In Madagascar’s northwest Boeny region, people are investing in landscape restoration work even when they don’t have land titles or formal ownership certificates for the land being restored. Here, restoration work is occurring on individualized parcels of land that are integrated into collective tenure systems, one of the many ways that land tenure – and, as a result, restoration work – manifests in this island nation off the southeast African coast.
This case study comes from field work conducted in October 2018 in the communities of Mariarano and Ankijabe, located about 100 kilometers apart in Boeny and highlighted in a new research paper looking at links between tenure and restoration, with the ultimate aim of promoting widespread use of forest and landscape restoration (FLR) practices.
“The key message is: in rural Madagascar, the situation is very complex. There are many ways restoration is expressing itself,” says the study’s lead researcher Patrick Ranjatson of ESSA-Forêts, the forestry and environment school at the University of Antananarivo. The paper will be presented in Washington D.C. at the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, 25-29 March.
“It’s critical to listen to local people and try to consider more what they are experiencing in their everyday lives,” including the diversity of local tenure systems and how these might affect FLR investments, says Ranjatson, who urges FLR planners and practitioners to pay close attention to how and why different approaches are being applied.
That means restoration practitioners should leave behind their assumptions about tenure, because such assumptions might be incorrect, adds fellow researcher Rebecca McLain, a senior associate with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
“Research indicates that if people are going to plant and protect trees, they generally need to know that they have secure access to that land over a long period of time. Because otherwise, especially with trees, they’re not very likely to do that,” she explains. “It’s assumed that rural people in Madagascar have very insecure tenure, and the reason people assume that is because almost nobody has legal papers that show that they have ownership of the land. The assumption is that they are, therefore, insecure, and therefore are less likely to invest in planting or protecting trees,” adds McLain.
“But what our work shows is the fact that that’s not true in all places.”
Madagascar aims to restore 4 million hectares of degraded forests by 2030 under the Bonn Challenge, and to achieve this ambitious goal, a team of Malagasy forestry experts has worked with consultants to identify priority areas for restoration and provide the information needed to develop a national FLR strategy. The country’s National Restoration Strategy lists five priority restoration options, four of which are applicable in Boeny: restoration of degraded lands, degraded natural forests, agroforestry landscapes and degraded mangrove forests.
Forests in Boeny are heavily fragmented, and small-scale agriculture provides livelihoods for most rural residents, with rice being the dominant crop alongside maize, cassava and peanuts. Forests are important to the local population, for both their subsistence and as a source of such products as charcoal, raffia leaves and honey that can be sold in markets.
To support the Malagasy government’s work on increasing tenure security, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is providing financial and technical assistance to the Promotion of a Responsible Land Tenure Policy Project (ProPFR) in northwestern Madagascar for implementation of tenure reforms. ProPFR, which also receives technical support from German development agency GIZ in Madagascar, is a four-year project that aims to improve the institutional framework and processes for ensuring land rights, implement FLR pilot activities on secured land and strengthen civil society with regard to responsible land policy.
Research for this paper focused on areas that were pilot sites for ProPFR’s initial implementation phase. The paper notes that while in some situations people don’t feel they need official documentation to prove their land tenure, there remains some demand for land certification, particularly among migrants, women and people experiencing land conflict. If such certification was redesigned, it could better fit the population’s diverse needs. For example, land certificates could be retooled to suit such a tenure system as individualized, collective ownership. Or, the land certificate process could be restructured so that it builds on existing informal systems for documenting land ownership, rather than replacing those systems.
While there are many such blends or hybrids of tenure in Madagascar, the study identifies two models as especially significant: an endogenous model “strongly” rooted in a local customary system; and an exogenous model heavily influenced by external actors and in which customary systems have limited legitimacy.
The study found that the exogenous model prevailed in an area characterized by the presence of migrants from different ethnic origins, and where demand for land was strong and the risk of land conflict was high. The endogenous model prevailed in an area where fewer migrants are present, where land remains abundant and customary practices are still followed by the local population.
Both models blend customary practices with state law, and within one geographic area, multiple blends of customary practices and state law may co-exist. Consequently, multiple approaches to strengthening tenure security may be required, even within one region. This is significant because the differences between the blends “have practical consequences for the FLR investment choices that landholders and users are likely to make,” says the paper.
In other words, there is no paper trail yet to follow in order to achieve the success of FLR in Madagascar, though more studies documenting the range of tenure systems existing in areas prioritized for FLR can help create one. In the meantime, restoration begins with diving into daily life in the island nation and understanding the many forms of tenure therein.