AN ORAL TESTIMONY PROJECT IN THE ANOSY REGION, MADAGASCAR
Constand 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”.
Olina, from St Luce, is 80 and still working. She benefited greatly from her parents’ decision to send her to school, where she learnt French, cooking and sewing.
Her sadness at her own children’s lack of education is evident – meeting the cost proved too hard. Although she married several times, for much of her life she has been a single mother, supporting her family by tailoring and making bread and cakes, as well as working on the land.
She points out that it is not necessarily the government that is responsible for her community’s situation, but the individual in charge of carrying out policies. Nepotism and corruption are rife: “only someone who is richer, or has money, can be heard in the village.”
Having had little education, 22-year-old Fanja – like her mother and most women in St Luce – makes tsihy (woven mats) for her living.
She describes the “demanding”, “painful” and sometimes dangerous process: from collecting materials, to preparation and weaving, to selling the tsihy in Mahatalaky – a 15 kilometre walk away – where middlemen beat down prices.
She stresses the need for a training programme to enable the women to improve and diversify products, and attract foreign buyers. With the mining company now controlling the forest, access to materials for her work and domestic needs is severely restricted. She misses the loss of revenue from tourists previously attracted by the area’s rich biodiversity.
Soarahy, 50, is struggling just to feed her family. In the past, “the rice harvest was a special moment” and fish catches provided more than the family could eat.
Nowadays, survival “is the primary thought that each individual has” and her own stress and tension are evident. All her traditional sources of livelihood – farming, fishing and making tsihy (woven mats) – are precarious.
Even when she catches fish, she can’t afford to eat it but sells it instead to buy staple foods. While she insists people do not want to “sit and wait for donations”, she wonders what they can realistically turn to as livelihood options.
Kazy, who is 50, reports that there has been no rain for a year and food crops have failed. In the end, she and her husband let their cattle into the fields to graze on the dried-up plants, and now planting has to “start again at zero”.
She stresses the importance of Petriky Forest to many aspects of their lives: providing wood for construction; firewood and charcoal; vines for handicrafts; shelter for the river fish and plants for fruit and medicine.
The younger generation, she says, no longer uses medicinal plants, preferring modern medicines: “We have all abandoned the practice of our ancestors to use, boil and prepare medicinal plants.” Nor do people perform the sacrifices and ceremonies that brought rain: “Their thoughts are focused on their survival instead.”
Zanaboatsy, who is 58 and from Petriky, has two adult disabled daughters still living with him and is responsible for them and their children. He feels strongly that the impact of mining activity on the environment has robbed him of any opportunity to “provide a better future for my family”.
Petriky Forest was the “source of life” for the surrounding communities, providing food, medicinal plants, wood for constructing houses – even a special wood for coffins – and sheltering the rivers and fish within them. Now access to the forest is being controlled and mining activity has had a detrimental effect on the health of the rivers.
Sambo is 46 years old. His life “used to be good, like everyone else’s in the village”. But then they lost access to their best fishing grounds, as the mining company started to build a port, and much of their land was taken over.
The compensation money was partly spent on better housing and now “the village has a shine to it”. But this prosperity is deceptive: “I see people in their improved homes,” he warns, “yawning all the time because they are undernourished.”
The loss of Somatraha fishing grounds and a safe dock has been “devastating” and farming has been dramatically affected by land appropriation. But with low levels of education and a strong attachment to fishing, people are reluctant to migrate for work. Sambo collects and sells coconuts when he can, and goes to sea when conditions allow.
Jean-Claude, 39, is clear that by accepting cash for land his community has lost “sustainability” and become vulnerable and dependent on others: “You could get fired any time.” Although he built a new house with his compensation money, he does not see this as an enduring asset in the way that farmland was. He describes the negotiation and compensation processes and it is clear that for him, trust has broken down.
He believes the government bears responsibility for their precarious economic situation as well as the mining company. However, he gives credit to the improved transport services, which have “helped us enormously”. Even though he and his wife can’t afford the fare for themselves, they can pay to have heavy bags of cassava transported to market, while they follow on foot.
Rosette, aged 54, brought up her children as a single parent and they now support her. “Elderly parents like me rely greatly on our children to supply food because we are too old to fish,” she says.
She has seen many changes over the years. Describing the impact of the mining company’s activities, she explains how they gradually kept expanding their requests – leaving the villagers at a disadvantage during the negotiations. Her main regret is that villagers weren’t given jobs in return for giving up their sources of livelihood.
Bruno, aged 43, is in no doubt that the climate is changing. He describes the drastic impact of rising temperatures and recurrent drought on agricultural production, saying that without the rivers and ocean his community would be unable to survive.
But fish production has also greatly decreased, something he believes is due to violations of “the rules of this river” by outsiders. As a result of mining construction work, the atmosphere and the river are polluted, badly affecting animal and human health.
Say Louise, aged 38, from Ilafitsignana, has happy memories of childhood, when her father’s job with the port management authority in Fort Dauphin and, later, his farming and fishing, provided for all the family’s needs. Harvests and fish were plentiful.
Her difficulties came as an adult, when all three of her marriages ended with her husband walking out. Say Louise felt she had done her best, “but men are hard to satisfy”. Left on her own, she borrowed money and set up a small business as a market trader, becoming successful enough to buy a boat to transport her goods to other coastal villages.
She laments the many changes over recent years, especially the loss of land and forest resources and the depletion of fish species.
Sirily, in his 40s, describes the highs and lows of his working life, identifying the factors – personal and external – that have led to changes in his standard of living. Ill-health, often brought on by hard or dangerous work, has meant lean times, but when he was younger, good harvests and fish catches always allowed him and his wife to get “back on track”.
As his parents became older and unable to help with childcare, life became tougher. At the same time, pressure on fish stocks was beginning to affect availability. When he and his wife lost their farmland they also lost their opportunity to grow food. Now, he says, “I work for a foreigner” and he describes the risks of being wage-dependent.