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Madagascar: Too much emphasis on the environment ?

Forrest madagascar
(photo via Harinjaka)

Madagascar is arguably most renowned for its unique biodiversity. However, the focus on the environment is sometimes resented by Malagasies who think it diverts attention away from the hardships of the Malagasy people.

One of the most famous Malagasy artists of all time, Rossy, wrote a famous song called “Resa-babakoto” (translation: discussing the apes) which includes this verse (mg):

“Ny gidro sy ny ala, Tsara karakara
Andaniana drala, Amina miliara
[..] Rakoto ‘ty mijaly, tsisy mpitotaly
Ny zanany tomany, tsisy mpanontany”

The apes and the forest are well-taken care of.
One spends a lot of money, billions on them [..]
Rakoto (average Joe) is struggling, no one really cares.
His children are crying, no one would ask why.

kids on the street

(photo via foko-madagascar)

Despite Rossy’s artistic exaggerations, there is a real concern among Malagasies that protection of the environment comes at the expense of the local population.

Rossy is known for his political activism and his current music tour in Madagascar has been canceled by the government for reasons that are yet to be clarified (fr). His view on the environment was probably not the reason for the sudden censorship but the current government has placed a strong emphasis on the environment as a major factor in sustainable development.

Windows on the New World of Sipakv points to a presentation given by President Ravalomanana on the importance of biodiversity, highlighting this odd quote:

“The famous German author Goethe already knew about the lemurs. The “Lemuren” play an important role at the end of Faust II. Mephisto calls them when Faust is dying. So, it was our lemurs that buried your ‘Faust'”.

If you are slightly puzzled by that quote and unsure of its purpose, you are probably not the only one.

In addition to the president’s speech, two major piece of environment-related news had the Malagasy blogosphere talking last week:

A major study about protecting biodiversity was featured on the front page of Science, a prestigious scientific journal. On my blog, Rakoto's Rants, I pointed out that although the main authors are from major US universities one of the collaborating institutes is based in Antananarivo and a Malagasy scientist is a collaborating author.

Also, one of this year's eight MacArthur Foundation “Creative and Effective Institutions” award grantees is the Tany Meva Foundation, an environmental organization in Madagascar. Jogany at The Purple Corner explains what the Tany Meva Foundation is about:

Tany Meva seeks to increase sustainable use of the environment, to educate and empower communities and to save the threatened forests. […]
(Their) mission is to sensitize and manage the financial resources so as to:
-promote the sustainable management of the environment in Madagascar
-contribute to the global challenges to this concern through the active engagement of the local communities.

Finally, Tomavana at Malagasy Miray questions the priorities and the authoritative nature of the current government:

Tandis que la famine et la malnutrition menacent plusieurs régions de l’île, rien ne semble ébranler le déroulement de la partie qui a commencé depuis un certain temps déjà

As famine and malnutrition threaten many regions of the island, nothing seems to stop the proceeding of the current game (participation in the Olympic games etc..) that seems to have already been set for a while.

8 comments

  • I hope we are able to find ways to protect the environment, while keeping the view of helping populations get out of poverty, i.e. creating jobs such as eco-tourism. Yes, I know that there is only a limited number of jobs with that, but I think it is a start.

  • Teboka

    Man, I guess you know who I am already. I do respect you coverage and all the time spent on writing articles, so I’m not trying to take away that to begin with….but you seem to net even provide a spectrum of answers to the question you are asking. It is good to question “Madagascar: Too much emphasis on the environment ?” given the status quo, but none of the links bring about arguments. Is that too much to ask?
    Peace, T
    PS: I hesitated between commenting here or sending message via Facebook,

  • @ Eddie,
    you are absolutely right. The government and numerous other NGOs we partner with have identified eco-tourism as one way to combine sustainable development and protection of the environment.
    @ Teboka,
    thank you for weighing in. As you know, we are covering the recent reactions in the Malagasy blogosphere and summarizing the view in a blog post. As it stands, the issue of whether there is “too much emphasis on environment” in the blogosphere is still an open-end question hence the title. This entry is a way to convey that sentiment and hopefully initiate a conversation. If you follow me on facebook, then you already know that we, at foko-madagascar, (http://foko-madagascar.org) strive to give more exposure to the protection of the Malagasy environment through cyber-activism because that we believe that protection of the environment is a vehicle for human development, not an obstacle.
    For the sake of staying objective in the blog post, we did not mention our project but thank you for posing the question and hopefully more people will also weigh in on this issue on their weblogs or here.

  • Teboka

    Ok, I think I’m asking a little too much. I was thinking of way to show that “madagascar has (1) too much or (2) too little focus in conservation.” How would one rank conservation focuses ethically, practically, and financially compared to other issues that we need to deal with in Madagascar. I expected a lots of pros, cons links for that, that is why I made my comment above.
    Keep working hard, you guys are awesome
    peace, T

  • @Teboka,

    I think you brought up a great point on what the purpose of the post is. At Global Voices Online, the goal is to reflect all the viewpoints on weblogs from a specific region regarding a specific issue . I might have missed Malagasy weblogs that have illustrated the points you were looking for. If that is the case, do not hesitate to let me know and I will be glad to write a follow-up post including those blogs.
    Thank you for the encouragement.

  • […] for it’s biodiversity — which researchers hail as unique. However, according to this blog entry, that biodiversity is at the expense of the country’s […]

  • Ali

    I think integrating the environment into everyday jobs would help. Eco-tourism, ecotecture (green architecture/construction/renovation), organic farming, alternative energy would all provide an industry that helps people as well as the environment.

  • Matt

    Ali, I agree 100%, I have been developing a theory called Ecovillage which would incorporate modern technology to build communities that focus on sustainability. In the process villagers lives are improved though modern solutions. This could be combined as an Ecological solution by moving people away from the “last rain forests” and helping them to improve their lives through proper nutrition, education, sanitation, and modern solutions to daily hardships. The village design includes domestic animals; sustainable agriculture (gardens, fruit and nut trees); advanced power (solar and wind); irrigation (drip); and recycling systems (including Biodigesters producing methane gas to power generators). It might even be possible for Madagascar to sell carbon sink points for the acreage these villages cover.

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