Last Tuesday, 5 September, Kew hosted a roundtable meeting chaired by Professor Kathy Willis, Kew’s Director of Science, with His Excellency the President of Madagascar, the UK Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Thérèse Coffey MP, and delegates from amongst the International Climate Fund, DEFRA, Durrell, Fauna & Flora International, TRAFFIC, and the UK Universities of Kingston and Bangor to discuss wildlife conservation in Madagascar with Kew scientists and members of Kew’s Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC).
The meeting held in Kew’s historic Cambridge Cottage started with the President of Madagascar setting out his vision for Madagascar’s unique environment, biodiversity and the challenges presented by climate change. He highlighted the incredible diversity of wildlife in Madagascar which holds 5% of the world’s biodiversity, with 90% of those species only found on the island. His vision, he said, was very clear: to protect, conserve and sustainably value the natural resources of Madagascar’s ecosystems.
To do this, the President warned, is not without its challenges, including climate change and the increased frequency of extreme weather events on the island in recent years. However, he insisted that by far the greatest challenge is poverty. He went on to say that it is essential to include his people in any strategy to protect the environment because although people can endanger natural resources in an effort to survive, they are ultimately the guardians of these resources and will gain more sustainable benefits from their protection.
In terms of specific strategies, the President highlighted the need to promote scientific research, increase Protected Area cover, invest more in the ‘Blue Economy’ with marine protection, increase climate change mitigation, increase efforts to prevent illegal trafficking and reinforce collaboration with Madagascar’s technical and financial partners.
President Rajaonarimampianina finally thanked all the participants for the work they have already done to realise this vision and expressed his interest to hear more about the research and daily activities that would further the collaboration between environmental stakeholders and his government.
The first question raised in the meeting was why we should conserve biodiversity in Madagascar when there are many competing demands for the land, including land for agriculture, animal husbandry, urbanisation and infrastructure. The responses from delegates presented a number of reasons. For example, Kew scientist Dr. Paul Wilkin said that conservation and research of wild yams may identify a new food crop for Madagascar. Other delegates said that preservation of Madagascar's environment will provide water regulation, medicines, fuel and income. Further, focusing on certain ecosystems such as heavily-degraded mangrove forests may lead to enhanced resilience to extreme events and increased carbon reduction in the atmosphere, which led to the second question of the meeting.
When carbon sequestration is discussed, people tend to think only of forest ecosystems, and although these ecosystems do play an integral role in carbon drawdown, particularly secondary growth forests, participants also presented evidence that the ‘blue-forests’ of mangroves and seagrasses are very effective for removing carbon from the atmosphere. Additionally, Kew scientist Dr. Maria Vorontsova presented a convincing case for looking in more detail at the potential for carbon sequestration by grassland ecosystems, quoting a recent study which found that the High Plateau grasslands in Madagascar contain more organic carbon than forests.
The third and final question of the meeting promoted the discussion of the most effective strategies for biodiversity conservation, forest restoration and enhancing natural capital. Recommendations emerging from the discussion included longer-term engagement with funding mechanisms lasting more than 3 years, the further development of sustainable practices in trade, and increased investment in ex-situ conservation (in which Kew and Madagascar’s scientists are playing an important role with seed banking efforts).
However, the main outcome of this discussion reflected a central tenet that ran through the entire meeting’s discussion: people must be at the centre of the solution to the issues faced by Madagascar’s environment. Linked to this was the importance of inclusivity of input from all partners and stakeholders, including those present at the meeting and across the field. A particularly poignant moment of the meeting was the President’s response to this discussion where he quoted an African Proverb: “What you do for me, but without me, is against me.” This was met with a murmur of approval from all, which really summed up the passion of the collaborators present and the deep understanding that although Madagascar’s wildlife is, as the President earlier stated, “a legacy to be left for the children of the world”, it is ultimately their resource to be managed by listening to the needs of the people who draw life from it.
The meeting was drawn to a close with responses from the President, Under Secretary Thérèse Coffey, and the British ambassador to Madagascar, His Excellency Timothy Smart. A consensus was reached that a lot has been done to preserve Madagascar’s incredible biodiversity but a lot more remains to be done. The meeting ended with a commitment from the UK Government Minister to continue support for these endeavours, and a commitment from the President on his own behalf and that of his government to continue this work and make the environment a priority.
Kew is very active in its science and conservation efforts in Madagascar. This meeting demonstrated the convening power of Kew to bring in key stakeholders and NGOs that work in Madagascar to debate and discuss ideas about how we can support the President’s environmental vision. This is a model that we wish to build further through our External Affairs team; we plan to run similar meetings and build more relationships to enable Kew’s knowledge and expertise to benefit global environmental public policy. If you want to find out more about our programme of activities please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicola Kuhn - N.Kuhn@kew.org
Kathy Willis - K.Willis@kew.org