Communities = best custodians of their environment?
After returning from a patrol mission in Amoron'ni Onilahy Community Managed Protected Area, this is the impression I take home. The forest is extremely degraded, and, even though members of the COBA (communauté de base), which manages the area, accompany us on the patrol and promise to do their utmost to identify the owners of the clearings we find, my WWF colleague tells me that it is most often the COBA members themselves that have cut and burned the forest. And with a virtually non-existing law enforcement system, extreme poverty and lack of alternatives - can they really be blamed?!
Yes, poverty is not an excuse for everything, and nature needs a strong agent here in Madagascar. However, I am not convinced yet that WWF is doing enough to provide alternative incomes for communities when it establishes a protected area - even some of my colleagues here are not convinced of that. Of course, saying "alternative livelihoods" is easy; coming up with viable solutions, against all customs and traditions, is not quite as evident, and in the Onilahy region for example, they really are trying, by helping people establish vegetable and rice plantations and selling their products in the market of Toliara. The question is also to which extent an NGO can be taken into responsibility to be a universal problem solver, when the state is largely failing to protect nature and secure people's livelihoods.