Sustainable Land Management in the Arid South of Madagascar

Δημοσιεύτηκε στις May, 05 2011

The arid south of Madagascar, from the calcareous plateau of Mahafaly to the Greater south of the Antandroy district, is caught in a vicious circle of “poverty-environmental degradation-poverty” that sees a shockingly high 95% of the population living below the poverty line.
The arid south of Madagascar, from the calcareous plateau of Mahafaly to the Greater south of the Antandroy district, is caught in a vicious circle of “poverty-environmental degradation-poverty” that sees a shockingly high 95% of the population living below the poverty line. There, the compounded effect of an arid climate, fragile and poor soils, increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, recurrent droughts, low education, limited options outside the natural resources and low levels of development poses serious challenges for the local populations. The area nevertheless forms one of the most unique and biologically rich drylands areas on Earth, with a large number of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. The natural habitat constitutes of spiny forest and harbors the highest level of plant endemism both at the generic (48%) and species (95%) in all of Madagascar.

To stop, prevent and reverse further degradation, WWF/UNDP/GEF will be implementing ‘’Sustainable Land Management (SLM)’’, an approach that was pioneered by the World Bank, FAO and Terre Africa initially in sub-Saharan Africa to meet rising food demands while sustaining ecosystem services and livelihoods, in the South of Madagascar. SLM can be defined as a knowledge-based process that helps integrate land, water biodiversity, and environmental management. Whist many aspects of SLM are certainly not novel to Madagascar such as participatory approaches and improved farming systems, nevertheless, SLM itself tries to combine four principles for an integrated approach. This includes: 1. land-user-driven and participatory approaches; 2. Integrated use of natural resources at ecosystem and farming systems levels; 3. Multilevel and multi-stakeholder involvement; 4 Targeted policy and institutional support, including development of incentive mechanisms for SLM adoption and Income generation at the local level.

Location and characteristics of the zone for SLM

The location for applying SLM will be south of Plateau Mahafaly, in a cultural transition zone from Mahafaly communities to Antandroy, a hotspot of social conflicts, migration and severe land degrdation. Three subagricultural zones cover this area with very different bio-physical characteristics and social dynamics affecting degradation patterns and causes.
Firstly, the littoral zone on white sands in the commune of Androka. The zone was originally vegetated with a variety of shrubs and trees. Though there are many coastal villages dependent on fishing, most of the Antandroy and Mahafaly populations living in this zone practice a combination of agriculture and animal husbandry. Most of the original vegetation has therefore been cleared to make room for cultivation and/or overgrazed. These soils are inherently poor and require high levels of input and careful management to sustain productivity over long periods. Unfortunately, the current methods of agriculture are not adapted to the fragility of the soils. Many of the littoral communities are migrating to the interior zone.

The Second zone is the Limestone Plateau or calcareous agro-ecological region, found within the commune of Ampanihy and Maronlinta. This area support relatively thick vegetation and a host of locally endemic succulent plants that have evolved under extremely hot, arid, and poor soil conditions. This area was inhabited principally by pastoralists until the latter half of the past century. However, since the early fifties, seasonal migrants have been settling in forest pockets where soils were slightly deeper and agriculture could be practiced. Originating from the littoral zone, the number of settlers has increased from 200 families in the early 1990s, to about three thousand families today. Markets for both maize and, more recently, tobacco are fuelling slash-and-burn farming in this zone. Given the already low soil fertility, the farmers produce only one crop before clearing more land, hence fuelling further encroachment into natural habitats. The agriculture practiced in this zone is one of the most extreme forms of unsustainable agriculture that is found anywhere. Abandoned areas are most often devoid of any vegetation. It is within this zone that there is also the greatest social conflict relative to land use practices. The original inhabitants who were pastoralists resent the clearing of forest areas they consider as secure pasture zones. Several sacred forest areas on calcareous soils are also being reduced in size, and respect for traditional taboos that protect certain sacred natural areas and species is eroding. As markets for cash crops develop, especially corn and tobacco, the livelihoods of the original pastoralist population is changing. There a careful anthropological approach looking into social conflicts will have to be taken to reduce land degradation.

The third agro-ecological region is located in the interior and is considered the agricultural breadbasket of the region in years with plentiful rainfall. Traditionally coastal people cultivated these soils for part of the year, but like in the other two zones, permanent settlement has increasingly become the norm particularly by people with fewer options in the increasingly degraded, low precipitation littoral sands. The soils are being farmed intensively, and fallow periods are rare. Soil fertility maintenance has become a major constraint, as nutrient recycling from crop residues is lost due to burning and subsequent water-borne or wind erosion. The introduction of the plow, the removal of field trees, and the lack of natural vegetation cover over large swaths of land has also facilitated rapid oxidation of soil organic matter and accentuated wind erosion, thus further decreasing the production.


For the first year of the project, WWF will work with its partners for a comprehensive analysis of the region looking into land-use, root causes of degradation and social and local dynamics such as land tenure, natural resources ownership, transhumance and migration. Further, the South faces many barriers for development: therefore, the analysis will include looking into incentive measures, sustainable alternative livelihoods opportunities, and markets. Based on such deep understanding of the region and the dynamics that lead or prevent development and land degradation, the project will develop models for sustainable agro-ecological and pastoral practices, adapted to conditions in the South, taking into account some of the most appropriate and novel agricultural methods being developed by WWF and its partners (conservation agriculture, micro-irrigation, community water management, use of improved varieties resistant to climate change, biochar).

In subsequent years, the project will test and apply the SLM models in the five pilot communes, working through a network of farmers based on participatory, farmer-centered SLM approach. In addition, novel income generating activities and microfinance to facilitate entrepreneurship and better livestock management will be investigated and invested in. Throughout the project, gender and vulnerable aspects will be integrated into our activities and our approach.

Through a multilevel and multi-stakeholder involvement, the project will work with key institutions to facilitate policy enabling environment streamlining SLM from local to regional and national approaches and priorities. Capacity-building for SLM will also be strengthened through farmers to school and university programmes. The final result is that SLM moves from project-centered to become an integrated and adopted approach that is appropriated from local farmers to national institutions.
Beza-Mahafaly Plateau, Madagascar
Dry forest Beza Mahafaly Reserve Madagascar.
Dry forest Beza Mahafaly Reserve Madagascar.
Local communities practicing agriculture
© WWF / Sylvain Rafiadana-Ntsoa
Woman's association taking care of vegetable garden
© WWF / Martina Lippuner
Vegetable garden
© WWF / Martina Lippuner