The isolated Maintirano district is one of the ecologically richest but economically poorest regions in Western Madagascar. From dry deciduous forest, to palm forest, and savannah; from swamp to pristine coral coastline, the area is teeming with endemic animal and plant life. However, with an ever-growing population, the need for timber, charcoal and agricultural land are threatening to convert these rich varied habitats into a uniform degraded landscape. To combat this, MfM supports women’s cooperatives to develop sustainable ways of making a living, restore the degraded landscape, and educate the next generation to protect their natural environment.
The majority of families living around Maintirano support themselves with subsistence agriculture and fishing. Over the past few decades, spiralling population growth has put extreme pressure on local natural resources resulting in increased deforestation, severe soil erosion, and the silting up of water sources. With climate change making weather patterns less predictable, crop yields have been decreasing and families have been pushed to clear more land to meet their basic needs. Urgent action is needed to protect the remaining areas of pristine habitat.
Maintirano is extremely isolated, taking up to four days to reach by road! As a result, few development organisations invest in the region. This makes MfM’s support for Maintirano’s communities all the more important. With our partner SAF, we support dynamic women’s cooperatives, such as FIVEMI, who are proactively developing local solutions to the problems of poverty, food insecurity and environmental degradation.
• 60,000 trees have been planted and maintained
• 4 schools have developed sustainable kitchen gardens and environmental education programmes
• 228 loans have been made, helping women establish their own businesses
Key activities include:
The community nursery serves as a site for training and experimentation. Each year 15,000 tree seedlings are grown there. These include species for land restoration, such as acacia and eucalyptus, as well as indigenous species and fruit trees. The seedlings are used both for community and family land restoration.
Each year entire communities commit to mass tree planting and maintenance sessions, lasting several days. Planting trees provides multiple benefits to local communities, as well as improving the ecosystem. Trees are used to stabilise the soil and are then sustainably coppiced to provide fuel wood, timber and craft materials (such as raffia) as sources of income. Reforestation and sustainable coppicing reduce pressure on the remaining fragments of indigenous forest in the region. Reforestation also provides a legitimate way for individuals and groups to claim land rights, if they can prove that they have worked to improve the land for a period of 5 years or more.
Our partners understand that to protect the environment for the long term you need to get the younger generation involved and motivated. Environmental education is provided in local schools, raising awareness of the causes and impacts of climate change, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss both locally, nationally and internationally. The programme ultimately focuses on local solutions such as recycling and improved natural resource management. Children are given the opportunity to get involved in tree planting with a school project to plant indigenous trees, such as the baobab, on school grounds.
School kitchen gardens are a wonderful way to teach children and their families how to grow food sustainably, they also provide fresh produce that can be sold at the market to generate vitally needed funds for school running costs. As a result of seeing sustainable agriculture in practice, more and more families are signing up to establish their own sustainable kitchen gardens, orchards and forestry plots.
FIVEMI’s micro-credit scheme is enabling women to set up their own businesses and gain some financial independence. A revolving fund, managed by the cooperative, allows women, who would never be able to access bank credit, to take out small loans to establish or develop their businesses. FIVEMI allows women to pay their loans back at a rate that reflects their circumstances. As the funds are reimbursed, they are used to offer new loans, helping more women make a living.
FIVEMI has opened a training centre in Maintirano’s market place. As well as offering training, the centre provides a base where women can meet informally and access support on business matters or domestic issues. Currently, 16 disadvantaged young women, who are no longer able to attend school, are developing their income generating skills. There are 5 courses to choose from: sewing, embroidery, crochet, basket making and bakery. There are also training sessions on citizenship. health, hygiene and family planning. Beyond the centre, FIVEMI run community workshops to raise awareness about domestic abuse; teaching women and girls about their rights and how to take action to protect themselves.
As a single mother, Madame Rollande struggled to support her family. Thanks to FIVEMI’s micro credit scheme, she is able to buy charcoal, produced from sustainable MfM supported plantations and sell it for a profit. Since joining the scheme, she has been able to earn enough to afford her children’s school fees, provide them with nutritious daily meals and afford the rent increase this year. She even has enough to save a little in case of illness
Madame Vololona’s 4 children were often absent from school due to illness and the shame they felt at not being able to afford their school equipment or pay their fees on time. Thanks to a small loan from SAF Maintirano’s microcredit scheme, all this has changed. Mme Vololona has used her credit to set up a fish selling business. She buys her fish from the seashore and sells them at Filonga Market in Maintirano. Her children’s health has improved now that they are able to eat 3 nutritious meals a day and they have all got the necessary school equipment. Even with her monthly loan repayments, Mme Volona is able to put money aside to save up for her own fishing boat.