Why we should look to Madagascar in a climate crisis … and it may not be for the reasons you think.
“Congratulations Money for Madagascar on all you have done to help protect Madagascar’s marvellous forest and the many species that live here. Madagascar is home to a magnitude of marvellous creatures that live there. They urgently need all the help and protection we can give them” Sir David Attenborough, 2016.
“We planted fruit trees with vegetables all around them. When I water them, I think about eating those vegetables for my lunch and I dream that when I am a bit older, I will enjoy fruit and shade from these trees. So, I am happy to feed the trees because I know that soon they will feed me” Malagasy child, 2023.
It could be said that Madagascar made headlines at COP26 for all the wrong reasons.
The UN declared that the country had been hit by the ‘first climate emergency triggered famine’ in August 2021.
One in ten children don’t make it to their fifth birthday. Half of the population are malnourished and hungry, and 90% of the assets and land in Madagascar are owned by people from overseas.
It is incredibly rich in biodiversity and the rainforests are full of natural resources with the potential to treat global illnesses, yet half of its forest areas have been destroyed in recent years. They could be gone before we have time to research them and the possibilities they contain. Scientists predict it’s beautiful plants and wildlife will take millions of years to recover from extinctions according to an article published in Nature in January this year.
With extreme widespread poverty, Madagascar would seem to be on a downward spiral.
What is Money for Madagascar?
Money for Madagascar (MfM) is a Malagasy-led charity that, without doubt, punches above its weight in terms of the positive and sustainable impact of its conservation efforts. It is a trusted, learning-focused organisation, valued and respected by the communities where it is active. With over thirty years’ experience at a grass roots level, they know what works and they are ready to scale up.
MfM seeks to address the root causes of inequality within the country to build the foundations for truly sustainable development through four programmes: Forests and Livelihoods, Education for Life, Disaster and Resilience, and Protecting and Enabling Vulnerable Children.
The values of dignity, integrity, empathy, equity, solidarity, sustainability and accountability run through this charity like a stick of rock.
How did it start?
Barbara Prys-Williams, a Quaker, lived and worked in Madagascar as a teacher in the 1960s. She formed many close friendships with Malagasy people, so when difficult times struck, such as a cyclone in the 1980s she wanted to support them to do what they needed to do to help their own people.
In Swansea, Wales, together with her local Quaker group, she raised the money to buy a bicycle for health visitors to reach more people in remote Malagasy villages, and in this way, rooted in friendship, Money for Madagascar was formed.
Where Money for Madagascar works:
Money for Madagascar’s impact on the environment
MfM approaches sustainability issues in a truly holistic way, so their positive environmental outcomes are only a part of the bigger picture. Nevertheless, their methods of working produce evidenced results where the shift, for example, from land degradation and deforestation to recovery and resilience is visible.
In the 1990’s Betampona rainforest was declared a Special Reserve for entry only by researchers. This meant that local communities who had previously relied on the forests for their livelihoods were left vulnerable.
Together with the Malagasy Church Sampan’asa Momba Ny Fampandrosoana (SAF-FJKM – an equivalent perhaps to Christian Aid), MfM considered how to support them to develop alternative environmentally friendly livelihoods and flourish.
The project benefitted farming families across one hundred villages over thirty years.
To prove the impact, a three-year study revealed that fifty families supported by the MfM project doubled their income because of increased farming production, compared to the families in the control group who were not taking part in the project.
The project had a far reaching and long-lasting impact including the following additional changes:
- Local people altered their habits from the slash and burn methods of cutting down trees in the rainforest and began to settle, instead planting and growing a wide variety of indigenous trees, such as fruit trees, and plants scientifically selected for suitability.
- This resulted in higher yields of a greater variety of fruits and vegetables which resulted in more varied and healthy diets.
- The soil became more stable, so they didn’t need to move.
- With the additional income families chose to send their children to school and buy medicines.
Clearly demonstrating the solutions which become possible when livelihoods are partnered with conservation, this project succeeded in protecting an area of acute scientific interest whilst at the same time stabilising the land around, creating two significant levels of impact.
Present day example:
There is often a clash between the needs of human survival and nature conservation. Dynamic Agro-Forestry looks to address this. It is a method to allow primeval forest to be protected whilst converting degraded land to highly productive edible forests which provide a sustainable food source and income for local families. It is an approach which has proven highly effective in several Latin American countries where families have seen rapid improvements in soil fertility and over two hundred percent increases in income after three years.
Activating long-term trusted relationships, MfM is establishing a team of expert trainers to provide a long-term support and training service to farmers’ groups and NGOs into the future. By following a farmer-to-farmer approach (which functions in a similar way to a revolving credit system) MfM will ensure ownership and buy-in from the local families who will respond to the real benefits they see in their neighbour’s land. Over time soil quality and water retention will improve increasing resilience to climate change, and increased tree cover will begin to reverse the negative impact of deforestation.
How do they do it?
What makes MfM different is not what they do, but the way they do it. For example, Christiane, the Programme Manager for the Resilient Forests and Livelihoods Programme says that she works for MfM because:
- Its distinctive and holistic approach leads to more significant positive outcomes.
- It is Malagasy-led.
- It has a commitment to a continuum of care, for example of people from infancy to adulthood.
Key features of MfM’s approach include:
- Partnership working which facilitates MfM’s position as a bridge between national and international entities such as governments, businesses, researchers and communities so that everyone feels included and listened to.
- MfM has the knowledge and expertise to ensure buy-in from local people to ensure that environmental solutions, such as solar panels and tree planting, are implemented in the long term and are truly sustainable.
- Registered in the UK it sets the bar for international standards of accountability with careful ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure that scientific rigour underpins all work.
- MfM is nimble, adaptable, and quick to listen and act.
- Every stage of the development cycle is driven by listening to Malagasy voices.
- Disaster resilience and preparedness is built into everything they do using the three R’s model of Response, Recovery and Resilience.
The results gained through these methods mean that Money for Madagascar offers hope, encouragement, community and connection.
MfM have synthesised several robust new programme designs, all ready to scale whilst maintaining the community connection.
Taking the best of everything they have ever done at community level, building trust, knowledge, expertise and really learning from their experience and wider national and international knowledge over forty years, MfM is now looking to establish greater income and partnerships with impact investors to jointly deliver integrated development conservation to benefit more communities.
Examples of evidence-based projects ready to scale.
- Food for Schools – MfM is already feeding children at forty schools and looking to expand to feed at least another fifty more.
- Resilient Forests and Livelihoods – a new programme to implement Dynamic Agro-Forestry in at least two more regions. This is a full holistic package.
- Solar United – working in partnership, MfM brings solar light libraries to around four hundred schools. With more funding they could roll this out to hundreds more.
- Education for Life
- MfM brings ten new schools into its programme every year and they want to bring in more.
- Providing productive tree nurseries as community income generation and livelihood support
Clean cooking solutions
MfM would like to shout out to any researchers or practitioners working in clean cooking solutions as an alternative to the use of wood or charcoal for cooking at scale such as in a school canteen. Get in touch using the contact details at the end of this article.
In summary, MfM’s experience at the sharp end of climate change demonstrates that relationship-building, skills, technology and joined-up thinking to weave these together is what works to create solutions to the climate change challenges we all face now or will face in the future.
In a climate crisis, instead of looking to Madagascar as a poor, impoverished if unique country, perhaps the wider world could look to and learn from the concrete steps the Malagasy people are taking to build climate change resilience.
How you can help:
Money for Madagascar assures the quality and impact of its work with a direct line of sight from donor to beneficiary. Tried and tested solutions build on strong foundations of relationships and skills.
Well established models, as mentioned, are now ready to be scaled up, so if you are looking for proven low-risk high-impact ways to get involved and no-frills value for money then get in touch.
Got a minute?
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- Donate to support one of our worthy projects.
- Feeling inspired and want to know more? Get in touch.
Got an hour?
- Download free posters and educational resources to raise awareness about rainforests around the world (see the ‘Resources’ link above).
- Pledge to pay to plant trees – a donation of £5 includes planting, maintaining and conserving each tree, as well as a Community Development package (see the ‘Get involved’ link above).
- Want to have fun? Why not Twin Trees in Madagascar with some in your home area or take part in a ‘Lemur bounce’ (see the ‘Resources’ link above).
- Businesses – Interested in Corporate Social Responsibility or Environmental, Social and corporate Governance? Get in touch for a chat or to explore options such as carbon offsetting.
- Researchers or practitioners – Interested in what you have read about? Or want to find out more? Get in touch.
- Like what you’ve read and want to join us but unsure what that might look like, or have ideas and suggestions for collaboration?
Get in touch.
Contact: Email Irenee@moneyformadagascar.org with ‘Happy Tree’ in the subject line.
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