News from the field: the Betsimisaraka expertise

As a continuation of the work undertaken in Kenya, our team carries on with the protocol testing in Madagascar to further improve the methodologies for future global data collection.

In April, LICCI core team members Xiaoyue Li and Vincent Porcher took a field trip to Madagascar to work with the Betsimisaraka people of Vavatenia. Residing in the hinterland of the east coast in northern Madagascar, the Bestsimisaraka have a long history of extensive interaction with agroforestry systems, they are known for various rice-growing practices such as shallow paddies field and rainfed rice after slash-and-burn. The humid tropical region where the Betsimisaraka live is well-known for its rich biodiversity but is also a regular subject to cyclonic episodes with high rainfall records.

With the immeasurable support from Dr. Stéphanie Carrière (The French Research Institute for Development, IRD) and Dr. Vanesse Labeyrie (The French Agricultural Research Center for International Development, CIRAD, and also a core team member of LICCI), Vincent and Xiao were able to build a growing collaborative relationship with local research institutions and obtain authorizations from the mayor and the Fokotany chief (local authority) to carry out the work in Vavatenia. We would also like to extend our gratitude to Mihantra, who is a Betsimisaraka community member currently doing her Ph.D. at University of Tamatave, greatly helped facilitating the fieldwork.

The Betsimisaraka generously shared with us a long list of changes they observed over the past decade, ranging from more frequent droughts to dried and cracked soils, which the latter is an unprecedented phenomenon considering this is a humid region. We learned that these recent climatic disturbances had caused numerous negative consequences on their economic activities. In particular, the clove and the rice productions are heavily impacted by the irregularity of rainfalls, of which, the former is considered as the local economic backbone, while the latter serves as the primary staple food of Malagasy people. All of these valuable information shared by Betsimisaraka people is also embedded deeply in their daily concerns about the household income and food security. These new issues faced by the Betsimisaraka are inevitably intertwined with the country’s complicated political situations and are accentuated by climate change and deforestation, which the latter is a major concern on the island. Moreover, this learning experience with Betsimisaraka people allows us to realize and emphasize on the complexity of the inter-relational chains between local and global climatic phenomena. It is also important to note that some local indicators of climate change impacts (LICCIs) could quite be the result of the concomitant effect between climate change and local drivers, as it is the case in the East of Madagascar with the deforestation of the rainforest.

The LICCI team stays enthusiastic about continuing this collaboration in close relationship with the Betsimisaraka people and extending our research spectrum to other Malagasy cultural groups in the near future. We are deeply grateful for the Betsimisaraka’s warm welcome, and extremely delighted about the chance of visiting the incredible agroforest and spending time with the Betsimisaraka to learn their experience and knowledge.

Misaotra betsaka !