Madagascar is one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots. The ecosystems of Madagascar are among the most threatened on Earth. Poverty, shifting slash & burn cultivation and the reliance on natural resources have major impacts on the native forests. Only 8% of the original primary forest remains on Madagascar, in various degrees of degradation and fragmentation, and southwestern Madagascar harbors the most intact unique forest ecosystem.
The arid spiny forest of southwestern Madagascar (‘spiny thicket’) is among the most intriguing, unique and biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, harboring the highest level of plant endemism in Madagascar with 48% of the genera and 95% of the species listed as endemic. The spiny forest is characterized by xerophyte and succulent Didiereaceae (octopus tree), Euphorbiaceae, baobabs (Adansonia spp.) among several hundred woody species, providing home to unique animals, of which 90% are restricted to this forest (such as lemurs, birds, chameleons and invertebrates). The spiny forest extends across the extreme south and southwest regions of Madagascar, covering approximately five million hectares. It is the oldest biome of Madagascar and the most arid with an average annual rainfall of approximately 300 mm, restricted to elevations under 400m (more here).
Rural people from coastal and inland communities subsist directly from marine and forest resources by harvesting fish, edible and medicinal plants, fodder for livestock, firewood, and timber for construction. However, the primary forest resource is wood harvested for making charcoal. Charcoal production is the major source of fuel and income for the 20 million residents of Madagascar. The southwest Madagascar spiny forest has over two dozen tree species that are targeted specifically for charcoal. Over-exploitation places severe pressure on natural populations of these species and very little is known about their ecology or their ability to regenerate.
These unique forests are the least protected, the most understudied and by far the most deforested forests on Madagascar over the last 50 years (more here). Southwest Madagascar is the poorest, least developed and least educated region of the island, making it a tremendously challenging yet extremely attractive place with the greatest need for implementing grassroots conservation and restoration efforts.
There are very few ideas or opportunities available to Malagasy people about how to maintain their natural resources and where to receive alternative education, work or income that will benefit their existing livelihoods. Ho avy allows access to new inspiring knowledge that has the power to create jobs while simultaneously alleviating poverty as well as pressure on biodiversity.
Ho avy interacts closely with the rural village of Ranobe in southwest Madagascar, ca 30 km north of the provincial capital Toliara (see here). We started our work with one village family, which acted as para-botanists, guides and hosts, and soon the extended family formed their own village association dedicated to propagation and reforestation of native plant species in SW Madagascar, FIMPAHARA. Our field work takes place in the Ranobe forest ca 5-10 km from the village Ranobe.