Connecting local traditions and environmental conservation in Lake Alaotra
(image to the right) Aerial shot of Lake Alaotra, credit: C Scarffe
Lake Alaotra is the largest lake in Madagascar and is a wetland of global importance under the Ramsar Convention. It is home to a number of highly threatened species, including the Critically Endangered Alaotran gentle lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis), known locally as ‘bandro’. Durrell has been working in Lake Alaotra since 1996 and has implemented a range of conservation actions in the region, focusing on working with local communities, supporting the establishment of the Lake Alaotra New Protected Area, and implementing a community monitoring programme.
In 2016, we began a new project generously funded by the IUCN's SOS - Save Our Species initiative. This project aims to continue conserving the bandro by protecting the marshland habitat and helping to ensure that local communities surrounding Lake Alaotra play a major role in the management of the marsh and lake, thereby creating a sustainable mechanism for wise resource use and protection of marsh habitat for the bandro.
(bottom image) Meeting of Alaotra Rano Soa, credit: Durrell
A key stakeholder in this project is the Alaotra Rano Soa. The Alaotra Rano Soa is a community management structure which has been created to reinforce the community’s role and voice in decision making and implementation of the management of Lake Alaotra. Durrell is working closely with Alaotra Rano Soa to implement many of our field activities. The Alaotra Rano Soa has recently appointed a new Executive General Secretary, Hortensia Raheriarivelo.
In advance of #WorldWetlandsDay, Christel Sam (Communications Volunteer at Durrell’s Madagascar office), recently caught up with Hortensia to chat about the Alaotra Rano Soa and her experiences of working and living near Lake Alaotra:
(image to the right) The Executive General Secretary of the Alaotra Rano Soa, Hortensia Raheriarivelo, assist with the planting of zetra, credit: Durrell
Christel Sam (CS): As a Lake Alaotra native, have you noticed any changes from when you grew up until now?
Hortensia Raheriarivelo (HR): When I grew up, in the 1990s, I used to see fires around the lake, and I thought they were a natural phenomenon. It took years before I realised they were due to human pressure. In fact, many Malagasy and foreign NGOs had settled in Ambatondrazaka to raise our consciousness on local environmental issues. In 1994, there was even a symposium organised by the state and its partners on the species endemic to Lake Alaotra: the bandro and the onjy [the Madagascar pochard, now extinct at Lac Alaotra].
CS: What is Alaotra Rano Soa?
HR: In 2003, the Lake Alaotra and wetlands were designated a Ramsar Site. The Alaotra wetlands provide shelter for many species including the lemur, fish and wild bird species. In order to perpetuate the tradition of fishing and rice culture while conserving the wetlands, the Alaotra Rano Soa platform was created to facilitate managing agreements between local village associations and governmental environmental entities with the technical assistance of non-governmental agencies.
CS: How will Alaotra Rano Soa help in conserving the Bandro Lemur and the Alaotra wetlands?
HR: Recently, the Alaotra Rano Soa platform was restructured to better answer challenges specific to each activity and geographical zone. In fact, the lake was divided into four geographical zones: North, South, East and West. In addition, four main activities were defined and translated into four village associations: water, fishing, marshland management and watershed conservation.
(bottom image) Sunrise on Lake Alaotra, credit: A Wallace
As the village associations, governmental and non-governmental entities are communicating, the platform restructuration into smaller zones and specific activities has already impacted conservation strategies. Marshland fires in the Protected Area, the major challenge for Lake Alaotra conservation, can further be prevented by identifying individuals that are present in specific geographical zones and implementing the dina, or local laws, to stop them from using land that has been illegally obtained and burned for rice culture. Fishing associations are also assigned geographical zones with a harbour each. When fishing season is over each fishing association is responsible for storing their canoes in locked facilities until the next fishing season.
CS: What is the next step for Alaotra Rano Soa?
HR: Meetings on specific conservation strategies are scheduled and the next General Assembly is planned between April and June, right after rice harvesting, to gather all actors of the Lake Alaotra conservation efforts and further develop comprehensive visions and strategies. Our hope for Lake Alaotra is to become economically independent so that environmental conservation projects that are started with the help of NGOs can evolve in the long-term, combining local traditions and environmental conservation.
Posted 1 February 2017