Hundreds of Farmers become Charcoal Producers in South Madagascar due to Drought



Posted on 14 June 2010  | 
Charcoal transport near Toliara, Southwest Madagascar
© WWF MWIOPO / Martina LippunerEnlarge
Toliara - Field staff at WWF Toliara in Southwestern Madagascar have reported a substantial increase of charcoal production in the last couple of months in their zones of operation. Due to the missing rainy season, farmers abandoned their fields by the hundreds and try to make a living producing charcoal. The lack of regulations and control makes the charcoal business an easy one to work in.

This charcoal production boom could affect-the new protected area PK-32 Ranobe near Toliara and be a serious threat to its unique biodiversity. This protected area, which is co-managed by WWF and an inter-communal association, received temporary protection status in December 2008.

“Charcoal production in the South of Madagascar is particularly unsustainable as people cut the natural spiny forest, a unique ecosystem which exists nowhere else” says Bernardin Rasolonandrasana, Spiny Forest Eco-regional Leader for WWF in Toliara. “We are horrified to see the amount of charcoal currently coming out of those forests.”

WWF agents have investigated the amount of charcoal on the main road North of Toliara. They assessed how many people are currently trying to make a living by producing charcoal. Proportions look similar in most villages. The number of so called “charbonniers” has almost tripled since the beginning of the rainy season in December.

A year ago, four trucks, each carrying a maximum of 250 bags, were doing the journey twice a week on this road. Today WWF agents count every day eight trucks carrying 400 bags each time.
“Whole charcoal villages just seem to spring up like mushrooms out of nothing,” says Rasolonandrasana “and other rural communities start a charcoal business although they have never been active in it. Some people even start cutting fruit trees because the forest was already losing ground.”

“Every village has a Tamarind tree in the middle of the village. In its shade village elders gather to discuss and perform rituals. Those trees are well respected. I have seen some of those old trees being cut down for charcoal, mainly by immigrants. It’s heart-breaking. ”

While a heavy drought forces people to look for alternative livelihoods, commercial interests in charcoal increases. At least two big companies have shown interest to start exporting charcoal to the French island of La Réunion, Comoros and Mayotte.

Nanie Ratsifandrihamana, Conservation Director for WWF Madagascar and Western Indian Ocean Programme Office, says “Madagascar already struggles to meet its growing population’s energy needs. The export of large quantity of charcoal could lead to shortages on the local market and therefore an increase in prices. A yes towards the export of charcoal would definitely encourage even more people to cut forest and thus become charcoal producers.”

She adds that a few years ago the control of the charcoal production through forest administration has led to a rise in prices in Toliara and caused riots in the city. The forest administration had then decided to open charcoal production to everybody to calm the riots.

WWF’s Regional Representative in Madagascar, Niall O’Connor has initiated talks with the minister of environment in Antananarivo. O’Connor says “A flourishing charcoal export is the last thing this country needs. Already, its unique fauna and flora are facing many threats. Another sale of natural resources would be devastating for the country”.

Madagascar is the world fourth largest island in the world and hosts countless endemic species such as lemurs, chameleons or the fossa, a nocturnal mammal and the biggest predator in Madagascar. A political coup last year resulted in a lack of control in many national parks and protected areas.

WWF’s Footprint program in Madagascar works to reduce specific human pressures on natural resources like fuel wood. One of WWF’s projects in the Southwest aims to plant forests which are dedicated for charcoal production; Voahirana Randriambola, Coordinator of the Footprint program, is convinced that this is a way to save the natural spiny forest in the big island’s South.

She says “We work with local communities and show them a new technique, so that they can produce same amount of charcoal with much less wood. We encourage and help them to plant trees as source of income in the mid and long term. And last but not least, we are working with different stakeholders to make sure fuel wood chain of custody is sustainably managed on every level. ”

Thanks to tireless efforts by WWF, a first step has been done by the Head of the Southwestern Region. He recently published an order regulating the chain of custody for fuel wood in the Atsimo Andrefana (Southwestern) Region. Together with different stakeholders unified in a regional energy forest commission, WWF will make sure the order is enforced.

Voahirana Randriambola says “This is a sign of hope and a step into the right direction. But we call on national authorities to get a grip on the situation at a national level. We are willing to share the experience of the Southwestern Region for a better understanding of wood energy issue in the whole country. It is clear that the development and implementation of policy, strategy and clear national regulations on this chain of custody is more than necessary in the light of increasing problems and the importance of charcoal in daily households.”

 
Charcoal transport near Toliara, Southwest Madagascar
© WWF MWIOPO / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Spiny forest, Mangily, Southwest Madagascar
© WWF Madagascar / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Cooking over charcoal
© WWF / Jonas Ewert Enlarge
Charcoal transport near Toliara, Southwest Madagascar
© WWF MWIOPO / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Charcoal on the side of the road near Toliara
© WWF MWIOPO / Martina Lippuner Enlarge

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