The town of Vondrozo borders the Vondrozo Forest Corridor, a 70 km long by 10 km wide belt of primary rainforest that connects the Forest Reserve of Vondrozo to the North with the Special Reserve of Ivohibe Peak to the South. In just this one small pocket of rainforest, there exist 65 distinct families of plants, seven different species of lemur, 60 species of bird, and 32 distinct species of amphibians. As with all living things in Madagascar, most of these are endemic to the island.
The eastern side of the mountains which run north-south along the entire island are dominated by humid rainforests such as those found here at Vondrozo. Since the arrival of humans to the Madagascar some 2,000 years ago, much of the island has been deforested, and this north-south belt of vegetation is no longer contiguous. WWF prioritizes protecting those regions, such as Vondrozo, which maintain intact primary—or never before logged—tropical ecosystems and create corridors between existing reserves. Such corridors allow species to move between protected regions, a luxury becoming increasingly important as rising global temperatures force plants and animals to move in response to changes in climate at their current latitudes.
The southeastern Malagasy derive most of their livelihood from agriculture and animal husbandry, and thus, WWF recognizes the need to strike a balance between environmental conservation and sustainable development. The official title of the WWF project with which we are working is “Ecoregion Conservation and Community Forestry Development in the Malagasy Humid Forest.” In addition to protecting forests, we are here to communicate the value of this region’s biodiversity to the local population, as well as help with projects which simultaneously support rainforest conservation and provide economic benefits to the surrounding community. For all those reading this blog who were not Earth Systems majors at Stanford, these human benefits of an intact ecosystem—such as crop pollination, water purification, and flood protection—are dubbed “ecosystem services.”
Within the Vondrozo forest corridor, WWF is working with a number of local communities termed COBAs (for Communauté de Base), which are essentially villages that the government has granted independent control of certain forest fragments and assigned the tasks of reforestation and sustainable development. With the aid of Malagasy WWF forest agents, Peace Corps Volunteers like Brian, and shorter term volunteers like us, these COBAs are instituting a number of conservation and restoration projects in the hopes of creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that will support the long-term well-being of their village and the heritage of their children.
Some of these COBAs do not take their responsibility seriously, and their protected regions are little more than “paper parks”—marked as preserves on a map, but with no funding or personnel to manage their resources in actuality. However, of the 28 COBAs within the Vondrozo Forest Corridor, those supported by WWF have been, by far, the most successful. Sitting in on a COBA meeting today was like reading an advertisement pamphlet for Community-Based Forest Management. I was shocked to hear the Malagasy president explain that his village plants trees to protect the next generation’s patrimony and keep the watershed intact so as to maintain clean air and water. He even told us that the projects WWF has helped to put in place are providing the region a buffer against the effects of climate change. In the past nine years, this one COBA has planted over 14,000 new trees.