforest and the long-term conservation of the lemurs, the Centre is committed to reducing poverty in the area by developing ecologically sustainable economic development programs, such as: support for local production of medicinal plants, reforestation, conservation clubs, and ecotourism.
As part of the outreach and education supported by Centre ValBio and Stony Brook University, a pilot program of teachers from the US and Canada are currently traveling to Madagascar to learn and engage more in conservation, restoration and citizen science efforts at Ramonafana. These teachers will help to support engagement and educational opportunity for Madagascar’s most rural schools, as well as develop their own lessons that focus on values and content aligned with mālama honua practices to share with other teachers and students around the world. We look forward to hearing from them about their experience in this exciting pilot program!