Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa, ranking 143 out of 177 countries in the 2007/8 United Nations Human Development Index.
Over three-quarters of Madagascar’s population are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, leaving them particularly vulnerable to environmental shocks.
Cyclones often hit the north of the island and changing weather patterns and seasonal drought severely affect the south.
In March 2009 Madagascar underwent a political coup that unseated Marc Ravolamanana’s government. Attempts by SADC (Southern African Development Community) , the African Union and other international agencies have yet to resolve ongoing discord between the political parties. A self-appointed Haute Autorité de Transition (HAT) currently manages the country pending the next general election, which is estimated for October 2010.
The Anosy region
Home to approximately half a million inhabitants, the Anosy region is situated in the south-east corner of Madagascar. It is estimated that approximately 75 per cent of the Anosy population are living in poverty (INSTAT 2007) and in rural areas almost the same number are illiterate and do not have access to clean water.
Located in the rain shadow of the mountains, Anosy is a wet region with varied agricultural practices including market gardening, growing rice and fruit cultivation, as well as the production of staple foods such as manioc. But rainfall is diminishing, which has a direct impact on harvest yields and drinking water.
The coastal areas of Anosy are largely populated by fishermen and their families. Lobster and prawns are harvested for local and international markets, and local people also fish in rivers and lakes for domestic consumption.
Biodiversity is varied, ranging across littoral, humid and transition forests to marshlands and wooded bush. Tree loss is rapid in the low-lying areas at the base of the mountains where timber is cut for fuel – mostly for charcoal production.
The main city, Tolagnaro, commonly known as Fort Dauphin (from its colonial days as a French fort), has an airport that regularly serves tourists travelling to nearby Berenty, a lemur sanctuary bordering the Androy region. There is a wide choice of hotels and visitor attractions in the Anosy area and for some time tourism has been an important part of the local economy.
Since 2005 Fort Dauphin has been the target of financial investment under a World Bank ‘growth pole’ programme, which has placed mining at the core of the regional development strategy. The mine is privately owned by QIT Minerals Madagascar (QMM), a subsidiary of Rio Tinto (80 per cent of QMM is owned by Rio Tinto; 20 per cent by the government of Madagascar). Over the next 60 years it will extract and export approximately 750,000 tons of ilmenite to Canada for processing. There is further information about the mine at www.riotintomadagascar.com.
Ilmenite is a light mineral that transforms into titanium dioxide, an industrial whitener used in paint and toothpaste etc. It has been found in quantity along the south-east coastline of Anosy, in the black sands that lie under the littoral forests.
Mining activities now dominate the local economy and are already impacting on the environment as well as on the social fabric of the region. Pollution from quarrying and displacement of village populations has created new challenges and villagers are having to come to terms with the loss of their lands and traditional ways of life, as well as their changing landscape.
According to local people, the cost of living has trebled in the region since the mine’s start-up phase (2005) and tourism has declined. The town has experienced an influx of foreign workers for port and road construction, huge increases in traffic and pressures on local utility services (water and electricity). Inevitably, office space and housing have become scarce and overpriced, and local jobs are at a premium as workers migrate from other regions in search of employment.
The mine brings dramatic changes to the lives of rural villagers who live adjacent to – and depend upon – the local forests situated in the mine’s trajectory.
The government, which owns a 20% stake in the mining company, has implemented compulsory purchase of the forested coastline where the mining sites are located. Approximately 6,000 hectares of coastal landscape are now under QMM project custody for extraction. An estimated further 1,097 hectares will be designated as ‘conservation zones’ with restricted access.
Local people regard the forest as sacred as it is home to the spirits of their ancestors. They rely on it for wood to build their houses, wild forest foods, natural medicines, weaving materials and fuel; it also provides a safety net in times of hardship.
The newly designated ‘conservation zones’, set up by QMM and the Forest Service, employ a ‘dina’ (community management) system to restrict access to the forest. This means that many villagers – who previously relied on their own traditional management mechanisms – must now pay to enter and take products from the forest, or be fined. Most are cash-strapped market gardeners and fishermen earning less than a dollar a day, who now find themselves excluded from this vital resource.
Some communities have already been displaced from their lands to allow for construction of a new port, quarry, roads and housing for mine workers. Others have been restricted from accessing their traditional fishing sites. A cash compensation process has been implemented for those affected by displacement, but there are ongoing disputes about the level of compensation delivered. Most consider it insufficient to balance the loss of access to farmlands or fishing areas that have supported their families over many generations.
The majority of local people (86 per cent) live off the land as subsistence farmers, designating ownership of their land by traditional methods that are recognised at community level. Legal tenure is difficult and costly and of the estimated 90 per cent of Malagasy farmers who own land, only 8 per cent have formal land titles. Compensation processes inevitably favour those who can establish legal title.
In the face of restricted access or loss of forest, water and land, all of which support traditional ways of life, local people must now develop new livelihoods. With few economic opportunities and little capital at their disposal, and as climate change impacts on local harvests and food security, options for villagers are limited.
The mining company claims to have already spent 38 million US dollars in the region, of which approximately 17 million has gone to local communities (reported by the ‘L’Express’ newspaper). But the poorest in the region are struggling to make ends meet and find it difficult to participate in the new economy, due to insufficient jobs, a deficit of skills and illiteracy. For many villagers, the investment has not yet manifested itself in ways that directly improve their families’ long-term future.
Malagasy Ariary (MGA) exchanged at the current rate of 1,000 Malagasy Ariary (MGA) = 0.51 dollars (Oanda, 10/09/09).