Madagascar is home to over 200,000 plants and animals found nowhere else in the world and is considered a “biodiversity hotspot”. The future of Madagascar’s rainforests is heavily dependent on the communities that live in and around them. Resource exploitation, unsustainable farming practices and lack of alternative livelihoods have led to the erosion of forest resources.
There is nowhere in the world that has been unaffected by the changing climate driven by the industrialized countries. Madagascar averages at least three major environmental disasters— cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, floods and locust invasions— every year. In 2008 tropical cyclones combined with rain, wind and flooding resulting in $333 million of disaster related damages that affects worker productivity, health, schools, infrastructure andfood supplies.
Eighty percent of Madagascar’s population lives on less than $1.90 day and one in two children under 5 years of age suffers from stunting due to malnutrition. The Human Development Index (HDI, a measure of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income) ranks Madagascar 149 out of 179 countries.
Industrialized countries have created many of Madagascar’s environmental problems and their attempts to introduce methods of top down conservation have failed. The Malagasy want to maintain healthy ecosystems, but they need our assistance. CPALI has designed a bottom up approach working with subsistence farmers and local communities to make unique cocoon silk and raffia textiles whose sales are reinvested in the program.
CPALI designs income-generating activities support native ecosystems and engage communities in the protection of forests while profiting from them.
The income of farmers and artisans depends on the maintenance of the natural vegetation and endemic silk moth diversity. The caterpillar host trees recover damaged habitats by retaining water and returning carbon to soils in cleared areas. The excretions of caterpillars and pupae provide sustainable inputs of minerals and iron to soils; excess pupae are a source of protein for farmers’ families and livestock. Communities assign new value to trees and insects not previously valued and thus generate a sense of the worth for the resources that surround them.
In the area where we work the median yearly income is $54. Individuals working with SEPALI Madagascar earn an additional $30-$89 from silk cocoon farming or collection. An additional team of 15 workers is employed full-time earning $64/month (about $700/year) to produce cocoon and raffia textiles. The program adds about $45,000 to the Maroantsetra economy each year.
Cocoons are ironed and sewn into unique, non-spun textiles. Each type of textile is made from cocoons spun by a different species of endemic caterpillar. Hence cocoon silks vary in texture, reflectance and pattern. CPALI sells cocoon textiles that can be dyed and transformed into finished products such as art objects, fashion accessories (handbags, jewelry, hats, shoes), objects for home use (vases, plates, cups) and art panels.
Photographs: Madagascar and wildlife – Nick Garbutt
Feature Photo: Safidy Adrian