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INTRODUCTION
Year : 2006  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 287-303

Swidden Agriculture and Conservation in Eastern Madagascar: Stakeholder Perspectives and Cultural Belief Systems


Department of Anthropology, Beach Hall, U-2176, 354 Fairfield Road, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269-2176, USA

Correspondence Address:
Douglas William Hume
Department of Anthropology, Beach Hall, U-2176, 354 Fairfield Road, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269-2176
USA
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


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Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2009
 

   Abstract 

This paper describes and discusses several stakeholders' perspec­tives of agricultural change in eastern Madagascar. The historic and current government-sponsored attempts to facilitate the end of swidden agriculture in eastern Madagascar have largely failed due to particular cultural beliefs held by the rural farmers. The Malagasy government is implementing several agri­cultural and social policies designed to promote biodiversity conservation and increase crop yields to meet the increased needs of the rising human population. One key aspect of planned agricultural change ignored by the Malagasy government is the impact this change will have on the rural farm­ers' belief system connected with their traditional agriculture, tavy (swidden agriculture as termed and practised by the Malagasy). As the current plan of the Malagasy government stands, only the political, agricultural, ecological, and economic problems of the agricultural change are part of policymaking. In addition to perspectives from government-sponsored programmes, eco­nomic and cultural viewpoints from local rice sellers and rural farmers are presented.

Keywords: Madagascar, tavy, agriculture, culture, policy, farmers, rice, swidden agriculture


How to cite this article:
Hume DW. Swidden Agriculture and Conservation in Eastern Madagascar: Stakeholder Perspectives and Cultural Belief Systems. Conservat Soc 2006;4:287-303

How to cite this URL:
Hume DW. Swidden Agriculture and Conservation in Eastern Madagascar: Stakeholder Perspectives and Cultural Belief Systems. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2006 [cited 2018 Dec 19];4:287-303. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2006/4/2/287/49267


   Introduction Top


THE HISTORIC AND CURRENT GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED attempts to facilitate the end of swidden agriculture in eastern Madagascar have largely failed due to particular cultural beliefs held by rural farmers. In many parts of eastern Madagascar, high human population levels and limited available fertile farm­land have resulted in shortened fallow periods (in some cases as short as two years), which in turn decreases the fertility of the soil, hastens topsoil erosion and reduces local biodiversity (Sorg et al. 2000). The Malagasy government, conservation organisations, and developmental agencies are seeking to im­plement several agricultural and social policies designed to promote biodiver­sity conservation and increase crop yields to meet the increased needs of the rising human population. Since rice is the staple of the Malagasy diet, con­sumed in greater quantities per capita than any other nation [yet has been in decrease from 150 kg/year in 1977 to 118 kg/year in 1995 (IRRI 2004)], in­creasing crop yields is an important development goal for the country as a whole. One key aspect of planned agricultural change ignored by the Mala­gasy government is the impact this change will have on the rural farmers' be­lief system connected with their traditional agriculture, tavy (swidden agriculture as termed and practised by the Malagasy). Tavy involves several rituals that appease gods, ancestors and spirits that inhabit the land. Without participating in these rituals, many farmers in eastern Madagascar believe that their sense of identity as farmers will be lost (see also a similar discussion in Harper 2002). The success of any agricultural development project must not only attempt to balance the economic costs and benefits for the participants involved in the change, but also take into account the political, agricultural, ecological, economic and cultural consequences of such change. As the cur­rent plan of the Malagasy government stands, only the political, agricultural, ecological and economic problems of the agricultural change are part of poli­cymaking.

Humans and Conservation in Madagascar

Due to Madagascar's history, large size and isolation from the African conti­nent, remnant floral and faunal populations have survived where they have not elsewhere. In terms of the number of endemic flora and fauna found per 100 square kilometres (Myers et al. 2000), Madagascar has recently been cited as being one of the topmost biodiversity conservation concerns. An additional concern to conservation groups is that less than 10 per cent of primary growth vegetation remains in Madagascar (Nelson and Horning 1993; Du Puy and Moat 1996; Myers et al. 2000). The remnant forest in eastern Madagascar is undergoing deforestation by estimated rates of 1.6 to 9.5 per cent a year (Dufiles 2003). Since Madagascar contains approximately 3.2 per cent of the global plant species and 2.8 per cent of the global vertebrate species, this con­tinued drastic loss of habitat jeopardises the survival of a significant portion of global biodiversity (Myers et al. 2000). The importance of conserving bio­diversity in Madagascar is further illustrated in that 75 to 85 per cent of the species in Madagascar are endemic (Glaw and Vences 1994; Mittermeier et al. 1994; Dransfield and Beentje 1995). The extinctions that occur in Mada gascar influence not only the local biodiversity, but have global ramifications as well.

Anthropogenic degradation and fragmentation of Madagascar's forests have been interpreted as a principal cause of the decline of many endemic species of flora and fauna, including lemurs (Godfrey et al. 1997) and avifauna (Langrand and Wilme 1997). However, the magnitude of the human effect of forest clearing is dependent on human population density (Dewar 1997). Be­cause human populations were low when the catastrophic extinctions occurred in Madagascar (ca. 2000 to 1500 years ago), the extinction of species due to forest loss is only a recent phenomenon (Dewar 1997). Human exploitation of Madagascar's natural resources is occurring at an increasing rate from both local population pressure and international mining interests (Jarosz 1993).

Tavy is of particular interest both locally and internationally to scientists and conservation groups in Madagascar not only because of its ascribed ad­verse effects on the endemic flora and fauna, but also because, as practised with current human population densities in many parts of eastern Madagascar, it is both ecologically and economically unsustainable. Several institutions and agencies, such as Systeme de Riziculture Inensif (Moser and Barrett 2005), are currently exploring possible methods of instituting a change of ag­ricultural practices in the eastern regions of Madagascar, but have not studied the socio-cultural consequences of such a change. These agencies and institu­tions also seek to protect the remnants of rainforest that remain and hope to restore the degraded areas that surround protected areas. The practice of tavy at present levels prevents this restoration due to short fallow periods and lack of productive land. The agencies and institutions' goal, then, is to end the practice of tavy by providing alternative means of agricultural production that is ecologically and economically viable for the area. This transition is essen­tial so that the Malagasy population not only has a stable source of food but also is able to maintain its environmental and economic integrity.

Culture and Conservation

In environmental degradation problems such as those faced by Madagascar, a top-down approach in implementing a conservation programme is not feasible since governmental infrastructure needed for such a task is not available. In other words, many developing countries, including Madagascar, cannot afford to fund the maintenance of conservation efforts. The economic resources that are needed to design, pass into law and finally enforce legislation are absent. Since the actors are rural farmers, benefits from fining subsistence level indi­viduals cannot substantially offset the costs of enforcement. In place of an in­stitutional approach, there is a growing trend towards community-based conservation, which begins with the communities involved rather than the na­tional or other governmental agency. Yet, indigenous communities are not al­ways successful instituting a conservation program because 'traditional conservation beliefs… are not ready-made prescriptions for today's world' (Western and Wright 1994: 2). The hope is that the coordination of scientific research and indigenous traditional values will lead to project success (Rabetaliana and Schachenmann 1999). It is not enough to have conservation biologists and/or ecologists involved with a conservation project, but the members of a community must be aware of the consequences of their subsis­tence practices on the environment (Kleymeyer 1994; Rabetaliana and Schachenmann 1999).

Conservation projects have attempted to increase awareness among local populations through reviving ancestral technologies (e.g., Cornista and Es­cueta 1990), calling on a traditional conservation ethic (e.g., LaDuke 1992), or education of contemporary conservation methods (e.g., Palmer et al. 1991). It is clear that the belief systems of a community involved in a conservation project must be understood before any project can begin, but in practice, it is rarely achieved. Instead, ecologists, economists and other policymakers de­sign the conservation project without understanding or incorporating the be­lief systems of the communities involved. In most cases, a cursory examination of knowledge is completed to develop education programmes that instruct the communities in new technology or methods of resource use. A thorough examination would be required to allow cultural beliefs to be in­tegrated within the whole of the project.

Not only must local populations have knowledge of conservation, but they must have land-tenure and economic rights, responsibilities and capabilities to be able to succeed in conservation efforts (Western and Wright 1994). Land­tenure rights are 'an essential element of any community-based conservation [CBC] initiative' (Lynch and Alcorn 1994: 390). The communities must have control over the location where the resource is located to restrict use of the re­source (Lynch and Alcorn 1994). This control may either take the form of pri­vate land ownership or common property. Economic rights are necessary because communities that conserve resources without economic benefits are 'virtually nonexistent' (Little 1994: 350). Even in areas where state level con­servation is in effect, no level of enforcement is able to curb resource degradation. Therefore, for conservation efforts to succeed, any CBC programme must include economic benefits and resources for the participating local community.


   Methods Top


Interviews of Malagasy governmental and non-governmental agencies were carried out during fieldwork in 2003 (January through July). The directors and the available technical personnel of the following institutions and agencies were interviewed: Ministre de la Recherch Scientific, Direction Inter Regionale Centre, Regional de Recherch Est (FOFIFA), Toamasina; Ministre des Eaux et Forets (MEF), Toamasina; Ecole d'Application des Sciences et Techniques Agricole (EASTA), Analamalotra, Toamasina; Ministre de l'Agriculture et de l'Elevage (MAE), Direction Inter Regionale du Develop­pement Rural Toamasina; and L'Association Nationale pour la Gestion des Aires Protegees (ANGAP), Toamasina and Parc National D'Andasibe. All in­terviews took place with one or two Malagasy interpreters. The topical focus of interviews was the role that a particular agency had in the development or conservation of eastern Madagascar's environmental resources as well as what, if any, solutions to the current agricultural problems were being imple­mented.

Farmers and merchants were interviewed intermittently during this same period as well as during a fieldwork in 2004 (May through July). Informants included market rice sellers in Bazary Kely (one of the largest bazaars in Toamasina). These merchants discussed the changes of rice prices and their understanding the types of rice customers prefer. Each rice merchant in Ba­zary Kely had an opportunity to take part in the interview. Of the fifty-two people who were interviewed, and only five declined. With the aid of a tech­nician from FOFIFA, rural farmers in two communities along the main highway (Route National 2, RN2) between Antananarivo and Toamasina participated in the interviews. In both these communities, farmers spoke about their methods of agriculture and the rituals performed while growing rice. There were ap­proximately thirty extended structured interviews with the farmers in this area. In Andasibe, 187 farmers who were part of a project to understand the cultural model of tavy (Hume 2005), were asked open-ended questions about their role in the development of agriculture and their opinions on what solu­tions were feasible. While the focus of the research was on the Besimisaraka ethnicity, all ethnicities were included in the sample as long as they were permanent residents of the area.


   Results Top


Although there are excellent reviews on the relationship of conservation and cultural practices among the Malagasy (e.g., Dolch 2003), the authors largely ignore the ritual and cultural impacts that agricultural change would invoke, while citing lack of knowledge, property rights or environmental constraints as the hindrances responsible for the failure to switch from tavy to tanimbary (irrigated agriculture) (e.g., Oxby 1985; Ford 1996; Kistler and Spack 2003). Still others note that there are cultural beliefs that prevent agricultural change, but do not offer a solution to the development dilemma of agriculture in east­ern Madagascar (e.g., Erdmann 2003). Exceptions include discussions about the ritual and spiritual aspects of tavy, but do not link these with government assertions of farmer practices and therefore do not complete the linkage of policy and belief systems (e.g., Moor and Barck 1997). The interviews con­sidered here are focused upon how the move towards tanimbary rice influ­ences cultural beliefs, which is a novel approach not apparent in the current literature. What follows is a discussion of the suggestions each stakeholder of­fers as a solution to the current agricultural problems in eastern Madagascar and what, if any, impacts such change would bring about in the cultural be­liefs of rural farmers.

In consolidating the viewpoint of all of the local stakeholders in the agricul­ture of eastern Madagascar and its impacts on the environment, it is useful to state the goal of each stakeholder:

  • MAE - Provide techniques to increase agricultural yield.
  • FOFIFA - Provide crop seeds that improve agricultural yield.
  • EASTA - Train technicians in techniques to increase agricultural yield.
  • MEF - Protect the remaining forests from destruction.
  • ANGAP - Protect the national parks from destruction.
  • Market rice sellers - Make a living from selling rice.
  • Rural farmers - Make enough food to feed themselves and their families.
It is clear that none of the goals of these stakeholders, on the surface, is mutu­ally exclusive. The goals appear to be similar enough that, if the stakeholders are able to work together, they may find solutions to the agricultural problems in eastern Madagascar that satisfy each of them. What follows is a discussion of the suggestions each stakeholder offers as a solution to the current agricul­tural problems in eastern Madagascar and what, if any, impacts this change would have for the cultural beliefs of rural farmers. Analysis of each organisa­tion's views is reserved for discussion after all views have been presented.

Ministre de l'Agriculture et de l'Elevage , Direction Inter Regionale du Developpement Rural Toamasina

In addition to its other duties, the MAE in Toamasina instructs rural farmers on innovative farming techniques to increase their crop yields (e.g., rice, corn, cassava, etc.). To aid farmers, there are only two agricultural technicians for the entire Toamasina Province, which comprises approximately 71,911 square kilometres (INS 2004). One is based in the city of Maroantsetra and the other in Toamasina. The technician based in Toamasina stated that there is no solu­tion to the current agricultural problems in Madagascar because the rural farmers were following their customs and they would not change their ways to accommodate new agricultural methods (Ministre de l'Agriculture Agricul­tural Technician, personal communication, May 5, 2003). The technician's experience is that the introduced farming techniques are eventually abandoned for the traditional techniques. The director of the ministry stated that the prob­lem could be narrowed down to five things: (1) lack of agricultural equip­ment, (2) lack of flat land in the province, (3) loss of topsoil from using a swidden farming method, (4) human population increase, and (5) the extended period that the environment takes (approximately fifty-years) to become sec ondary forests after being cleared and burned (Ministre de l'Agriculture Di­rector, personal communication, May 5, 2003). His solution was to use a ter­raced tanimbary system, but he knew that this was an improbable solution due the economic constraints of the ministry. He remains optimistic that an inter­national non-governmental organisation will provide the funds to develop ag­riculture in Madagascar.

Ministre de la Recherch Scientific, Direction Inter Regionale Centre, Regional de Recherch Est, Toamasina

One of the branches of the Ministre de la Recherche Scientifique (FOFIFA) has the goal of providing hybrid and genetically engineered seeds for the various crops grown in Madagascar. The Director of the Toamasina branch of FOFIFA states that the problem of agriculture in Madagascar is fourfold: (1) social, (2) property rights, (3) technical and (4) economic (FOFIFA Director, personal communication, June 4, 2003). The social component includes edu­cation, communication and knowledge of new agricultural methods taught to the rural farmers from agricultural technicians. The property rights component results from the fact that the Malagasy rural farmers do not own the land on which they farm and the director believes land ownership as a key to the suc­cess of any agricultural development. The technical problem that FOFIFA is primarily responsible for solving is providing seeds that result in higher crop yield, be it rice, vanilla or other crops. Finally, the funding of such pro­grammes is precarious and this may result in not allowing agricultural devel­opment to proceed. In sum, FOFIFA is attempting to solve the agricultural problem by introducing new technology (e.g., agricultural methods and hybrid seeds). FOFIFA has had a cooperative relationship with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) since 1982 with funding from USAID and other NGOs (IRRI 2004). The IRRI's stated goal is to promote a 'green green revo­lution' by concurrently increasing 'the productivity of labour, water, and chemical fertilisers, while preserving natural resources and protecting the en­vironment' (IRRI 2004: 1-2). In spite of how conservation friendly their stated goals are, the IRRI is primarily concerned with providing genetically engineered seeds to increase rice yield. For example, FOFIFA, with the assis­tance of the IRRI in 1983, introduced a new variety of tanimbary rice, desig­nated R8, which eventually failed because 45 per cent of the rice kernels were broken when processed, which is unacceptable to consumers. Yet, the re­ported results of crop yields of 6 to 10 tons per hectare in experimental tanim­bary by the IRRI in the mid-1980s continue to provide the impetus for continued experimentation with high yield seed varieties (Vallois 1996). Cur­rently FOFIFA is attempting to produce enough of another variety, designated B22, for use with tavy. They claim that this white rice can yield 3000 kg per hectare as compared to current varieties, which only yield about 1,000 kg per hectare. It has been unsuccessful with the B22 variety because the farmers who grow the rice for seed consume the rice instead of selling the seed to FOFIFA for redistribution. FOFIFA claims that the farmers will use this new white rice variety even though there is a strong preference for red rice simply because the white rice yield is so much higher (Toamasina FOFIFA Director, personal communication, June 4, 2003).

The Director at FOFIFA, Toamasina, stated that rural farmers do not have enough money to invest in a new farming system and they cannot afford fertilisers or herbicides (FOFIFA Director, personal communication, June 4, 2003). In addition, other agricultural methods require more labour than tavy. He suggested that farmers should organise themselves into cooperatives so that the various departments and ministries can work with them at the group level to find solutions and perhaps eventually mechanise Malagasy agriculture (FOFIFA Director, personal communication, June 4, 2003). However, a bar­rier to this process is that the farmers do not own the land that they use for ag­riculture and there are no incentive funds for individual farmers to begin such a process alone (FOFIFA Director, personal communication, June 4, 2003).

Ecole d'Application des Sciences et Techniques Agricole, Analamalotra, Toamasina

Eight kilometres north of the city of Toamasina lies an agricultural school (EASTA), which houses twenty students who are taught agricultural tech­niques in order to become agricultural technicians and who will in turn teach rural farmers new agricultural techniques. EASTA encompasses several hec­tares and has land available to teach techniques of agriculture by having the students practice the methods as class projects. The rice in tanimbary is grown with the assistance of fertilisers and herbicides. The price to fertilise a one­hectare field costs about 2,000,000 Malagasy Ariary (MGA; 1600 USD [1] ) and yield using this system is 3500 kg per hectare (EASTA student, personal communication, May 8, 2004). At average retail prices of 500 MGA (0.40 USD) per kilo for local rice, the rice for one hectare would be 1,750,000 MGA (1400 USD). Using this system, there is a deficit of 250,000 MGA (200 USD) per crop. The system of agriculture that is taught to the students at this school is not currently economically feasible unless the government subsi­dises the farmers, which with the current economic state of Madagascar, is highly unlikely.

Ministre des Eaux et Forets, Toamasina

The Ministre des Eaux et Forets (MEF) in Toamasina monitors the agricul­tural practices located in unprotected areas of severely degraded mid-altitude rain forests in the Toamasina Province. The MEF processes farmers' requests to practise tavy in these areas and provides gestations (legal papers) allowing farmers to do so. Rules governing the allowance of tavy include that the farmer must not grow crops on the top third of a mountain and only burn their fields during a designated period. Without this gestation the farmer can be fined and/or jailed. If the responsible farmer cannot be identified, the village is fined 340,000 MGA (300 USD). Difficulty lies with the fact that the minis­try is under-staffed and under-funded, so the areas that are not easily accessi­ble due to the lack of good roads are not regularly monitored.

The Director of the MEF stated that the practice of tavy must end (Director, personal communication, May 12, 2003). At current population levels and with the already rapid decline of the indigenous forests, tavy is not sustain­able. He suggests that the solution to the current agricultural problems in east­ern Madagascar is building dams to provide valleys with water for tanimbary that will eventually result in the end of tavy. He believes this will be a diffi­cult process, not only because of the funds needed for such a project, but that this process must be a cooperative one between the farmers and government, rather than forced upon the farmers.

L'Association Nationale pour la Gestion des Aires Protegees, Toamasina

The agricultural practices of the communities located in protected areas are monitored by L'Association Nationale pour la Gestion des Aires Protegees (ANGAP). The ANGAP serves as a semi-autonomous Malagasy non­governmental organisation that manages protected areas. Both of ANGAP's offices, in Toamasina and Andasibe, affirm that the practice of tavy must end in order to protect the natural resources of Madagascar. To this end, they are beginning projects in and around areas that are under their protection. The process is reportedly slow in the areas around the reserves, as funding does not easily stretch beyond the borders of the parks (Toamasina Branch Direc­tor, personal communication, May 23, 2003).

ANGAP was successful in transitioning one village within a park near An­dasibe from tavy to tanimbary by damming a small river and providing tech­nical and financial assistance to farmers in the project (Andasibe Branch Director, personal communication, June 12, 2003). Tavy has stopped in the park and farmers are requesting dams to provide even more tanimbary fields. The Director of the Andasibe branch acknowledges that there is a 'culture' of tavy that must be understood before change can occur (Andasibe Branch Di­rector, personal communication, June 12, 2003). Even with this success story, on the edges, and even sometimes within the parks themselves, tavy is de­stroying forests protected by ANGAP. It has neither the funding nor personnel to completely stop tavy in their parks.

Market Rice Sellers

Sixty-seven rice sellers who were interviewed in markets within the city of Toamasina, many of whom were or currently are rice farmers, told a slightly different story than that of the governmental offices. The rice sellers have an extensive knowledge of rice varieties and the locations in which they are grown as well as the preferences of customers. There are many varieties of rice found in the Malagasy markets. Factors that the customers take into con­sideration when choosing which rice varieties to buy include: (1) location where the rice is grown, (2) method used to grow the rice, (3) approximate age of the rice, (4) smell, (5) colour, (6) amount broken, and (7) shape and size of kernels. The first categorisation of rice types made by rice seller is be­tween vary stok (old rice) and vary gasy (fresh local rice). Vary stok is the least expensive and includes both stok importe (imported rice) and vary kitra (old local rice). Since vary stok is dehydrated, after it is cooked it will provide more bulk than freshly grown rice. Vary stok is usually only bought by poorer customers because it is both cheaper and yields more food per dry measure.

Regardless of price, the rice sellers report that there is a strong preference for locally grown rice. The most common reasons given for this preference are: (1) it tastes better, (2) it is better for digestion (healthier), (3) it has more vitamins, and (4) it has no chemicals. Customers also prefer red rice over white rice as it is believed to have more vitamins. Vary gasy are first deline­ated by their colour, vary fotsy (white rice) and vary mena (red rice). Each of these coloured varieties are then delineated by the location that they were grown (e.g., makalioka fotsy - while rice grown primarily in Ambatondrazaka and tsipala - white rice grown primarily in Antananarivo). The importance of location is based upon how the rice is processed. For example, tsipala proc­essed in the Antananarivo region contains small rocks from ground trashing. Machine-processed rice yields a greater quantity of broken kernels. Customers in Toamasina prefer rice processed by thrashing in 50-kg rice sacks than the machine processed rice. Among the local varieties, both grown on tanimbary and tavy, both white and red - the red rice grown by tavy is preferred by the majority of the customers. It is believed that red tavy rice is the most nutri­tious and healthy of all varieties of rice.

Rural Farmers

All the farmers interviewed in Toamasina, Brickaville and Andasibe were aware that tavy destroys the environment, meaning the naturally growing for­ests. Though there were different reasons for the degradation of habitat, the general understanding was that the environment was less healthy now than in past generations. However, they state that they have no other alternative than to practise tavy. They must feed their families and no one, neither the gov­ernment as a whole nor any of the organisations listed above, is giving them any assistance. They are aware of organisations that would help finance asso­ciations of farmers and train them in new farming methods, but they do not know how to go about getting this help. The farmers in Brickaville are aware of a government program to help them transition to tanimbary and that offers the ownership of land, but they that the land is not fit for farming.

All the farmers interviewed pursue both tavy and tanimbary. They do tavy on the sides or tops of hills and maintain tanimbary fields in the valleys and by rivers. On their tavy fields, the farmers produce two years of rice and sub­sequently three of cassava. They do not have enough land to let the land fal­low for more than three years before returning to plant again. They agree that the rice yields have been diminishing over the years and buy imported rice in addition to the rice that they grow. The farmers harvest about 1500 to 3000 kg of rice per hectare. There is not enough good land for farming remaining on the east coast of Madagascar.

The farmers concur with the market rice sellers that red rice tastes better and it has more vitamins than white rice. They also state that the white rice grown by tanimbary in Madagascar has the same taste as imported rice. They do not have many options when choosing which rice variety to plant each year, but use what they have on hand or what they can buy at a good price at the market.

The farmers suggested several solutions to the current agricultural problems in eastern Madagascar, but only the two most commonly suggested solutions are addressed here. First, rivers in valleys could be dammed and channels constructed so that more of the valleys could be used for tanimbary. They think that this form of agriculture is laborious, but if they could grow more rice and become self sufficient, they would do it. They believe that it would be good to own their own farmland, but do not see this as necessary to enable the ability to feed themselves. Second, the farmers believe that since they would have land to grow their food, the rest of the landscape should be al­lowed to regrow into forest or be replanted because degradation of forests has impacted the environment in general. Farmers recognise that one of the effects of deforestation is that the climate is drier and there is now less rain.

During a fieldwork in Andasibe (May through July 2004) farmers reported that they continue to pursue tavy for three main reasons. First, there is no other work in the region that they can do to make enough money to support their families. Second, there is no one who will teach them a better method of agriculture. All but one of the 187 farmers interviewed stated that they wanted to learn new methods of agriculture. Third, according to several farmers, rice will only grow on soil that is 'hot'. Since the Andasibe climate is cool, one must heat the soil for the seed to germinate and the plants to be strong enough to produce grain. The two methods used to make the soil 'hot' are burning and fertiliser. Since the farmers cannot afford fertiliser, their only option is to burn so that their crops will grow.

In addition to their difficulty with earning money and trying to learn new methods of agriculture, the current inflation in Madagascar is affecting their ability to continue living in their current way. The price of rice rose from 450 MGA to more than 700 MGA in a matter of months. The price to take a taxi­brousse (local bus) to Moromanga has risen from 1000 MGA to 1400 MGA. Moromanga is the nearest location from Andasibe to buy medications and for children to complete exams to continue their education in the public school system. In addition, the price of petrol has risen from 4500 to 8500 FMg per litre. Petrol is used on a limited basis for cooking, but also as a form of cheap light in houses that do not have electricity. Life is quickly becoming more dif­ficult for the rural farmers of Andasibe. To illustrate this point, when asked how the current inflation was affecting him, one elderly farmer responded, 'It is alright to be poor. It is alright not to have money to buy televisions and ra­dios. Now we do not have enough money to buy food. It is not alright to go hungry. I fear that the poor will revolt against the rich because they are hun­gry.'


   Discussion Top


As presented above, the stakeholders in the development of agriculture have different, but complementary views of potential solutions. The MAE suggests that the best solution to the current agriculture problems in eastern Madagas­car is to find international funding and teach farmers how to do terraced tanimbary. FOFIFA has developed several varieties of rice for the conditions in eastern Madagascar that result in increased crop yields. In FOFIFA's view, farming cooperatives and land tenure will help ensure agricultural develop­ment. EASTA has developed high yield crops and trained technicians in high yield methods, while not economically viable at this time, may lead to other methods that also have high crop yields. MEF suggests that by building dams, tanimbary fields may be irrigated. The market rice sellers believe that by de­veloping vary mena, customers will accept the new variety as healthy. Finally, the rural farmers suggest that dams should be built and forests replanted. The farmers appear willing to accept change as long as they benefit.

The culture of tavy and its relationship to behaviour are largely ignored by some stakeholders. Only one of the governmental organisations (ANGAP) recognised that tavy was more than an agricultural method and that it should be understood before any agricultural change is planned. Tavy is not only a method for growing rice, but is ritualised and contains meanings that relate to god, ancestors and other spirits that inhabit the landscape. For example, when choosing a site to do tavy, preparing the site, burning the site and planting - prayers and offerings to ancestors, spirits and/or god is made, something that is not done when doing tanimbary. To illustrate this point, the rite of first har­vest shows the connection between cultural beliefs and agricultural practice. During harvest, the rite of Lango (first rice rite as reported by farmers near Brickaville) is intertwined with symbolism and religious references:

  1. Six heads of the rice are harvested by the farmer and placed in a bag.
  2. The rice is dried over a fire, which is in an iron box sunk into the ground.
  3. The rice is removed from the husk by placing it in a bag and beating it with a stick.
  4. The rice is then cooked in a pot over a fire and placed on a ravanala (trav­elers palm - Ravinala madagascariensis) leaf with honey, betsabetsa (fer­mented sugar cane juice) and rum.
  5. The farmer then pray over the rice, led by the tangalamena (holder of the customs), to remove the tsiny (malicious spiritual powers) so that the farmer may harvest the rice and bring it to their home, thereby bringing the health of the field into their home.
  6. The farmer and tangalamena may eat fish with the rice during this rite, but no other meat.
When asked, the farmers stated that a part of them would be lost-their iden­tity-if they no longer practised tavy and its associated rituals. The transition from tavy to tanimbary will result in the loss of meanings ascribed to farming. All the farmers who were interviewed practised both tavy and tanimbary. None practised the rituals associated with tavy when doing tanimbary. Most of the institutions and agencies assumed that change would be welcomed if it promised and actually provided net benefits, regardless of the implications to cultural beliefs that these changes will bring.

None of the farmers could explain what they would do if they were forced to halt tavy. Without a viable alternative, rural farmers will have no choice but to continue practising tavy and continue the degradation of Madagascar's natural resources. The farmers admit that they are rapidly coming to a junc­ture in which they will have to change farming techniques or no longer be able to support themselves. Already, the farmers must supplement the rice they grow with purchased imported rice, as the fields no longer produce enough rice to support the farmers. They see the degradation of the land, the loss of the younger generation to the cities and the need for a better way of farming; however, they have neither the resources nor the faith in the new systems of agriculture to change. They understand that there will be a loss of integrity of the environment if something is not done, but feel powerless to make that change. Therefore, it is not the lack of understanding of the prob­lem that is keeping the detrimental agricultural practice in place, but a lack of resources for the shift and an identity crisis.

Along with the loss of cultural rituals and a sense of identity, preferences for specific types of rice will be problematic for farmers, rice sellers and con­sumers causing economic stress on an already stressed economy. FOFIFA as­sumes that the farmers will welcome agricultural techniques that increased crop yields, regardless of how these new techniques effect the farmer's be­liefs. In addition, FOFIFA assumes that price and availability are the most important factors when purchasing rice, ignoring the strong preference for red rice as stated by the rice merchants. The rice varieties engineered to produce higher yields per hectare must be appealing to the consumer. It is not enough to produce the rice if the people are unwilling to consume it when there are other alternatives. One cannot simply replace a ritual that has significant meaning to individuals solely through technology. The advancement must not only be economically feasible, but it must be perceived as a positive addition to their life, both economically and culturally. By incorporating a study of cultural change into the larger study of finding an ecologically and economi­cally viable solution to the issue of tavy and conservation will enhance the probability of the success of the planned change.

Of the farmers interviewed, none acknowledge that they discussed rice farming techniques with other farmers. For example, on the outskirts of An­dasibe, a farmer was asked if he spoke to other farmers about how to do tanimbary. He was asked this question because the appearance of his field, the fact that he was attempting to do tanimbary in the river and his acknowl­edgement that he was having difficulty suggested that he had received no in­struction. In another example, a Betsileo immigrant to the Andasibe region was successfully growing rice by tanimbary and had an extensive vegetable garden. When asked if other farmers came to him for advice, he said that none of the local farmers had spoken to him. He was asked if he would be willing to teach others, the farmer replied that he did not have time, but if someone were to compensate him, he would be willing to teach them his techniques. In another interview with four farmers, all around twenty-five years old, they each reported to know different tavy rituals. When asked why they each had disparate knowledge, they responded that they had learned what they know from their parents and did not discuss these differences among themselves. There is a lack of communication among farmers, which results in them often failing when they attempt tanimbary. The farmers then must return to tavy, the method with which they are familiar and know how to be successful, at least in the short term. Without communication, either among farmers or from an­other organisation (governmental or non-governmental), farmers will not be able to shift from tavy to tanimbary on their own.


   Conclusion Top


There are three lessons to be learned from the current agricultural crisis in Madagascar. First, resistance to cultural change may occur if the non­indigenous knowledge introduced does not mitigate the loss of meanings as­cribed to tavy by the local population. Tavy is prohibited in certain areas; however, it continues with little abatement with the current regulation. To avoid paying fines, farmers simply attribute the burns to other phenomena or nothing at all, without acknowledging ownership. Second, in addition to out­right resistance, none of the farmers interviewed could explain what they would do if they were forced to halt tavy. Without a viable alternative, rural farmers will have no choice than to continue practising tavy and continue the degradation of Madagascar's natural resources. The farmers have expressed that they are cognisant of the fact that they are rapidly coming to a juncture in which they will have to change farming techniques or no longer be able to support themselves. They feel a loss of identity as a farmer with the loss of tavy. The farmers understand that there will be a loss of integrity of the envi­ronment if something is not done, but feel powerless to make that change. Therefore, it is not the lack of understanding of the problem that is keeping the detrimental agricultural practice in place, but a lack of resources for the shift and an identity crisis. This is a classic example of a development project that ignores culture and attempts to fix a problem with money and through technology. One cannot simply replace a practice that has significant meaning to individuals solely through technology. The advancement must not only be economically feasible, but it must be perceived as a positive addition to their life, both economically and culturally. By incorporating a study of cultural change into the larger study of finding an ecologically and economically vi­able solution to the issue of tavy and conservation will enhance the probability of the success of the planned change.

Acknowledgements

This research was partially funded by a Doctoral Dissertation Research Im­provement Grant, National Science Foundation (BCS-0349981, James Boster PI). The author wishes to acknowledge Jeffrey Kaufmann, Richard Sosis, Samuel Martinez, and Sarah Hume, all of whom offered editorial and content comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Two anonymous reviewers for this journal provided useful critiques and insights, for which they are appreciated. Any errors remain the author's responsibility.[32]

 
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