Our apologies for this late reply. The association Human Rights in Masoala is neither pro nor contra conservation as such. Our aim is to draw attention to social injustices enacted against local farmers in Masoala in the name of environmental protection (which in public rhetoric is, of course, always coupled with 'helping the poor'). We believe that whatever aim one follows, there is no justification for taking away people's land on which they depend and which, moreover, is theirs.
Furthermore, the assertion that 'if they continue this way, no forest will be left in x-years' is highly speculative and does not rest on sound scientific grounds. Scientists have discussed for years - with regard to Madagascar and elsewhere - what exactly the impacts of slash-and-burn are and the findings are far from clear or unanimously supporting the above assertion. The various hypothesized scenarios are contested and open to discussion.
Furthermore, even if it was true that local people are destroying their habitat, are you going to tell them to go hungry now and to close all doors for their children and grandchildren because in 200 years they will have a serious problem? Who, say in Western Europe, is willing to give up a good job at, say, an airline or a bank because the company in question is not environmentally sound?
You may say: We must give them alternatives! Well, yes, but are there any? Despite billions of dollars pumped into Madagascar over the past couple of decades, nobody has actually found a valuable and sustainable alternative for local farmers that deserves that name (ecotourism for example is definitely not an alternative!).
We believe that we must start from people's right to self-determination and from human dignity.
Looking forward to more discussion on this topic!
Esther Leeman and Eva Keller (executive committee of Human Rights in Masoala).
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