PUSHED TO THE EDGE

AN ORAL TESTIMONY PROJECT IN THE ANOSY REGION, MADAGASCAR

ConstantConstand is 31 and has a wife and children to support and is finding it increasingly difficult to make a living. The recent population “explosion” is one reason for the decline in resources, he explains (although many people do now practise family planning, he says).

He believes that the middlemen are to blame for the very low lobster and fish prices, which prevent fishermen from making any savings and becoming “free from [their] control”.

Although there have been improvements in health facilities, Constand thinks there should be more government support for the reni-jaza, or traditional midwives. In his view they offer a valuable service. If they were provided with “the necessary equipment and medicine” he feels sure they could “improve their work”.

A keen footballer, Constand describes the importance of the game to fishermen: “I think they need to play soccer to build stronger legs and stretch a little after sitting all day long fishing.” He is grateful for the strong support of the community for this activity.

Life in the past and today should not be compared… In the past people had plenty of food and money to purchase other things…such as clothes and cattle. The price of goods was cheap and children could go to school… My parents had seven children and they were able to supply their needs… [Today] people struggle to make money and…prefer to spend it on food than new clothes…

Now that I have my own family, it is getting more and more difficult to get a good catch and make a living. The amount of fish I catch these days is far less than my father used to get…

My parents did not have to use a lot of fishing nets or traps to make a good catch…[Today] fishermen try to increase their productivity; so they use different tools and invest more time in fishing. Even so, their catch [is small].

“A population explosion”

I have also noticed that many people get involved in fishing now. This is due to the high cost of living and the fact that fishing can generate quick money, provided you can make a catch…

[Also] there has been a…population explosion around here. I have never seen the village so full of children! The problem is that these children…do not attend school for a variety of reasons, and so they begin fishing at a young age…

Today a lot of people follow family planning to reduce the number of their children, but still it does not help much… many parents [still] cannot meet their children’s needs such as clothes and school fees…

So the number of fishermen has increased but the resources – fish, lobster and shrimp – have decreased.

Poverty increases risks

Fishermen…still use wooden boats, and…they are not able to fish in deeper seas where resources might be abundant… [They need] bigger boats or motorboats…to face the strong waves and currents out there…

The other reason fishermen need strong boats is that they need to be able to fish on windy days. Around here, when the wind blows from the south – we call it haranalaotsy – all fishermen stay on land because it is dangerous to fish in those conditions. Fishermen believe that if they have motorboats they could fish without risking accidents…

The boats [we use] are just wood from tree trunks, carved out in the middle to allow a few people to sit. When this type of boat sinks there is no way of retrieving it. In addition, fishermen do not have life jackets. This is not surprising because fishermen already struggle to make a living…[and] life jackets cost a fortune.

Not only [is there no] insurance, but also these middlemen and their foreign bosses do not dare to come here and present condolences when a fishermen has an accident and dies. According to Malagasy tradition, people slaughter a cow, but unfortunately no middlemen or their bosses [ever] donate a cow…

Fishermen just work it out themselves, thanking God when they return home without an accident.

At the mercy of middlemen

I have heard that lobster and fish prices in Fort Dauphin market are very good. So why are people proposed such low prices here? [Fishermen] are at the mercy of middlemen…[who] dictate the price. It is amazing how middlemen control everything around here… Fishermen should be allowed to set the price of their catch, just like other sellers, for example, Indian shop owners or even farmers…

I believe that the fact that fishermen do not have many buyers for their lobsters makes them vulnerable to the price controls of middlemen… [which] is devastating to our income… I have talked to other fishermen and we share the same thought: the middlemen have used these tactics to maintain an artificially low price for lobster…

Fishermen sort of work for middlemen… The middlemen propose purchasing boats for them, but the condition is that the fishermen must sell their catch to the middleman who purchases the boat… So fishermen cannot fix the price of their catch because they are tied by this vague contract.

Savings are the only way out

As far as a union or an association of fishermen is concerned, well, there is one – but it is not strong enough to claim the fishermen’s rights and oppose what middlemen are doing. There is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which tries to help fishermen acquire new boats…[but it] cannot help each of the 400 fishermen around here…

The only thing that might help each of us to become free from the control of middlemen [and buy a boat] is to create savings from the sale of lobster… It will take time but I think it is possible, despite the fact that a boat costs a fortune these days – 400,000 ariary…

Once I can save enough, I plan to get a new boat and work on my own so that I can fix the price of my catch… My only concern…is that my catch has not been good for the last eight months [since the opening of the lobster season on May 1st].

In the past, each fisherman did buy their own boat [and] could fix the price of their catch… [If] a fisherman did not have enough money to purchase a boat, he could work out a deal with someone who could help him… Then later on, when he had saved enough money, he would pay back his debt. This was possible because people valued friendship a lot and some people had extra money. Fishermen [also] traded their cattle for boats.

The benefits of soccer

Fishermen have strong arms [from rowing] but have skinny thighs and legs. So I think they need to play soccer to build stronger legs and stretch a little after sitting all day long fishing. Currently, young people in the village are able to form three teams but we get discouraged because we lack soccer shoes, balls and jerseys…

Every time we play against a team from outside we are impressed by their equipment, and sometimes we hurt ourselves playing with our bare feet against a team that wears soccer shoes… The only time young people in the village can expect to receive donations [for such things] is during election campaigns, once every five years, when candidates donate things to attract voters…

We have three village elders who devote their free time to coaching us. They don’t have money but because they too love the sport, they make a sacrifice to help us. Whenever we travel outside the village to play matches, they come along with us.

We have a youth association that promotes sport. Each time the local team has to travel to play a match, every single person in the village donates money to help cover their expenses. The community shows strong solidarity whenever the players solicit their financial help… [This] is mainly for food because many players do not have jobs or [any other] source of income. As far as bus fares are concerned, players usually walk to matches.

Traditional midwives are “more experienced”

[In the past some women] went to the hospital in Mahatalaky. They walked all the way – about 15 kilometres. Others remained in the village and relied on the reni-jaza (traditional midwife)… These reni-jaza did not use any equipment besides a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord and a piece of thread…

[My mother] was a reni-jaza. They could tell if the position of a baby would be a risk during delivery. If they estimated that the baby’s position was not normal, they could massage the pregnant woman so she would not have any complications while giving birth.

In addition, the reni-jaza could identify the medicinal plants to boil for women who had given birth. I [would] prefer to rely on the reni-jaza’s services if they had all the necessary equipment and medicine. I am not saying I don’t need the services of a [professional] midwife, she does a great job here – especially when someone gets sick and she helps by prescribing medicine – but I think a reni-jaza is more experienced…

The problem with the [professional] midwife is she might take some vacation time because she is a civil servant – but a reni-jaza will stay in the village; she is not going to go anywhere else. So I think it is a good idea to help reni-jaza so that they can improve their work.

The forest becomes “a protected area”

Because the population has expanded quickly, people are facing a scarcity of cropland. So most of us have decided to clear forest… People then discovered that forested land is more fertile than coastal land, so they continue to clear forests.

Lately, QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals – subsidiary of Rio Tinto mining for ilmenite) came to the village… They said that they needed the forest to be protected… QMM collected signatures from each individual in the village to get approval for the transfer of forest management to them…

The local community, along with the local NGO, registered their opposition to QMM’s plan to manage the forest. But this could not prevent QMM from appropriating the forest around St Luce… [They said] deforestation threatened St Luce Forest so it was time to take action…

People in St Luce believed…they would still have access to the forest… So they did not oppose the plan vehemently enough.

“So many resources” taken away

Unfortunately, [our] hardships have been accentuated, because QMM does not allow access to the forest any more… It has taken away so many of the resources that people need to sustain their lives…

Because people are poor, they need the forest… Instead of building houses of bricks, people use forest resources… Second, forested land is fertile and provides good yields of cassava, sweet potatoes and rice. Therefore many farmers clear forest in order to expand their cropland. Third, the forest provides many good things such as medicinal plants…

The only thing that people are still allowed to do is collect firewood, but QMM’s forest guards must supervise anyone who wants to do that…

Since QMM has restricted access to the forest, they have instructed people in the village to plant eucalyptus trees… The problem with eucalyptus is that it is not suitable for house construction. Once posts made out of eucalyptus are sunk into the sand, they last no more than three months because the sand here is not compatible with eucalyptus; there is too much salinity.

Another loss of income

In the past, the local community managed the forest directly; they collected fees from tourists visiting the forest and its biodiversity. The number of tourists has increased every year, and now many foreign students come to conduct scientific research. Such visits improve people’s income.

Those benefits have [now] disappeared… Now QMM staff have tagged most of the animals living in the forest. Soon QMM will claim that all those tagged animals are theirs…

I came to the conclusion that only the government can work out a deal to claim back the local community’s rights… It is a huge challenge for people to draft a letter and send it to the respective authorities. Most of us are illiterate… The only opportunity for the people of St Luce to express their complaints is through interviews like this.

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.

THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON THE PANOS LONDON WEBSITE, AS PART OF THE PUSHED TO THE EDGE ORAL TESTIMONY PROJECT OF LIFE STORIES ARE FROM THE ANOSY REGION OF SOUTHERN MADAGASCAR, CONDUCTED BETWEEN 2007 & 2009, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE ANDREW LEES TRUST.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS, THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF ANOSY, THE ANTANOSY, DESCRIBE THEIR LIVES IN THE FACE OF CLIMATE CHANGE, FOOD INSECURITY AND RAPID DEVELOPMENT DUE TO MINING. THE STORIES ARE FROM FOUR COMMUNITIES: ILAFITSIGNANA, AMBINANIBE, ST LUCE AND PETRIKY. THEY WERE RECORDED BY COMMUNITY MEMBERS AND STAFF FROM THE ANDREW LEES TRUST.