Enabling Change: Improving wellbeing for nature-dependent communities in Madagascar, supported by Jersey Overseas Aid

Saving species from extinction in their natural habitat almost always means securing the futures of people whose lives depend on those habitats. At Durrell, we focus on creating diverse and resilient natural landscapes that provide a sustainable future for people and wildlife. Our historical approach is to recover the world's most threatened species, but these species need a place to exist and thrive. Unfortunately, the world's ecosystems are being increasingly placed under intense pressure. Growing populations and global interests are rapidly using up our natural resources faster than they can be replenished. This loss is felt most by local and indigenous peoples who rely on natural resources for their daily survival. This primarily affects communities living in rural areas with limited access to education, healthcare, nutritional food, financial security, and freedom from exploitation. 

In Madagascar, our approach to conservation livelihoods recognises a fundamental link between rural communities and conserving the ecosystems around them. Nature-dependent communities rely on their surrounding environments to provide them with essential benefits that underpin their wellbeing. This includes food, fuel and building materials, as well as flood regulation, soil formation and nutrient cycling. However, external pressures and a lack of access to more sustainable approaches and resources mean that these communities are over-exploiting their natural resources. Therefore, communities are trapped in a vicious cycle of needing to expand their use of an ever-diminishing resource until ecosystems become highly degraded and unproductive. As the natural resource base collapses, its essential components – the species that make up the structure and function of the ecosystem – disappear. In partnership with Jersey Overseas Aid (JOA), the Enabling Change project aims to help communities break this cycle.    

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The project aims to enhance the wellbeing of over 2,000 nature-dependent households in 20 communities through improved food security, reproductive health, local governance, and better access to community finance schemes. 

Nature-friendly food production improves food security, nutrition, and household income and reduces harmful environmental impacts. Improving local governance through increased transparency encourages more community participation in development initiatives. Sustainable financial mechanisms enable economic independence for the poorest communities, and reproductive health support allows households to make choices concerning family size and wellbeing.

Since the Enabling Change project started in 2018, 20 communities from three regions have remained engaged with the project. As a result, we have delivered family planning support to over 2,700 women, and over 2,000 community members have strengthened their financial position through community-based savings groups. In addition, over 3,000 local farmers have been trained in sustainable farming techniques, with over 1000 hectares of climate-resilient crops cultivated between 2018 and 2022. 

At the end of 2021, 6,838 people were actively engaged with the project, of whom 67% are women. Due to the programme's success, the team has been able to replicate appropriate elements of it across other regions in Madagascar, to improve the wellbeing of more nature-dependent communities and help protect their surrounding ecosystems – securing the futures of people and wildlife across the country. 

We would like to thank Jersey Overseas Aid for enabling this ambitious and impactful project.