I have just read your publication 'Shadows over the Masoala National Park in Madagascar, Why the park jeopardizes local people’s basis for life'.
While I of course find it to be a very difficult situation for the local people of the Masoala area, and I can understand their anger at not being allowed to farm the land the live on, I am afraid I am in disagreement of your blaming the National Park for this.
Firstly I have seen myself the impact of 'small scale' Slash and Burn farming in other rainforests such as the Amazon. It is by no means sustainable or low impact. If you look at the history of Madagascar and see the previous extent of the rainforest, and look at the remaining reserves you will see that there is only a fraction left. This is a direct result of human activity, including slash and burn farming. Madagascar is an island of immense natural diversity and part of the beauty and wonder of the world. It is hard, I understand to put this before human lives, but you must also understand that allowing access to the National Park will not solve the population's problems. It will only temporarily allow them to cut more forest for farming and to continue to in their current lifestyle. The population will grow and more farms will be cut, eventually there will be no more land and they will be in the same position, except Madagascar will have lost all it's potential for sustainable development, and it will have incurred a tragic loss of it's incredible diversity.
Your argument is similar to arguing that fishermen be allowed to maintain unsustainable fishing catches, because otherwise they will lose their jobs and way of life in the name of saving some fish. Unfortunately the bigger picture is that once the fish are gone there will be nothing left to fish and all the fishermen's children will be looking for a different job and no one will have any fish. It is the predicament of a planet with too many people and rapidly diminishing natural resources.
It is also hard to hear this from a 'western' voice, one that does not have to struggle for his next meal or to feed his kids. Of course I think that people's rights need to be respected, but this National Park is a tiny fraction of an immense island, and if some people lose out as a result then that is an inevitable, if unfortunate, consequence.
As this world hopes to make the transition to a sustainable one, many people will be unfair victims of the change, and unfortunately most of those will be the poor. But in the long term view, I hope that one day these people will find a sustainable way of life, with a stable population, and a healthy natural environment that they can be proud of.
As an economist surely you must agree that a population cannot increase in size indefinitely and hope to maintain the same use of resources? Regardless of the cultural 'reasons', the underlying reason than humans have a high number of children if because of high infant mortality. While work is done to improve medical care, reduce poverty and infant mortality, the culture must necessarily change also.
I hope to visit the park next year, and I will take the time to meet and speak to the local people and hear their side of the story.
Yours sincerely,Duncan Sharp
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