Bruno from Ilafitsignana, Madagascar - “Our lives depend on the rivers in Ilafitsignana. Since agricultural production is not enough to sustain us, we turn to the rivers to find resources to sell.”
Bruno, aged 43, is in no doubt that the climate is changing. He describes the drastic impact of rising temperatures and recurrent drought on agricultural production, saying that without the rivers and ocean his community would be unable to survive. But fish production has also greatly decreased, something he believes is due to violations of “the rules of this river” by outsiders.
As a result of mining construction work, the atmosphere and the river are polluted, badly affecting animal and human health. The community’s forced relocation to a smaller area has compounded their problems: “there is no more vacant land on which to build a house or farm.” The situation is “critical” and their children are going hungry.
He thinks he will probably be forced to go elsewhere in search of casual work, which he deeply regrets, feeling that the head of the family should be there “to [manage] their lives on a daily basis”. Separation will be painful, but, he says, “I have to leave if it is necessary.”
I went to school a bit late, aged five or six. I think school helped me to think clearly. I spent my childhood studying, with the hope of success. I reached Grade 9… Then my parents…could no longer pay for my education, so I had to drop out.
I returned home to my parents’ village where I worked to help them. I farmed during the day and I went fishing at night… When I grew up, I had to start working and taking care of myself. However, I continued to help my parents…
After a few years, I built a house while I tried to save money to gain my total independence… I moved out of my parents’ house. I started to pay for my clothes and everything I needed, including food and medical expenses. Then, when I was about 20, I told my father of my intention to marry. I told him I was ready to take care of myself.
I got married… We raised our children, and our lives were good. [My wife] helped me working on the farm and I continued fishing at night…we were eager to work hard to improve our lives.
“It was getting hotter and hotter”
But later…I noticed that the weather had changed from our usual predictions, and the rainy seasons were starting very late… Not only was rice production affected, but also sweet potatoes and cassava. It was getting hotter and hotter, which made planting cassava challenging… When I harvested it, I discovered that the roots had become smaller, compared to my previous harvest.
In terms of rice, I used to collect three to four large baskets and now I can harvest only one small basket. The change is so obvious that it makes me ask the question, “What is happening to the climate?” … [It has] had an impact on our life, because our production decreases and thus our household income is affected…
I think the reason for such a decrease is [also] lack of rainfall. Only rice fields located in the low-lying plains or near the source of a mountain stream still receive some water… Fields and farmland in upland areas…are deprived of water and therefore it is impossible to plant rice there…
We used to have lots of rain in the past. Now we barely receive enough to irrigate our farmland. I am worried about this change: I predict that there will be food shortages and that poverty will worsen.
“Without the river and ocean, we would be dead”
Our lives depend on the rivers in Ilafitsignana. Since agricultural production is not enough to sustain us, we turn to the rivers to find resources to sell, to make a little bit of money to survive… But fish stocks have decreased drastically as well. Still, we strive to fish as an alternative to agriculture. Without fish, we might be begging in the street.
Before…we could catch lots of fish and fill a large basket…but unfortunately their price was too low. Now the price has increased but conversely it is hard to fill a basket. If you are lucky, you may find 15 fish in a day…
Still, we are encouraged enough by the rising price to continue… I guess that without the river and ocean’s resources, we would be dead by now.
“Our river does not appreciate visitors”
Maybe the decrease [in fish] is also linked to the rules of this river being violated…because of the influx of visitors to our village. I believe that our river does not appreciate visitors, because it is forbidden for a visitor to cross the river or to go in it wearing red clothing.
In addition, it is forbidden to clean slaughtered meat – beef, and especially pork – in the river. It is strictly forbidden to wash dishes…but visitors here on a picnic do not respect these fady (customary taboos). I do think that climate change has something to do with the decrease in our fish production, but I strongly believe that it is the violation of the rules as well…
The decline…has also been partly caused by the electricity brought by QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals – subsidiary of Rio Tinto mining for ilmenite) to the village, which has resulted in lights shining on the river, which scares the fish since they prefer dark areas. I am really sad about the impact of QMM’s work…because the fish that used to like living in the river are afraid of the lights and have swum away…out to the ocean via the delta. It is now difficult to find fish in our river.
“It is not surprising our cows die”
I hear that QMM will restrict access to the river… I don’t know what will happen to us…if such a restriction is put in place. Fishing with nets will be prohibited. What will be left for us to do?
What is happening is that QMM and the local communities use the same river… QMM uses the river to pump water for its construction work and farmers use the river to feed their livestock and to catch fish…
You can see how the dust from their construction work is covering our environment. There is dust everywhere; the grass and the river are all covered by it. Unfortunately our livestock graze these grasses…[and] drink from the polluted river. Therefore it is not surprising when our cows die one after the other… Here in Ilafitsignana, in total, there used to be 200 cows but now I think there are about 60 left…
We want to have insurance for our livestock, because the impact of QMM’s construction work [is what] causes them to die… Worse yet, we are charged fees if we need to vaccinate them or get treatment for sick animals…
Since there is no other source of water here besides the river, we are forced to drink it. This has caused illnesses among the villagers as well.
“The children go hungry”
In the case of fruit trees, the fruit is contaminated or polluted by the dust, and sometimes we eat fruit that is not clean, which causes children and adults to get sick…
Also our fruit trees no longer grow well as they did… Perhaps it’s due to too much sun and lack of rain, or perhaps to the dust and polluted air where we currently live. This season we are unable to produce fruit such as oranges and mangoes… We could not make any money since there was no fruit to sell…
[Because of] the lack of food in our village…we are forced to go to Fort Dauphin to buy it… We take our fish catch to sell there… Sometimes we only get home late with the food that is supposed to be lunch for the family; sometimes we are stuck in Fort Dauphin, because we could not sell our products quickly…so during the day our children, who remain in the village, go hungry. They just sit under the shady trees, waiting for their parents to bring them food.
“We have to go elsewhere and find jobs”
[QMM] took the lands in Fanja and Papango [because they are too close to the quarry]. They did not buy them. They said that these lands would remain for us, but I am surprised to see the extent to which their land keeps moving towards our areas. We went to talk to them about it, and they said that they would come back in the near future to work on this issue. So far they have not come.
We are sad because we have not received any money in return for that land [near the quarry] being acquired by QMM but [only money for lost crops]… QMM also had us moved to a more crowded location… Besides the population has increased…
We have to go elsewhere and find part-time jobs to help our families… The places where I can find part-time work are limited: I cannot find a job in Fort Dauphin or any other city because I do not know how to read and write. So I will try to find work in one of the neighbouring villages… Wherever I find a job I’ll go, because I have no alternative…
This does pose a problem…because we will be separated. My family will be sad, and they need me every day, since I am head of the family, the one who manages their lives on a daily basis. Also, I…will miss my family.
However, what can I do? I have to leave if it is necessary. But the consequence is that I cannot take direct care of my family. As head of the family, I should stay in the village.
Losing access to forest resources
In the past, there was thick forest, but since QMM has taken over its management, it is as if the forest has diminished… This has made it difficult for us to survive, since our lives depend so directly on forest products… Our children are going to have difficulty finding construction wood and they lack money to buy it elsewhere…
Another problem is the restriction on collecting firewood, despite this being the primary means by which we cook our meals. [Now] people are obliged to go to Fort Dauphin to buy charcoal…
If I have a visitor in my house, our custom is to give them something to eat… Now I do not have a supply of firewood, I cannot rapidly prepare a meal… I am obliged to go off to look for it… [My visitor] might leave without having eaten, which in my culture brings shame on me.
Benefits from new road
People are satisfied that QMM has built the road… [They] can travel easily, and bring their agricultural produce, their fish products and their heavy merchandise to Fort Dauphin.
The road saves them from having to carry their products on their shoulders and walk to town. Also, vehicles can now drive into our village to collect merchandise and people can buy our products, which benefits the local population.
Cost of living changes customs
Concerning marriage customs…in the past…there was the sazozaza (when a young girl is committed to marry her cousin). At this stage, even though the little girl still lives with her parents, if she needs anything [such as medicine], it is the future groom who pays…
After some time, the groom speaks to her parents saying that he thinks that the girl is mature enough for marriage… If the parents determine that their daughter is not yet ready, they tell him…he should continue to wait… After some time, he will…approach the parents of the girl once again, asking for their daughter’s hand.
When the request is accepted, they proceed to the marriage ceremony. The groom’s parents bring 2 to 3 litres of toaka gasy (locally brewed rum) plus other drinks, as well as a cow for the bride’s parents… The bride’s family prepares a meal for everybody. This was enough for a marriage ceremony in the past.
Now, however, it is totally different. It is no longer the parents who decide who will be the spouse; their children decide who they will marry… Because of the high cost of living…we now celebrate the marriage outdoors rather than indoors. The reason is to have the highest possible number of guests so that the couple can acquire the maximum number of gifts.
There is one person next to the couple who publicly counts the gifts and estimates their value. Sometimes, for example, a couple collects 10 to 20 pots, 50 plates, 30 spoons and even a cow. The representative of each family [also] counts the money and… announces it publicly… The entire family cheers with joy about the gifts.
The goal of this is to encourage the couple to start their new life together with a minimum of financial difficulties. In the past it was only the couple’s parents who paid.
“My children will face a challenging life”
Parents [always] look for a way to help their children to live a better life than they did, so the entire population of the village, knowing how hard life is, participates in each marriage ceremony… They think it is a time to help each other out.
But I think my children will face a challenging life because…there is no more vacant land on which to build a house or farm. If my children are not able to find a job outside our village, they will face a tougher time [trying] to survive.
This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.