are the wise words of Vatosoa Rakotondrazafy. Vatosoa has spent her career uplifting the voices of small scale fishers in Madagascar and involving these coastal communities in the national conservation efforts of the country.
Vatosoa’s dream growing up was to become a lawyer in her home country of Madagascar and defend people who needed help. Life however had other plans for her, and Vatosoa found her way into the marine policy sector. She has spent years magnifying the voices of small-scale fishers and coastal communities. For six years Vatosoa was the National lead coordinator for MIHARI, Madagascar Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) Network before being elected President of the board in 2020.
“There was a real need to centre small scale fishers in the sustainable management of marine and coastal resources and the recognition of their role as stewards of these resources,” she said in an interview with MAP. As with all coastal communities, these fishers are on the forefront of being affected by climate change. The Madagascar communities of fishers are highly isolated and marginalized in the country and are often left on their own, even though these small communities provide around 60% of the country’s national catch. There is very little ecosystem management in place for these 500,000 people relying on fisheries for their livelihoods.
"Even if these communities did not receive formal education, for me, they have a doctorate in ocean science and governance and years and years of generational knowledge of natural resources. They live from and for the ocean and they have on-the ground experience so they are able to highly contribute to finding solutions for the management of marine resources.”
Vatosoa jumped right into her position and incorporated more fishers into the program. In 2015 when Vatosoa started at MIHARI there were 50 LMMAs. Now in 2021, there are 219 sites covering 17000 km2 of Madagascar’s coastal area! Today within MIHARI, almost all 18 ethnic groups in Madagascar are represented. She also organized over 10 small-scale fisheries forums to allow for dialogues and sharing of information between the communities. When asked why it is important to listen to voices of local communities for marine conservation, she replied,
“Local communities are the changemakers that we need to centre as they have the ability to influence and change their peer's behaviour. More importantly, they have the secrets of conservation of marine resources. We need to listen to them as they could highly contribute to management solutions and innovation.”
While leading MIHARI, Vatosoa has seen a rise in confidence, solidarity, ownership and motivation in the LMMA communities as they manage their own natural resources. Fishers now work together on fisheries closures, establishing local resource regulations and conservation of mangroves. Part of Vatosoa’s work involved advocacy for mangrove conservation and management while emphasising the benefits of protecting mangrove forests. Vatosoa commented that the main threats to mangroves in Madagascar are the illegal harvesting of the wood to make charcoal or harvesting for lumber for homes. In some areas of the country, mangroves are cleared to make way for illegal aquaculture ponds. Within the country there is little respect for local regulations when it comes to mangrove forests. For Vatosoa, mangrove conservation and fighting for her small scale fishers communities has not been without confrontation and the pain of loss.
Part of Vatosoa’s job with MIHARI was to bring complaints from the communities to the authorities on mangrove issues. In 2016 MIHARI and other societies brought two mangrove related injustices to national and International attention. MIHARI got the attention of the Ministry of Fisheries after a local community had part of it’s 11 year old restored mangrove forest harvested by a private firm. Community member’s homes were flooded as a result of the missing forest. Because of MIHARI and other’s work, the private company’s project was ended. During that same year the Ministry of Justice and international media became involved after a volunteer mangrove patroller was murdered when coming across people making charcoal in a protected mangrove forest. Vatosoa and others fought for justice for the patroller, and fought for protection for the communities that work so hard to manage their mangrove forests.
Among the management models of LMMA is mangrove restoration. Of the 219 LMMAs, 79% have mangrove management plans. Vatosoa has worked hard to foster opening dialogues between the small-scale fishers to improve mangrove conservation policy and governance. During one of their regional forums, MIHARI restored 2.3 hectares of mangrove. Large scale plantings of thousands of propagules have also been done by the group during crab workshops.
“We also offered training for participants who are new to the field of mangrove management, to increase awareness on the importance of mangroves.” Vatosoa mentioned. “Additionally, we have also organized a few exchange visits under the theme of mangrove in order to empower communities in their effort to conserve their mangroves, and to allow them exchange ideas and experiences with their peers with the objective of advancing, sharing and replicating mangrove management best practices.”
“For this year, 15,000 ha of it [the restoration] is for mangrove area. The national vision of re-greening Madagascar is a very ambitious challenge but yet energizing one. When it comes to fighting deforestation and promoting reforestation and landscape restoration, the country has seen multiple efforts over the past few decades. The country is not missing actors nor know-hows, it is missing a comprehensive plan that is conceived, shared and understood by a critical mass of stakeholders.”
Vatosoa took on a new exciting position in November of 2020 with the Malagasy think-tank INDRI. INDRI wants to combine the conservation knowledge of all stakeholders to restore the country’s marine ecosystem and “re-green” the island. Vatosoa is leading Alamino, an initiative to bring together the knowledge of Malagasy people, in support of the national goals of reversing forest loss and restoring four million hectares by 2030, as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative. She is now working to bring stakeholders together to be involved in the efforts to ‘re-green’ Madagascar.
“We bring together all key stakeholders : civil and military public authorities, NGOs, civil society, representatives of local communities, religious groups, the private sector, experts and financial partners, and facilitate collaboration with collective intelligence tools that are completely new to Madagascar.”
Vatosoa is a person to watch as she will lead to huge changes in her country. MAP is pleased to have her as an ambassador and to share the amazing work she has accomplished. Though Vatosoa has moved on to new things for her country, and is involving all kinds of new voices in the conservation movements, she has not forgotten her coastal communities. At the end of her interview with MAP she ended with, “I would also add that coastal communities are the guardians of the seas and the mangroves. They need to be empowered in the restoration of mangroves and provided with culturally relevant and appropriate legal tools and resources to monitor the protected mangrove areas and the implementation of the laws.”
When asked if she could describe the importance of mangroves to the people of Madagascar, Vatosoa didn’t answer herself, but instead, uplifted the voices of small-scale fishers. Vatosoa has worked so hard to make sure these small coastal communities have a voice in local ecosystem restoration and management. This article will end with the views of these fishers in response to how mangroves are important to them;
Edmond Ramadany, Antenina
“Mangroves are factories and the fridge of marine resources. They serve as nurseries for shrimps, crabs and fishes. Lots of what small-scale fishers catch is coming from mangroves. Mangrove tree is also the most blessed tree among all trees. I have been told it is the one that stores the most carbon in its roots compared to other trees. They provide so much to our communities. We cannot imagine living without them”
Zezele Téophile, Belo sur Tsiribihina
“In my village, everyone is involved in mangroves planting. We are all motivated because we are seeing the tangible benefits of mangroves on a daily basis . In the past, our mangrove area was cut and was used as paddy fields. Then in the year 2000, we took the initiative to create a community association to restore the mangroves. We raised awareness about the benefits of mangroves and organized them instead of cutting mangroves to plan them. [Our efforts have now bore fruits], currently, each fisherman gets 25 to 30 kg of crabs of mangroves per day, compared to 5kg per day before our mobilizations.”
Zanary Bozilahy, Befandefa
“Since 2018, my Association has planted 10ha of mangroves per year or 1ha per village. I want my grandchildren to continue to benefit from the advantages that mangroves provide.
I am particularly amazed about the high capacity of mangroves to store carbon. I got some training and I am now involved in a project called “Tahiry honko” which means preserving mangroves. That is a community-led-mangrove carbon conservation project that aims for the reforestation of mangrove to decrease carbon emission. We get benefits from selling carbon to fund development projects such as the construction of wells, water pumps and provision of electricity."