Sustainable agriculture boosts climate change resilience of farming communities in eastern Madagascar

In addition to its incredible species diversity, Madagascar provides millions of people with fresh water and other ecosystem services that are essential to their survival. At the same time, Madagascar is the fourth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change[1]Source: Due to this, droughts and cyclones are increasing in frequency, duration and intensity, severely impacting the people in Madagascar.

In many rural areas of Madagascar, local communities are highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture for both food and income. In periods of drought their crops suffer from a lack of water, and rainfall patterns have altered significantly in terms of intensity and timescale. These changes are increasingly leading to food insecurity and malnutrition. This has led to a worrying Catch-22: As climate change leads to lower crop yields, farmers are prompted to expand their land by clearing forest, which in turn makes them even more susceptible to drought, soil erosion and flooding.

This is also the case for the communities living in the Forest Corridor of Ankeniheny Zahamena in eastern Madagascar. This Corridor is surrounded by four protected areas: The Zahamena National Park, the Special Reserve of Mangerivola, the Strict Natural Reserve of Betampona and the Analamazaotra- Mantadia National Park. The landscape serves as habitat for many endemic species and it is an important source of water for the country.  

Maholy Ravaloharimanitra, Country Director at The Aspinall Foundation Madagascar, explains: ‘Poor farming techniques in this area have led to rapid soil degradation, driving slash-and-burn agriculture that destroys primary forests.’

Adapting to climate change through sustainable agriculture

With financial support from CEPF, the Aspinall Foundation is helping farming communities in the Ankeniheny Zahamena Corridor adapt to climate change through a combination of awareness raising, patrolling and training in new skills such as climate-smart agriculture and agroforestry which should prevent further loss of primary forest cover whilst increasing ecosystem services and resilience of the communities.

Greater Bamboo Lemur CAZ West © Lucien Randrianarimanana, The Aspinall Foundation Madagascar

Protection of the greater bamboo lemur through community-led conservation

The Aspinall Foundation has been working in the Ankeniheny Zahamena area since 2010, initially focusing on the protection of the Critically Endangered greater bamboo lemur. Maholy shares: ‘We are pleased that we could contribute to the stabilisation of population numbers in the project area of target species such as the greater bamboo lemur, diademed sifaka, indri and black-and-white lemur. We did this through a combination of direct species-specific conservation action, combined with awareness-raising, habitat restoration and local community development. Community-led conservation initiatives have always been at the heart of our work in Madagascar.’

Climate-smart agriculture

Improving natural resource management is at the core of the project in the Ankeniheny Zahamena Corridor. The project aims to support around 300 families across five communities in achieving better food production and increased resilience against the negative impacts of climate change from improved agricultural techniques.

A key focus of the project is to provide training to communities on climate-smart agricultural techniques. Maholy: ‘As a first step, we have been teaching communities how to make and use compost to improve soil quality and fertility, replacing the need for burning and expanding agriculture areas. This approach aims to reduce accidental fires and the need to encroach further into forests for farming.’

Communities are also taught natural methods to control pests and reduce weed growth in their agricultural areas. The training is supported by the provision of equipment, including man-powered shredders that can be used to shred plant material ready for addition to compost heaps. 

Sustainable market gardening and environmental education

The Aspinall Foundation is also involving schools in the project. Areas of study include learning about safe and balanced nutrition; the requirements for healthy plant growth; practical training in cultural methods and creating vegetable gardens; and practical skills for waste management and composting. In the first seven months of the project, twenty teachers across eight schools received training after which the schools have created their own market gardens, involving over 400 school children. 

‘Children have a natural desire to learn and often have a better ability to absorb new ideas and retain information’, according to Maholy. ‘Teaching school children how to produce food using sustainable market gardening methods provides them with practical skills that will benefit them both immediately and in the long term. Food products once harvested will provide them with nutritious meals, and the knowledge they gain will support their food production capabilities throughout their time at school and as adults. Therefore, training school teachers will not just assist the current generation in their learning, it will also enable them to continue that process for many future generations making the possibility of long-term change to sustainable agricultural practices across whole communities more achievable.’

Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change impacts

Healthy ecosystems such as intact forests, wetlands and coastal areas provide many benefits to local communities, including clean water, food, medicines and shelter. They can also form physical barriers against extreme weather events such as cyclones and storm surges. Biodiverse forests, for example, can protect roads and other infrastructure from erosion and landslides. Ecosystem-based adaptation is the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

CEPF supports ecosystem-based adaptation in Madagascar

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Conservation International, the European Union, the Fondation Hans Wilsdorf, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.

With funding from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) through AFD as the GCF accredited entity, and from the European Union through AFD acting as the fiduciary agent, CEPF established and is managing a 10-year programme of support to civil society organisations to promote ecosystem-based adaptation in the Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot. Programme activities are taking place in Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Regional implementation team

CEPF has enlisted a consortium of nongovernmental organisations to be its regional implementation team (RIT) in the hotspot. Coordinated by IUCN NL, the RIT includes SAF/FJKM for Madagascar, ID-ONG for Comoros, FORENA for Mauritius and SeyCCAT for Seychelles. These organisations are working with CEPF to implement a five-year conservation strategy for the hotspot and build local civil society capacity.

More information

Mark van der Wal
Senior Expert Ecosystems & Extractives