Two community associations recently won approval from the government of Madagascar to manage wetland sites that provide important natural resources for their local villages and habitat for the Critically Endangered Madagascar fish eagle (Haliaeetus vociferoides).
The official handover from the Ministry for Environment, Water and Forests for a 10-year period marked a major success for both the communities and The Peregrine Fund.
The Peregrine Fund helped the communities to form the associations in the 1990s and later, with support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), to create natural resource management charters and build their capacity to ensure sustainable management of the sites.
The associations are made up of village elders and mayors in the Manambolomaty Lakes Complex and surrounding forest area in western Madagascar, while the charters are based on community taboos and rules that have traditionally ensured wise management of the sites. Migrant fishermen, however, posed new threats by overfishing and cutting down trees on the lake shores that the eagles use for nesting.
However, with the new charters the number of eagles around the lake has remained stable at 29 individuals for the last three years, while fish catches and wood gathering are reported to be within sustainable limits.
The approval also capped an initial three-year trial period in which the associations, which are known as FIZAMI and FIFAMA, outperformed 32 other community associations reviewed to date under a special governmental program to return land management to local communities, according to the ministry.
Neighboring communities have begun to follow the two associations’ example, and their methods are also being applied elsewhere.
"The progress so far has been fantastic," said Lily-Arison René de Roland, national director of The Peregrine Fund’s Madagascar Project. "Economically, the standard of living has risen over the last three years and conservation awareness is greatly increased. But there is much more to do – particularly developing a better environmental education system for the many children in the area and for some of the village elders who’ve had little exposure to this kind of thinking."
With the government’s commitment to triple its protected area network by 2008, integrating local organizations and communities in the management of key biodiversity sites will become all the more vital. The approach is also a central part of the CEPF investment strategy for the Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands Hotspot.
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