An Introduction to Project MG200100
This project, located in the northeastern Sava region, aims to raise awareness about conservation issues, promote environmental education among youth, and augment revenues of the local population, as well as to continue to promote sustainable land use in one of Madagascar's Newly Protected Areas (NAP) consisting of 50,000 hectares. The presence of numerous NGOs in the region, with the WWF included, means that various activities designed to engage local communities in conservation efforts are presently conducted.
Part of the WWF’s mission in this region is the ‘sensibilisation’ of the community to encourage the adoption of ameliorated agricultural techniques in combination and sometimes in lieu of more traditional techniques and slash-and-burn agriculture. This French term, sensibilisation, can be translated into English as a type of engagement, or awareness-raising. It has been integrated into the development language as a way to describe the kind of education given to members of the community during WWF’s workshops and classes. There are currently workshops given by all three “agents de terrain” (field agents) who are assigned to this particular project.
As part of the placement, I, along with two other interns, supported the three field agents, who are each responsible for different activities within the project. The activities of the project are separated into three categories - Conservation, Development, and Aquaculture, and there is one field agent responsible for each kind of activity. These agents are responsible for a specific geographical region in the highlands which consisted of three neighboring communes (although the agent responsible for aquaculture covers a larger geographic area, as her work is very technical). Workshops are given on varying topics within these broader categories, depending upon the schedule of each individual field agent.
Although the WWF is a very large organisation, I was surprised to sense how small-scale this particular project felt. There are very limited staff working over a fairly large geographic area, giving them much freedom of choice in decision making and the design of their work schedules. In addition to this, contact between agents or headquarters is difficult unless these individuals are physically near one another. In the villages where the agents work and live, there is no internet or cell phone service (although a cell phone tower was installed the last week of our stay). This extremely limited communication has proven a major obstacle in the coordination of events or activities between agents, and the overall coordination of the project in general. The agents work rather autonomously, with the advantages and disadvantages that come with it.
This placement has required a full-time commitment from us, with the staff and interns living and working inside of the community. This has greatly improved relations with local people, but has also required considerable amount of adjustment and efforts to integrate as fully as possible. I was surprised to see just how integrated the agents were in the community, as well as the varying levels of integration among them. I had the sense that the agents had garnered a great deal of respect from members of the community; a very positive sign for the transmission of the information which they were trying to offer and for the community’s opinion of the WWF in general. I personally admired the fact that the WWF takes very seriously the integration of its employees into local communities. The establishment of a generally positive opinion of the WWF was one of the biggest priorities in the beginning of this project; as they understand that without the trust of the community, cooperation will never be able to take place. As a student of International Development Studies, being able to participate in this placement on this particular project was an extremely valuable experience for me, since I was finally able to experience first-hand how a conservation and development project functions on the ground. I was also lucky enough to have made true friendships and lived some unforgettable experiences along the way!
Alexa Markel (Madagascar 2014)