You’ve heard the climate change projections: sea level rise, melting glaciers, extreme droughts, massive species extinctions. No matter what efforts we make to stop or slow climate change, scientists agree that certain inevitable changes have already been set in motion.
Curbing the rate of climate change is crucial, of course, but what about the people who are already dealing with its effects? People in vulnerable ecosystems, whose socioeconomic conditions prevent them from moving anywhere else?
In Madagascar’s Andasibe-Mantadia region, poor communities are adapting to these changes in surprising ways: planting fruit trees, keeping bees and experimenting with organic agricultural techniques that improve crop yields. Not only will these actions help fight the negative impacts of climate change, but they are already having a more visible and immediate effect – alleviating poverty and providing sustainable new livelihoods for people.
EXPLORE: Africa & Madagascar
Last year, CI and local partner the National Association for Environmental Action (ANAE) worked to improve agricultural practices in more than a dozen villages in the forest corridor. In several villages, the first few harvests of green beans, cucumber and cabbage have doubled or tripled their yields compared to original farming methods.
Forests, Farms and Climate
The old-growth forests of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park are known outside of Madagascar for sheltering some of the country’s most iconic biodiversity, including the indri (Indri indri), the world’s largest lemur species. These species have shared the forests, mountains and streams of eastern Madagascar with human communities for close to two thousand years.
About seventy-five per cent of Madagascar’s rural population lives below the poverty line, and many of its rural residents are stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty and environmental destruction. Massive deforestation rates are largely the result of a traditional farming method called tavy, also known as slash-and-burn agriculture. This practice is sustainable if the land is allowed enough time to regenerate before new crops are planted; however, population pressures are forcing people to replant too quickly, depleting soil quality and putting the food security of many communities at further risk. The practice of tavy is driven largely by the fact that many farmers don’t have rights to the land they work.
IN PHOTOS: Discover Andasibe, Madagascar
The effects of unsustainable agricultural practices on the land will only get worse as climate change continues to take a toll on the region. Climate models project that most of the country will become hotter and wetter, while other areas will dry out. In order to build the resilience of natural ecosystems and adapt to inevitable environmental changes, Conservation International (CI) is helping communities take measures to protect themselves.
Planting New Seeds
These farmers are among those whose livelihoods have become more sustainable, thanks to improved agricultural and forestry practices. © Louise Holloway
The Andasibe-Mantadia corridor project takes a holistic approach to fighting and adapting to climate change. In addition to reforesting more than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of land between species-rich protected areas, many of the project’s initiatives are geared towards building the resilience of poor residents in local communities.
In many cases, the first step is helping people take ownership of the lands that they farm. CI is helping farmers get land titles; as farmers are officially given ownership of their lands, they will have a greater incentive to harvest them sustainably.
IN DEPTH: Find out more about CI's Forest Corridor Intiatives.
Last year, CI and local partner the National Association for Environmental Action (ANAE) worked to improve agricultural practices in more than a dozen villages in the forest corridor. Through a series of trainings, hundreds of farmers learned new strategies to increase their crop yields while improving soil quality. For example, savoka gardens are planted on degraded tavy plots. These gardens contain carefully-selected tree and plant species which help to restore the soil and provide valuable food crops and other resources. In several villages, the first few harvests of green beans, cucumber and cabbage have doubled or tripled their yields compared to original farming methods.
Better Ecosystems, Better Jobs
But no matter how great agricultural practices may be, they can’t always solve the problem of a prolonged drought or relentless rain – both possible climate change effects. However, if people can earn money from more than one source, family incomes won’t be as devastated if one source of revenue runs out.
In order to decrease reliance on agriculture, CI is training people in new livelihood skills from beekeeping to fish-farming. Not only do these activities provide much-needed income for families, but they also promote healthy ecosystem services which underpin the balance of life on Earth.
For example, bees and other pollinators provide essential services for 70 percent of the world’s plants. Income from livelihoods like beekeeping will give people more incentive to protect the forests on which their new jobs directly depend.
By working with communities that are vulnerable to climate change effects – in Madagascar, as well as countries like Colombia, South Africa and Cambodia– CI is proving that although protecting ecosystems can often be difficult in the short-term, doing so will ultimately save our planet and our lives.
READ MORE: Andasibe: Madagascar's Forest Gem Works for People