Community-based conservation of priority areas for plant conservation in Madagascar
Missouri Botanical Garden's Madagascar Program has been built over three decades. For most of this period the program has focused on taxonomic research, botanical exploration, and in-country capacity building, with special emphasis on training and disseminating botanical information. Garden staff and associates have completed scores of scientific studies, implemented one of the world's most productive modern field inventory programs, and shared botanical knowledge through a freely available electronic catalogue of the Malagasy flora
(http://www.tropicos.org/project/mada). However, towards the end of the last Millennium, MBG staff became increasingly concerned that plant conservation efforts in Madagascar were far from adequate and rose to the challenge to help rectify this urgent situation. Consequently, between 2000 and 2003 we analyzed botanical data to identify 79 unprotected Priority Areas for Plant Conservation (PAPCs), then developed an in-country Conservation Unit and mobilized the resources needed to implement community-based conservation programs at the 12 sites that we judged the most important and/or most threatened. These 12 PAPCs, which are distributed throughout the country in diverse vegetation types, have a total area of 95,225 ha
Goal of the Conservation Unit 2014-2019
To understand and conserve at least 12 Priority Areas for Plant Conservation by supporting the sustainable use of their natural resources and increasing the natural capital of their peripheral zones taking into account the knowledge and practices of local communities and promoting awareness, empowerment and capacity building of stakeholders to improve the living conditions of humanity.
The five underlying principles of Conservation Unit
1- Analytical, information-based decision-making
We believe that good management strategies can be developed only when based on thorough understanding of each site’s specific human, physical, and biological environment and the particular opportunities and threats that flow from this context. We reject both the unthinking implementation of activities at a succession of sites irrespective of need and decision-making based on unsupported preconceptions. Rather, we develop work plans based on the collection and analysis of information. When methods are unproven, they are monitored and tested using an experimental approach.
2- Conservation by the people for the people
Although Madagascar’s flora and fauna are highly valued by scientists and much appreciated by tourists, we believe that the primary beneficiaries of conservation should be local people. Never would we want to exclude locals from their natural heritage and create reserves that serve only researchers, tourists, and other outsiders. Such an approach would be both unfair and ultimately unlikely to result in long-term biodiversity conservation. To avoid such exclusion while still achieving conservation is a major challenge that requires valorizing each area for local stakeholders, developing in them a sense of ownership and responsibility for the site, and empowering them to oversee the sustainable management of the natural resources in their area, thereby creating a “stewardship paradigm” in which it makes more sense for them to use natural wealth sustainably than to squander it.
3- Inclusiveness and consensus
We believe that durable conservation projects must be inclusive and must involve those from all groups in society, including the young, the elderly, women, the economically less advantaged, and new immigrants. Often it is the young and the new immigrants to an area who, lacking their own land, are forced to seek their livelihoods from the non-sustainable exploitation of natural resources. Although quick results can be obtained by focusing efforts on winning the support of the powerful, there is often a rapid turnover among these people, and today’s powerful ally can be quickly replaced by his/her competitor, with disastrous results for the project. To understand fully the threats to a site and to develop effective methods to diminish these threats requires the full engagement of the entire community.
4- Respect for traditions
Most rural Malagasy are conservative and sometimes slow to adopt innovations. Therefore, community-based conservation must find ways of working with traditions and, where possible, valorize local cultures to achieve the project’s objectives. Often, conservation approaches are perfectly consistent with local cultures and their acceptability much enhanced if framed in this context. In addition, we believe that unwritten societal rules are more powerful in controlling abusive exploitation of natural resources than is national legislation, and certainly more resilient to the whims of national politicians.
5- Grassroots project conception and implementation
In many conservation organizations, the best people are based at headquarters, managing projects from far away through locally recruited intermediates, using simple “one size fits all” solutions that regularly yield disappointing results. There is little opportunity or motivation to develop the personal commitment and understanding needed to fight for the kind of change that is urgently required or to grasp and deal with the complex and site-specific causes of environmental degradation. To avoid this scenario, at MBG-Madagascar we place our best people closest to the problem, challenge them to understand the complex reasons for the environmental degradation in their communities, and trust and empower them to work with local stakeholders to develop and implement an effective program of activities to achieve for their project goal.
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