Background to the Madagascar interviews

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Background to the Madagascar interviews

All of the narrators in Madagascar come from Tanandava, a collection of small villages in the Faux Cap area of the Androy region. This remote region makes up the most southerly point of the country, and has a harsh dry climate. Androy's typical vegetation was spiny forest, but much of this has been cleared for agriculture, or cut down for building, firewood or charcoal production. The southern forests are being encroached upon by coastal dunes.

Livelihood options
The Antandroy (literally, ‘people of the thorns') are agro-pastoralists whose subsistence activities have traditionally centred on livestock and the cultivation of crops such as manioc, corn and sorghum. The latter was grown until the droughts of 1986–1992, when it was replaced by corn. However, corn has not adapted well to the dry conditions, and sorghum was recently reintroduced by the NGO the Andrew Lees Trust, with good results. Agricultural yields remain very low, however, due to decreasing soil fertility, recurrent drought and lack of access to improved techniques.

Any surplus that is produced is invested into livestock, with chickens giving the lowest returns and goats, sheep and cattle, in that order, returning greater dividends. The loss of cattle is very demeaning to the people of Tanandava; the definition of wealth is to have enough cattle to be able to afford the funerals that you are obliged to contribute to by clan and family responsibilities. 

Fishing is a relatively new means of economic survival, taken up as recurrent drought and increasingly erratic rainfall has severely reduced livestock numbers and crop yields. Petty trading, and in particular selling fish, is another crucial activity, especially for women. Hiring out one's labour to carry water, collect firewood, or weed the fields of other villagers, is another means of survival, but such work is irregular.

Because of these economic challenges, migrating to the far north of the country for work is the only option for many villagers, especially young people. They go to Toliara or Majunga to become posy (rickshaw) pullers, find cultivable land to rent, or get involved in roadside selling. Most migrate with the intention of returning as soon as they have made enough money, but many remain impoverished and their move becomes permanent.

Facilities and services/infrastructure
Access to health and education services in Androy are among the most limited in Madagascar. There is a mission school in Tanandava, and another in Anovy, 5 kilometres away on foot. The nearest high school is in Faux Cap, 3 kilometres away.

There are small health clinics in Tanandava but more skilled healthcare is located in Anovy and in Faux Cap. For surgery, patients must be transported to Tsihombe, 35 kilometres to the north, or to Ambovombe, 100 kilometres away.

In times of drought, drinking water is only available at seaside wells, an average of 3 kilometres away. Otherwise, rain collection systems scattered throughout the area provide water. Local roads are poor and access to markets is restricted.

Environmental challenges
Tanandava is in the south of Faux Cap, which gets less rain than the north. Recently rainfall has become less reliable, no longer following traditional cycles, and this has caused severe problems with cropping systems. The area has become prone to cyclones, which release most of the annual rainfall in a few days.

Another pressing environmental challenge is how to stabilise the sand dunes that are now encroaching upon fields and forests. The provision of coastal wells, and the subsequent livestock traffic and trampling of the area, together with the felling of trees to create fields, has exposed large areas of land to high winds and sweeping dune formation.

The partner organisation, the Andrew Lees Trust, decided to use the Panos London community grant  to initiate a dune stabilisation project. Approximately 1,000filao tree seedlings were bought and transported to Tanandava and members of the community also collected halamavo, a leguminous dune shrub, to plant between the seedlings. Strict rules in each community protect the newly-planted trees from livestock. Three dunes have been stabilised as a result of this project.

The partner organisation
The Andrew Lees Trust, set up in 1995, develops and implements social and environmental education projects which aim to empower local communities to improve their self sufficiency and reduce the effects of extreme poverty. The trust is also committed to building the capacity of Malagasy professionals to undertake the challenges of designing and implementing appropriate development strategies and projects at local and regional levels. Communications have played a central role in the trust's activities, including the production of educational radio broadcasts, the development of rural radio networks, and most recently oral testimony and participatory video for villagers to communicate their development problems and priorities to a wider audience.