by Sylvia Paulot and Kate England, Blue Forests team, Madagascar
After winding its way west, Madagascar’s Tsiribihina River empties into the Mozambique Channel in a maze of tributaries entwined with mangroves. At the end of last year, Sylvia and Kate of Blue Venture’s Blue Forests team made their way north to the Tsiribihina Delta, meeting with WWF Madagascar, local partners, and communities who have all worked together on mangrove conservation here since 2011. Our goal was to initiate a relationship with these communities and start a feasibility study for blue carbon in the Tsiribihina Delta – where people truly live a mangrove lifestyle – from fish and wood to storm protection – the people here are linked with the mangrove forest at every turn.
Although teaming with life, the degradation and outright deforestation of the mangroves of the Tsiribihina Delta are obvious to local people, who refuse to sit idly by as exploitation and land conversion robs them of their mangrove forests. What we found amidst this Delta was nothing short of inspiring, and it came in the form of a group of women in a tiny village, tucked away in the mangroves.
Antanandahy (An-tan-an-die) is a modest settlement on a stretch of white sand, up one of many north-south tributaries in the Tsiribihina Delta. Life is tough for the 400 or so people that live here. A glimpse showed us they have only the sea, mangroves and a river channel to survive – no clean, fresh water, market, or health care were to be found. Few income opportunities exist, and like many other villages in the Delta, bandits attack regularly – robbing locals of their hard-earned cash and stealing whatever possessions they have in their homes.
Despite their hardship, the people of Antanandahy were friendly and easygoing, the women plopping down in the sand to tell us about their lives, and the mangroves on which they depend. The women of this village were courageous, independent, and active – spending their days hiking through the mangrove to fish, catch crabs, and collect mollusks, honey, and fuelwood, salting fish, weaving palm baskets, or cropping cassava and potatoes. As though they weren’t busy enough, these women have also taken on the role of forest custodians, and when we raised the topic of mangrove protection their eyes lit with pride. The women spoke of defending the forest, and how they collect propagules and take canoes though the delta to replant areas of lost mangrove. Not only are these women replanting trees, but they are inciting the men of the village to replace the mangroves they cut by planting new ones. During group discussions, we were amused to see women calling out the men who weren’t entirely honest about their use of the mangrove forest.
Striving to create better livelihoods, the women of Antanandahy tried to form a women’s association. However, a disagreement about task-sharing brought an end to the project. When we asked how this happened, one woman frankly answered that they need more training on running an association in order to make it work. Few women here can read or write (the village’s only school was built just a few years ago) and most recognize illiteracy as a barrier to their empowerment. While tackling illiteracy will be a long road, we felt that the tenacity of spirit and pride for the forest these women showed would go a long way to protecting the mangroves – and that a little bit of training in governance would empower these women to lead their community in fairly, and justly, ruling the mangrove.