In 1998, WWF began working in the Madagascar Spiny Forest Ecoregion on the long-term maintenance of biodiversity representation, ecological processes, and viable species populations. One of the strategies for the ecoregion is to promote family planning and primary health care services to help stabilize population growth, improve local people’s ability to take part in development initiatives and reduce pressure on key natural resources. To this end, WWF coordinates biodiversity conservation and livelihood improvement actions with health and family planning activities that are implemented by Action Santé Organization Secours (ASOS) NGO in targeted villages around the conservation areas. At the beginning, this work was done within the wider framework of the Voahary Salama Association, an integrated population-health-environment consortium in which over 20 health and environmental NGOs collaborate. Now, the Project collaborates with an even broader network of local development actors in order to simultaneously affect change in these multiple sectors of health, population, livelihood, and environment.
The spiny forests of Southern Madagascar cover 2,080,000 ha, and are among the richest ecosystems on Earth. At the same time, the province of Toliara, which encompasses most of the Spiny Forest Ecoregion, has the highest annual population growth rate in Madagascar at 3.6% in 1999, as well as the greatest poverty. Biodiversity is being lost in the Spiny Forest at an alarming rate due to rapid population growth from high natural birth rates and in-migration; lack of education; and lack of sustainable development alternatives, all leading to unwise production methods (e.g. slash and burn agriculture) and unsustainable use of forest products (for building material, charcoal, medicinal plants).
WWF and ASOS completed a baseline survey and Participatory Rural Appraisal in target villages, that helped the villages develop work plans relating to population and health priorities. The survey helped to identify field agents (individuals and institutions) that would participate in networks for communication, exchange of information, and access to commodities and services. The Project links these local networks to other health and population projects operating in the region to ensure a sustainable flow of supplies and contraceptives to the target communities. These population and health interventions are integrated into community environmental activities that support sustainable resource use while improving household livelihoods. Project activities focus on mobilizing the various Project field agents who actually implement the health, livelihood and environment activities with target populations.
Project activities fall under three main categories:
1) Collaboration and partnerships to strengthen commodity chains, link to information resources, coordinate activities and promote synergies between actors – in particular those synergies that improve health, family planning and local and household economic development.
2) By mobilizing field agents and partners – raise awareness of, strengthen links and access to, and improve the quality of: family health and family planning information, reproductive health care and commodities. Communication activities integrate themes of environmental conservation into the health and population messages.
3) Increased community management of natural resources which includes: tree planting and wild-fire control, designation and management of protected areas, reviving awareness of “dina” or traditional regulations that ensure sustainable natural resource management, and promoting fuel–saving technologies in homes.
4) Promoting capacity building of local authorities to better collaborate with and coordinate efforts of community development partners.
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