Friday, March 29, 2013

Antanandahy: Where the Women Rule the Mangroves

By Sylvia Paulot and Kate England
Blue Forests Team, Blue Ventures.

After winding its way west, Madagascar’s Tsiribihina River splits into a maze of tributaries entwined
in mangroves, finally emptying into the Mozambique Channel. At the end of last year, Sylvia
and Kate of the Blue Forests team made their way north to the Tsiribihina Delta, meeting with
WWF Madagascar, local partners, and communities who have all worked together on mangrove
conservation there since 2011. Our goal was to initiate a relationship with these communities and
start a feasibility study for blue carbon in Tsiribihina - and what a place to do it! The locals of the
Tsiribihina Delta truly live a mangrove lifestyle – from fish and wood to storm protection – the
people here are linked with the mangrove forest at every turn.

While still teaming with life, the degradation and outright deforestation of the mangroves of the
Tsiribihina Delta is obvious to local people, and they are acting to stop it. Communities here have
formed forest policing groups and have even reforested former mangrove areas. While we were
so impressed (it is impossible not to sing their praises) that’s not what this blog is about. What we
want to tell you about is a tiny village, tucked away in the mangroves of the Tsirbihina Delta, and the
women living there.

A local woman gathering salted fish for sale to local collector (K England)
Antanandahy (An-tan-an-die) is a modest village of about 400 people perched on a stretch of sand,
up one of many north-south tributaries of the Tsiribihina Delta. Accessible only by boat, the tiny
village bobs on the horizon until you pull up to its sandy white bank. Despite being outsiders, and
one of us a foreigner to boot, the people of Antanandahy were very friendly and easily plopped
down in the sand under a makeshift palm shelter to tell us about their lives, and the mangroves on
which they depend.

Pirogues in Antanandahay at sunset, Tsiribihina Delta (K England)
While the villagers were all smiles, life in Antanandahy is tough. A glimpse shows you that the
community has only the sea, the mangroves and the river channel to survive; there is no clean
water, no market, and no access to health care. There are few income opportunities here and there
are no signs of modern life, apart from a few people with mobile phones. Like many other villages
in the Tsiribihina Delta, bandits attack regularly, robbing the locals of their hard-earned cash from
selling fish and stealing whatever possessions they have in their homes.

Some of the women of Antanandahay in the Tsiribihina Delta, Madagascar (S Paulot)
In this dry, hot, and risky place, the women of the village are courageous, independent, and
active. Antanandahy village has a large mangrove forest, and like the men in the village, the women
use the mangrove forest to make a living – hiking through the mangrove to fish, catch crabs, collect
mollusks, harvest mangrove honey, and collect fuelwood. One can easily see that the women are at-
home, as they nimbly hop through the mangrove prop roots and never misstep in the deep mud.

During the three days we spent in Antanadahy, we observed a few training sessions with the local
fishers association, Lalanda, and the Ministry of Elevage (Ministry of Livestock), which had been
organized by WWF at the request of the villagers. Training included techniques for improving
methods for salting fish and keeping ducks. These activities are expected to lessen the pressure on
natural resources by supplementing household incomes. The highlight came when we realised that
although the salted fish training was intended for men, the audience ended up being mostly women.
While salting fish is traditionally a man’s job, the women of Antanandahy are actually in charge of
making the salted fish in many families.

Women at the salted fishes training (S Paulot)
When not busy harvesting mangrove resources, salting fish, caring for children, weaving palm
baskets, or cropping cassava and potatoes, these women are looking out for the mangrove forest.

When we raised the topic of mangrove conservation, we saw a special light come into the women’s
eyes. They spoke enthusiastically of the measures they take to protect the forest: they voluntarily
collect mangrove propagules, pick areas to be reforested, and journey through the delta in pirogues
to plant new mangrove trees. Not only are women replanting mangroves, but they play a vocal role
as mangrove custodians, inciting the men of the village to replace the mangrove they cut by planting
new ones. During group discussions, we were amused and pleased to see women calling out the
men who weren’t entirely honest about the ways they used the mangrove forest.

Women of Antanandahy showing how to plant mangroves (S Paulot)

A woman from Antanandahy in the mangroves. (S Paulot)

Striving to create their own future and better livelihoods, the women of Antanandahy tried to
form a women’s association, aimed at cooperative vegetable farming and duck rearing. However, a
disagreement about task-sharing brought an end to the project. When we asked how this happened,
one woman frankly answered that they need more training on running an association in order to
make it work. Few women here can read or write since the only school in the village was built just
a few years ago. The women recognized that this was a barrier to their empowerment and wanted
to do something about it. Unsurprised by their candour, we thought, while fish-salting and duck-
farming were important, these women also need training in governance, which would allow them
to play a critical role in the management of their local resources, which they know and use so
intimately. We felt safe concluding that if the women of other villages in the Tsiribihina Delta were
anything like here, that they would be a great credit to a mangrove carbon project. As we look to a
year ahead of project development in the Tsiribihina Delta, we can see that a little capacity building
will go a long way for a group of women with so much wit, assertiveness and heart.

Sylvia (right), Blue Forests scientist, with the president of Antanandahy, a village in the mangroves of the Tsiribihina Delta (K England)

This story is co-written by former MAP-Asia Volunteer Intern, Sylvia Paulot from Madagascar.  Sylvia interned in the MAP Asia office in Trang, Thailand and with our project at Phra Thong Island in Phang Nga (May-Aug. 2012).  She became very keen on mangroves while with MAP in Thailand and upon returning to Madagascar she joined Blue Ventures Conservation as a Mangrove Conservation Officer based in Tulear.  MAP wishes her well in her new job and hopes to continue to communicate with on conservation issues. 

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