Madagascar is considered to be one of the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world. More than 80% of its animal and plant species are not found anywhere else on earth, but historically high levels of exploitation mean that less than 10% of its primary vegetation remains. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, and more than 75% of the 22 million inhabitants are heavily dependent on the country’s diminishing natural resource base for their survival. The Makira project limits deforestation in the Makira Natural Park – a protected area of 372,000 hectares (more than twice the size of Greater London), and works with communities around the forest in a ‘protection zone’ of 350,000 hectares to develop sustainable livelihoods. Project activities focus on five main areas: community stewardship of natural resources, community economic development, health and education, ecosystem conservation and research, and carbon accounting and monitoring.
The Makira Natural Park, which is managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), is the largest protected area in Madagascar. It has the highest diversity of Madagascar’s emblematic lemur species, and contains the largest remaining stands of low-to-mid elevation tropical rainforest. Despite its ecosystem importance, the Makira Natural Park has experienced an estimated forest loss of 1,500 hectares per year from 1995 to 2005. In the absence of the project it is projected that forest loss would continue at an accelerated rate. Through the project’s successful implementation since 2005, it has helped save around 6,000 hectares of forest and the deforestation rate has halved.
In addition to biodiversity protection, the goal of the project is to engage with and improve the livelihoods of approximately 50,000 people living within 120 villages around the project area. Working with WCS, local communities co-manage the Makira Natural Park through a network of community associations, while managing the park’s buffer zone through resource management contracts established with the government.
A range of community development activities are planned with the communities in order to identify and prioritise their needs. The initial development goals are based on improving agricultural productivity and food security, investing in the production of sustainable natural resource-based products to enhance household financial security, improving access and quality of health services, and education. The Makira project distributes 50% of net revenues from carbon credit sales to the communities for these activities, while an additional 20% is invested in conservation activities within the park.
Contribution to sustainable development
The project contributes to sustainable development in several key areas:
With its important role as one of Madagascar’s last great wilderness areas, protecting
its exceptional biodiversity value and the ecosystem services provided by the forest is the Makira project’s key focus. Of any country in Africa, Madagascar contains the greatest number of total animal species classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable, under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the third largest number of plant species under the same IUCN classification1. The protection of the forest is essential to ensure the species populations found in the area are able to survive. Fragmentation of the forest into smaller patches due to deforestation will limit the viability of the flora and fauna found there. Restoration of degraded areas of forests is carried out with the participation of local communities to enable the movement of flora and fauna through the area.
Since 2005 the project has helped save around 6,000 hectares of forest and the deforestation rate has halved.
The project engages with and improves the livelihoods of approximately 50,000 people living within 120 villages around the project area.
Ecological monitoring is central to the project’s design and activities, and includes monitoring of forest habitat loss and fragmentation, forest corridors and connectivity, and species loss. There is a particular focus on lemur species populations and forest carnivores as they provide a tool for assessing the overall forest system functionality. The project implements a field-based monitoring plan using a revolutionary real-time monitoring system (SMART conservation software) with local community members, whereby communities are trained to monitor certain indicators on a quarterly basis, including status of key floral and faunal species, and the nature and frequency of pressures and human disturbances. Local committees also patrol the area and report any problems to local authorities.
Health & well-being
Lack of basic health services and malnutrition are the prime causes of mortality in the region. High population growth, coupled with poor access to family planning services exacerbates existing pressures on the forest. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the project is delivering a programme to improve knowledge and facilities for basic hygiene, sanitation, family planning practices and disease prevention. As of December 2013, the project had trained 137 agents from 16 rural communities to advise households on general health and first treatment of common illnesses such as diarrhoea and malaria. By the end of 2013, nearly 6,500 households and 35,000 individuals had benefited from the health and awareness campaign. Additionally, in 2014, more than 6,000 people visited mobile health clinics that travelled along rivers in the project area, offering free medical advice and access to family planning services.
Rice is the main food crop in the area. Prior to the project, farmers were using traditional farming techniques which proved labour and capital intensive, yielded low productivity and degraded the land. The project is helping households to adopt alternative intensive rice cultivation techniques that replace these destructive and unsustainable methods. Hundreds of households have adopted these practices and have seen three-fold increases in rice production. Households are also being supported to develop fish farming activities that use local fish species, thereby reducing the ecological footprint and providing an alternative source of protein to bushmeat sourced from hunting lemurs.
The project provides training for communities on additional activities which help to generate alternative household revenues, with a focus on eco-tourism and production of sustainable and equitable cash crops, including vanilla, cloves, raffia and cacao. A community managed eco-lodge has been constructed in the park buffer zone and plans for additional infrastructure are underway. In 2014, the average household income had more than doubled since the start of the project.
The project helps build links between producer associations and high-end international clients, including chocolatiers, handbag manufacturers and fine-foods retailers. The project has obtained “Wildlife Friendly” certification for products produced in the buffer zone around Makira and for eco-tourism activities.
Education & skills
By facilitating training on rice intensification and other sustainable agricultural activities, the project helps provide knowledge sharing platforms around alternative income generating activities and land-use best practice techniques. Working with the district level government education office, the project has established 22 environmental youth clubs to help raise awareness on the importance of conservation. Specific education programmes target primary and high school children as well as out-of-school youth, using technology and arts and crafts to communicate environmental and conservation messages. Approximately 60 educators are available in the area to help integrate conservation education into the curriculum, while other teaching tools and materials have also been adopted in community schools.
Water management has been a challenge for communities in the area. The project is helping to improve water infrastructure by constructing community dams, irrigation channels and water points. As of December 2013, 22 water points had been constructed, and over 2,000 households were benefiting from one hydro-agricultural dam.
A healthy forest has an important role in the water cycle and helps to maintain rainfall and water reserves, particularly important given the local reliance on rice. Deforestation exposes fragile topsoil, accelerating erosion and sediment levels in numerous streams and rivers. Erosion and sedimentation degrades aquatic habitats and leads to further land conversion as farmers try to compensate for the loss of irrigated rice fields by converting new forested areas to cropland.
There are plans to invest in community infrastructure which has started with the rehabilitation and construction of community schools. The construction of community dams, irrigation channels and water points has also contributed to the improvement of water management infrastructure in the area. In addition, natural resource rights are strengthened by transferring legal land certifications from national government to local communities.
WCS currently employs 70 Malagasy nationals in the management of Makira, and will increase employment opportunities to more than 100 people over the next five years.
The project has been verified to Gold Level status under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCB), in part due to its climate change adaptation benefits. The project area is likely to be relatively stable in terms of future climate change, however monitoring of climate trends and the effects of natural disasters and climate change on biodiversity is continuing. In addition, many of the project activities help address threats of climate change on local communities and help them adapt to likely impacts on food security and income generation through diversification.
The region & project partners
The Makira project area, covering the vast majority of Makira Natural Park, is 360,000 hectares of dense primary forest. This area is used for carbon accounting and the sale of carbon credits. Around that is a ‘protection zone’ of 350,000+ hectares which is where the majority of local communities live. The project is estimated to generate more than 38 million tonnes of emission reductions in its 30 year crediting period.
The project land is owned by the Republic of Madagascar, which has appointed the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to manage the area and address the deforestation pressures. WCS is a New York-based conservation organisation that was established in 1895, and that works with national governments, universities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and dedicated individuals aroundthe world to increase understanding and awareness of the importance of wildlife through the establishment and strengthening of protected areas. WCS has been working as a research and conservation organisation in Madagascar since 1993, and has been present in the Makira area since 2003.LocationThe Makira project is located in the Makira forests in north eastern Madagascar, 40 km west of the town of Maroantsetra.