No one thinks about migrating, despite the hardships that we all endure here. This is the village where our ancestors used to live and we intend to remain here for better or worse… I guess it also has to do with our livelihood practices… No one is ready to leave behind the opportunity to access the sea.
Sambo, male, 46, Ambinanibe
There is a great deal of discussion about how people’s opportunities to make a livelihood from the surrounding environment have been drastically reduced: farmland has been sold to QMM, fish stocks are being depleted, and access to forest products is greatly restricted. At the same time, drought and climate change has significantly worsened conditions for those continuing to farm and fish.
The situation for women – and there are many female-headed households in these communities – is even more precarious. Traditionally, they fish in the rivers but do not go to sea, although they are allowed to sell the catch. Many are engaged in agricultural activity but for some, the only way to earn income is through the making of mats, baskets and other goods from forest vines, a time-consuming and demanding activity. However, restricted forest access and increasing competition for raw materials is making this activity even less profitable.
Many women describe the way they “juggle” different forms of livelihood but it is clear that – for many – just feeding their families is a battle that they sometimes lose.
One new form of livelihood – which is clearly a mixed blessing – is working for QMM and related companies. Those that have lost their farmland are especially dependent on finding paid work. They express concern at the vulnerability this brings, after having been relatively self-sufficient. Jobs have not been made widely available, and those who are employed express anxiety at their lack of control over wage cuts or redundancy.
Some of the men talk about having to migrate for work. This is not a strategy that these communities have used before and several point out that most members of their communities know only how to fish or farm – or in the case of women, make mats and other items from vines. Their lack of experience or training in other livelihoods makes some reluctant to migrate, and certainly intensifies their anxieties about the future. They fear greatly for their children, growing up without the abundant natural resources that supported their traditional livelihoods.
The main issue is that the foreigners who took the land around here should have offered jobs to many people in the village, not to just a few. As a result, a lot of active people remain in the village, unemployed, and thus poverty and famine are gaining ground.
Tema Germaine, female, 42 years, Ilafitsignana
I don’t see many alternatives other than moving away… The government does not allow people to work properly and make money and they do not help us, so I think migrating is the only solution left for me.
Benagnomby, male, St Luce
I have heard that people working for foreigners are divided [in their opinions]. Some of them are full of praise, saying that if they had not been offered jobs by foreigners, they would be suffering from hunger by now. Some others, however, complain that working for foreigners is not easy and that they would prefer to return to fishing. They also complain that their wages have been cut, for unknown reasons. Everyone has their own idea and vision. I don’t know if working for foreigners is a solution to their problems. Right now, many people working for foreigners want to quit their jobs, due to the unexpected conditions.
Miha, male, Ilafitsignana
Because I am a single mother, I must work hard to supply the basic needs of my children. In addition to weaving mats, I sell shrimp by the can… The money I generate from these two activities is not enough, so I have to increase the pace of my work to make a little bit more… The sale of [forest] sticks could have helped [but] I must pay a fee before I can get a permit to collect them. Where can I find money for that, when I struggle to find money to purchase food? Everything seems to be conspiring to strangle my life.
Mija, female, 28 years, St Luce
My hardships became worse when my husband passed away. I now have to do the work he was supposed to do [as well as] the work of women. I am stretched all the way to complete exhaustion. I collect firewood, weave mats, cook meals for the family, take care of them, go to the market, find food, so on and so forth. I now raise seven children. Seasonal food shortages are familiar to us, but I cannot watch my children not eating, so I decided to borrow money. I know I have nothing to pay it back, but hunger forces me to do this. My children share the clothes that they have when they have to leave the house… I strive to send them to school. Unfortunately, they come home early because they are hungry and cannot concentrate on their studies…
Marinette, female, 40 years, St Luce
I have many grandchildren, and a full house. So I must take care of their food and clothing needs, which is difficult [because] I have nothing to rely on to make money. Making mats and baskets, and fishing does not sustain life anymore. Right now we live in poverty… My husband works hard but his effort is in vain because we have too many grandchildren to support… We also tried to farm but it seems not to work properly because the weather is too dry for anything to grow…
Josephine, female, 56 years, St Luce
I accepted what [compensation] was offered [but] it was against our will to give up our land. Because even though we were fisherman, we would use our farmland to alternate with our fishing activities whenever the sea was in bad condition. Our sweet potatoes, beans and corn crops helped us to survive and generated income whenever the catch was low.
Mbola, male, 67 years, Ambinanibe
Women lack jobs… The collection of mahampy (type of vine) is still [an option]. However, they got burned down by unknown person. As a result, women in the village have no raw materials to make mats… We don’t know what else to do. Even if mahampy is not available anymore, women could have turned to fishing activities but fishing is subject to restrictions as well…I think women in the village need assistance, especially to allow women to fish again. Fishing is the main activity in the village, so it should not be subject to restrictions
Tselegna, female, St Luce