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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
I review your site with interest. I am pro conservation. I also firmly believe that the "people" people are on the same "side" as the ecology people. I wonder how your work aims to include the needs of a healthly environment for the people you speak for, as indeed, any conservation project should include the needs and rights of the local population. What will you argue for when the next generation also needs the park boundaries adjusted to make more space for agriculture, and, do you continue until no park is left?
I look forward to a reply,
Yours in human and other rights
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).