Now everything costs money… People cannot borrow money from their relatives or neighbours any more because they don’t have land or crops to use as collateral…
Sirily, male, 42, Ilafitsignana
All narrators speak with nostalgia about the past, when they lived outside the cash economy. Villagers were mostly self-sufficient and used surplus crops and fish catches to barter for the goods they could not produce. Today, the loss of farmland, recurring drought and declining fish stocks mean that such surpluses are rare, but at the same time, prices of basic goods such as rice have risen. Many say the money they do manage to secure is insufficient to buy enough staple food for their families; it is evident from the testimonies that poverty is widespread.
There are many complaints that the presence of QMM staff and other foreigners has had a further impact on the local economy, pushing prices even higher. For many in Ilafitsignana and Ambinanibe, their first experience of significant amounts of money was the compensation they received for land appropriated by QMM. Some were too impoverished to spend it on anything other than short-term survival. Others did build better houses but hardly any were able to take the opportunity to invest in assets with long-term value, such as farming or fishing equipment.
Now most of the narrators find themselves unable to generate sufficient income from their old occupations of farming and fishing, but are excluded from anything other than casual jobs because they lack education and training. At the same time, they find themselves needing to buy things they once collected for free: access to firewood, fruit and forest products (from which to build houses and make boats and crafts to sell) has been significantly restricted.
A few women, who traditionally have made and sold mats and other items from forest vines, describe their efforts to invest some of the compensation money in small businesses. But most of them have found that, since opportunities for trading were limited and many people had similar ideas, the market was too small and crowded for them to sustain any profits. A few people say they invested in some cattle, and continue to use these as a form of savings.
Even if men in the village go fishing, they do not find very much fish. If they manage to get fish, they only make from 400 to 600 Ariary, and it is with this that we buy our meals. Other than that, women bring fishing nets to catch vily (small fish species). If the women are lucky, they get 3 to 4 kapoaka (measuring cups) full of fish. Then the women bring these fish to Manambaro for sale in the market. The money they make from this sale is used to purchase food. During this time, the children stay in the village, hoping that their mothers will find something to nourish them.
Tema Pauline, female, 30 years, Petriky
[In the past] with the little money you had, you could actually live normally, without stress and fear for the future. As a fisherman, I could sustain my family from the catch I made…But now, it is getting more and more difficult to make a living…
Mbola, male, 67 years, Ambinanibe
I think money is like water. It does not stay with you, as opposed to crops that you can use every day… I used the money to buy food because I did not have land to cultivate any more. I used it to cover my daily needs such as kerosene, salt, soap and some other items that are useful… The money was used up in the way that crickets consume their food: everything that comes into their mouth is consumed.
Marie Louise, female, 62 years, Ilafitsignana
We all just wait for my husband’s pay cheque. Despite the fact that it is a small amount of money, we try to make all sorts of calculations to cover everything the family needs. We purchase some rice. We decided to skip breakfast because we cannot afford it.
Tema Germaine, female, 42 years, Ilafitsignana
In the past a lot of farmers from out of town came here because they were interested in purchasing fish from the village. Life was very good. People just exchanged crops for fish. But [now] with the decline in production, farmers are not willing to exchange crops for fish [and] prefer to use cash. As a result, the supply of crops [from out of town] has diminished and many people in St Luce have a hard time finding staple foods. Even if fishermen sell their fish, the amount of money they receive is not sufficient to purchase enough staple foods.
Tselegna, female, St Luce
The large number of people being recruited by QMM from outside our area has contributed to the increasing cost of living, because these people have a higher purchasing power due to their high salaries. QMM does not want to pay us local people a high salary, so what can we do? We cannot compete with these newcomers. and so local people remain powerless and poor.
Tema Germaine, female, 42 years, Ilafitsignana
Any time that I need to organise something, for example a sandratsy (ceremony to honour the spirit that possesses someone) or a savatsy (circumcision ceremony), I use one of my cows to help me cover the expenses. Nobody will be able to help me in an emergency, so having cows can help to avoid such problems or meet those economic needs.
Damy, male, 29 years, Ambinanibe
You see that I am already old, and I cannot find a job to allow me make some money. My children are still young and I am having a hard time raising them. My land has been taken away from me. I am not like other people who…got hired by foreigners. These people can make money to support their families. I am old and I did not get a job so I am powerless in what to do to raise my family. This is what saddens me…
Tsitafandry, male, 75 years, Ilafitsignana
Sometimes, I feel like life has defeated me. I did not have such hardships in the past. I cannot even purchase soap, sugar and salt, which are basic things for a household… It is as if it was a dream that I used to drink coffee and eat bread. These are luxury goods that we rarely consume now. It shows now how poor I am… QMM fooled people and now QMM is the landowner. QMM used the government as a tool to appropriate our land. I think their tactic worked perfectly because they knew people were afraid of the government, so they hit us where we did not expect it.
Paulette, female, 37 years, Ilafitsignana
… when I want to collect mahampy (vines for weaving) I have to pay fees. Everything seems to be conspiring to strangle my life. .. I could not believe it when I had to face the reality – here in the village – of purchasing white sand (useful for softening mahampy, before the weaving stage). How can it be possible that white sand is a commodity?
Mija, female, 28 years, St Luce
Each person in the village has contracted debts, incurred by a death in their family [and other reasons], so they borrowed money from relatives. Almost all of the money from QMM was spent on paying back debts.
Ilay, male, Ambinanibe