The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Socio-Cultural Considerations for Conservation Policy and Livelihood Development Strategies in Madagascar

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 9:45 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Kristen Wagner, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri-Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose. Madagascar is a global hotspot for biodiversity conservation with ever-increasing challenges associated with environmental change. Protecting natural resources is a high priority for conservationists but presents major challenges for poor local communities whose livelihoods depend on them. Despite the development and implementation of public policy, forest resources continue to decline. Often, the role of local people and their socio-cultural context remains left out of policy considerations. Research suggests the degree of community participation in development of conservation and livelihood strategies best predicts outcomes. This study seeks to examine the degree of local participation in two rural Malagasy communities with contrasting outcomes and identify socio-cultural factors that either facilitate or impede progress toward conservation and development goals.

Methods. In two regions of Madagascar, participatory research strategies including social mapping, institutional diagrams, and visioning matrices were used to assess participation and perceptions of conservation and development goals and priorities (n = 300). Semi-structured interviews (n = 28) were conducted with village leaders and conservation managers to assess perception of community participation and gather socio-cultural history. Local management plans provided information about local and national rules regarding natural resource and development plans.

Results. Community-based natural resource management intervention model was used in both study sites, yet conservation (natural resource use) and development outcomes (food production and income generation) are mixed. One community, established over 80 years ago, includes primarily members of the same tribe with very little migration in or out of the community. The other, established 50 years ago experienced 40% population increase over the past 10 years, many of whom do not share tribal membership.

The shared ancestry community reached 25% more of their conservation and development goals over the past five years compared to the transient community. Factors associated with success include higher community participation in planning and monitoring processes and greater inclusion of customary law in management plans. Uncertainty regarding rules, inconsistency in their application, and divergent priorities were prominent themes in the transient community. In addition, villagers noted that not all community members’ customary laws were represented. Therefore, some believe the laws do not apply to them while others admitted rebellion against the exclusive nature of existing policy. 

Conclusions and Implications. Results suggest a number of ways conservationists, social scientists, and local people may collaborate to build more democratic institutions that can reduce economic, political, and cultural obstacles to conservation and development. First, there is a need to more clearly define participation and empowerment and identify ways to ensure fair participation of men, women, elders, and youth in policy development and implementation processes. A broader understanding of Malagasy cultural dynamics including ritual life, conceptions of land, political modalities, and communicative styles is needed so that conservation and development plans are more inclusive. Facilitation of local participation will result in community members’ strengthened political capabilities and the development of more flexible and sustainable responses to opportunities and crises associated with environmental change.