On 22 May 2018, the United Nations General Assembly recognised the importance of biodiversity conservation. Today, our natural areas and their diversity are ever more threatened. Mangroves, which are among the richest ecosystems on the planet, are particularly endangered. In Madagascar, the local populations are also desperately dependent on them.
Threatened by human activity, biodiversity is vital for our ecosystems to be able to operate properly. It maintains their equilibrium and their resistance to disruptions, made all the more essential in a context of accelerating climate change. Mangroves play a very specific role in protecting diversity, but, since 1980, 20% of their total surface area has been lost. These forests, that grow along the coasts, are in fact the ecosystem that absorbs most of the world’s CO2. A storehouse of medicinal plants, they are also home to an extraordinary fauna; fish attracted by the wealth of nutrients in this biotype, but also molluscs, birds, mammals and insects. The East Indian mangroves hide Bengal tigers, while in South America, red ibis can be found and endemic species such as the critically-endangered osprey live in Madagascar.
Mangroves also filter pollution and form a natural barrier against storms and land erosion. An absolutely vital role on the tropical island of Madagascar which suffers from violent climate changes. Between 3,000 and 4,000 km2 of its coasts are covered by these forests, mainly in the west of the country. Unfortunately, these natural areas are threatened, not only by climate change, but particularly by human activities.
These mangrove forests, that grow along the coasts, are in fact the ecosystem that absorbs most of the world’s CO2. However,.since 1980, 20% of their total surface area has been lost.
Responsibly managing the environment
In the Menabe region of Madagascar, repeated droughts have led to large migrations to the coast, exacerbating an already considerable demographic pressure. The region's mangrove forests have been cleared to make way for crops (rice paddies, sugar cane, prawns, etc.) but also to use their wood for heating or building. However, the population is also highly dependent on the mangrove's fishing and timber resources which are threatened by over-exploitation and the destruction of their habitat.
The NGO, Louvain Coopération has been present in the Menabe region since 2006. Working primarily to improve food security and economic development, the members of the NGO quickly realised that the future of the populations was strongly linked to the mangroves, damaged by this same population. It was therefore impossible to improve fisheries management without looking to protect the mangroves. Thus, with the local authorities, 11 temporary fishing reserves were created and several hectares of mangroves were also planted or restored.
Working primarily to improve food security and economic development, the members of the NGO Louvain Coopération quickly realised that the future of the populations was strongly linked to the mangroves, damaged by this same population.
A participatory approach
The population's participation is essential, not only to ensure the project's sustainability but also due to the knowledge that it can bring. The Malagasy communities therefore define the location of the fishing reserves or mangrove areas to be restored. The elders are very good advisors; remembering the location of the endangered mangroves, where here and there a few plants are left over. The active involvement of the village chiefs, the authorities and respect for traditions are other conditions required for the project's success. The results are encouraging and motivate the population. People are introduced to the roles and functions of the mangrove ecosystem, but also learn by doing; they collect the plants, sort them and plant them at low tide. The forest's growth is then monitored closely by the local authorities and the communities. In 2017, 15.07 hectares of mangrove forests were reforested or restored, involving over 650 inhabitants.
Continuing to promote biodiversity
This experience in Madagascar is also enabling Louvain Coopération to help build an academic expertise in mangroves among the four French-speaking university NGOs that work hand in hand on the Uni4COOP project (bringing together the ADG, FUCID, Louvain Coopération and ULB-Coopération). Good practices can then be shared between the different communities living in the mangroves and the deltas of Senegal, Benin, Togo and Madagascar and they can be given the resources to build new knowledge together.