900’000 trees planted in Madagascar’s dry South West
It’s not an easy life in Ankilimalinike, a small town in Madagascar’s arid spiny forest ecoregion. Most people are farmers and struggle to get by with the small yield they get from their depleted fields. They depend heavily on the surrounding natural forests, mainly to produce charcoal.
“You cannot just forbid people to extract wood and to produce charcoal. They need to cook; they need to feed their families! But we can show them an alternative to cutting down the unique spiny forest” says Rina Andrianarivony, Fuelwood & Alternatives Programme Officer at WWF Madagascar and Western Indian Ocean.
Acknowledging that people do need wood as a daily energy source, planting fast growing tree species is a possibility to reduce pressure on natural forests. Acacia sp and Eucalyptus, for example, can be exploited after only five years of being planted.
With its SEESO project (Energy Environment Synergy in the South West), WWF aimed to introduce the sustainable management of the wood energy production chain in the Atsimo Andrefana region (around Toliara) taking into account the social and economic importance of wood energy. The project was finished this September after 41 months of intervention. What appears on the balance sheet now?
850 hectares reforested in three years
Three reforestation campaigns were organized by the project, with local stakeholders, for wood energy. The SEESO project was able to mobilize 800 people from five municipalities, organized into 34 groups. The production of 1 million plants, of which 900,000 were planted, was provided by 18 local tree nursery gardeners. The seedlings consist of 500 000 acacia trees and 300 000 Eucalyptus trees. The rest are indigenous tree species.
The control of the wood energy sector in the project sites is nowadays based on official documents developed during the project phase, in collaboration with all stakeholders. These documents are among others: the Regional Decree, the official notes of the Regional Direction of Water and Forests (DREF) on marketing, bylaws and the municipal Dina (law on village level). To reinforce the regulatory system, monitoring tools were developed and distributed, materials needed for monitoring have been granted, training was provided to stakeholders at all levels, and awareness and information campaigns were held. The regulatory system is operational in four pilot municipalities.
The SEESO project fought against the increase of coal activities and worked towards the establishment of a system, which favours professional coalmen and makes it more difficult for untrained coalmen to work in this business. The number of people migrating to the forests to produce charcoal has drastically decreased and the wood exploitation for coal has decreased by half in the project’s intervention sites.
In partnership with Lalona, a national NGO, WWF trained 400 coalmen in improved carbonization. The training itself has been institutionalized and is now being continued by the coalmen themselves. 70% of the trained coalmen apply these new techniques now, representing 35% of all registered coalmen. Indeed, the technique of improved carbonization can produce twice as much charcoal than the traditional method, which reduces the amount of wood needed, to produce the same amount of charcoal, by half.
“It is crucial to regulate the charcoal trade and in order to do that in an effective way, all environmental actors must be reading from the same page and have a common approach” says Andrianarivony, Fuelwood Programme officer at WWF Madagascar. “We have therefore established a committee including government officials as well as NGOs in the energy wood sector and we are able to coordinate our actions a lot better”.
And the planting continues…
To guarantee a certain continuity, in order to reinforce and monitor the regulatory system put in place, other WWF projects in the region will take over some of the activities that, until now, have been provided by the SEESO project. Teaming up with the Tany Meva foundation, which will take care of the reforestation campaign 2011/2011, over 1000 ha of reforested areas will be reached.
To scale up the projects achievements, two other so far uncovered communities will be taken over by a new WWF project “Regulation of the wood energy sector” starting in December while Rina Andrianarivony’s staff continue to provide support in the old project sites.
By the end of 2012, 200 coalmen will be trained within the new project and another 265 hectares will be planted during the next reforestation campaign.
Other beneficial side effects from planting trees
If a renewable wood source is available to people to help meet their daily needs for construction and charcoal, they will no longer cut down far away natural forests. But the benefits go much further than that.
Reforested areas stabilize the soil and therefore prevent erosion which silts up coral reefs in bay areas. Forests are important carbon sinks improving the microclimate as well as mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Wood energy plantation can take place on depleted fields that have been abandoned for agriculture. Certain species such as acacia are actually re-fertilizing the soil allowing farmers to grow crops between the trees.
“Forest areas, even new ones cannot be sold to third parties according to the Malagasy law” says Rina Andrianarivony, “people are very interested in that. It is a possibility for them to protect their land from intruders. WWF will work on that in the future, making sure that local people can gain ownership over newly planted land”.