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Wednesday, 26 Aug. 2015
A use for raffia. High quality raffia, such as that produced in north-east Madagascar, is also frequently used in the fashion industry. Image from: Wikimedia Commons, by gripso_banana_prune (Antony Stanley). Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raffia_animals_created_by_artisans_in_Madagascar.jpg
This blog was originally posted on Geography Directions, the associated site for RGS-IBG Journals and Geography Compass, Wiley-Blackwell’s review journal covering the entire discipline.
“Support for women's associations in Madagascar to enhance raffia production is also helping the conservation of biodiversity in the Makira Natural Park.” (
AllAfrica, Aug 18th 2015
Local climatic changes, such as an increase in the frequency and/or severity of droughts, can have a significant impact on communities and businesses that rely on natural resource extraction. Building
is therefore vital to secure a sustainable income from these products. In parallel, these products must be sold for a fair price by means of establishing a solid value chain between the producers at one end and retailers at the other. Such businesses can also contribute tremendously to the economic empowerment of women in these communities, and safeguarding these
provisioning ecosystem services
can operate neatly alongside biodiversity conservation and the protection of other ecosystem services (e.g. flood prevention, carbon storage). The benefits therefore seem plentiful and ensuring the environmental and socio-economic sustainability of such schemes under future climate change should be a priority.
production around Makira Natural Park (NP), north-east Madagascar, provides a fine case study for demonstrating this interplay between climate resilience, economic empowerment, and biodiversity conservation, as
reported earlier this week by AllAfrica
. This area has an environment that allows for the production of high quality raffia products, which may be used in the fashion industry, for example, but has been affected by frequent droughts in recent years1. A current project by the
International Trade Centre (ITC)
see their news article on the project
) in collaboration with
World Conservation Society (WCS) Madagascar
is training several women’s associations (totalling 180 people) around Makira NP in raffia extraction, from the harvesting to the processing stage. For long-term sustainability, importantly, this includes training on planting techniques for new raffia trees in an effort to increase climate resilience and decrease losses. Training on contract negation is planned for next year. This is part of a broader ITC programme across Madagascar, which is supported by the government of Madagascar.
While still underway, this scheme seems to be going very well and it is hopefully progressing towards a situation where tangible, sustainable economies can operate for the people and empower women, whilst also contributing positively to the natural environment and the protection of many important species. This project is about adaptation by building climate resilience in situ to mitigate potential effects (e.g. increased frequency of droughts). However, this is not the only approach to climate adaptation, and more extreme approaches may be required when the environmental changes become severe.
A recent article by
in Area considers various approaches to climate adaptation, including strengthening resilience in situ, but also the idea of environmentally induced displacement (EID). This is where people are either completely relocated where there is a purported risk to their lives or to make space for climate adaptation infrastructure, or where people are prevented from accessing certain areas, which they may rely on for various resources, for connectivity, or cultural activities, in the hope that protecting such areas will produce a more resilient environment (these restricted areas may also be used for climate adaptation measures such as flood defence). The case study of Bangladesh, one of the countries presently most at risk from flooding and sea-level rise, is discussed by Bose, who considers the potential for the displacement of people not because of environmental transformations but because of climate adaptation schemes themselves, leading towards “the production of a new form of environmental refugee” (p. 6).
Here, we have therefore seen two very different approaches to potential climate change; building resilience in situ versus moving people from at-risk areas or areas that are required for adaptation infrastructure. Circumstances and the (potential) severity of the environmental changes will no doubt guide any such decisions, all of which will probably be highly idiosyncratic to the place in question. As a global community, we are already seeing the overwhelming need for climate adaptation solutions, from flood defences in London, UK, to managing increased drought frequency in north-west Madagascar, to the potential of moving people en masse when the environmental changes become too much to cope with. It strikes me that any solutions that can bring nature and people into accord will be the most sustainable and potentially highly beneficial culturally, economically, environmentally, and socially, to the people who live there.
AllAfrica (2015) Madagascar: Empowering Malagasy Women Through Climate-Smart Raffia Production (online). Available at:
Bose, P. (2015). Vulnerabilities and displacements: adaptation and mitigation to climate change as a new development mantra. Area. Early View Online. Available at:
(last accessed: 19th August 2015).
ITC (2015). Empowering Malagasy women through climate-smart raffia production (online). Available at:
1 Obviously it is impossible to know whether what is being seen in north-east Madagascar is the result of short-term fluctuations or whether more frequent droughts are going to be an ongoing issue. It seems sensible to plan for the worst, though.