Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy 2010 - and some cool work in Madagascar

Happy New Year to everyone and all the best for 2010!! I was fortunate to be away for about 2 ½ weeks in December, escaping the cold weather that came to Boston suddenly and with a vengeance to work in Madagascar of all places on the evaluation of an organization called FAPBM (full name is in French) whose objective is to finance the country’s national park system over the long term. They set up a fund a few years ago that is invested on the financial markets (following a rather conservative investment strategy actually) and that will hopefully produce enough income to pay for part of those parks’ operating costs consistently in the future.

That financial mechanism has been quite effective in Latin America in particular (check the web site of the regional organization RedLAC), so the folks in Madagascar are not reinventing the wheel certainly. But 1) there is no similar success story in the Africa / Indian Ocean region (the Fund in Madagascar has been around since early 2005), and 2) some may have discovered Madagascar only when the cartoon was released (I did not see any lemurs by the way but I did see 2 crocodiles…) but you guys know that Madagascar is off the charts with respect to the biodiversity value of its environment. 80% of all species on the island are endemic, i.e. they are only found in Madagascar.

The thing is that the country was that close to just selling half of its forests to Korean humongous conglomerate Daewoo, is still very poor, and has been stuck in a political crisis for over a year now. So, you can imagine how high the stakes around FAPBM’s work are.

Most folks there - in government, the international community, the NGO sector, and the corporate world - realize that a compromise has to be found between a sustainable use of resources (which means that some extractive activity, i.e. mining and oil drilling, is going to be done within the boundaries of those parks) and the preservation of that amazing nature, all the more that whatever is lost will be mostly lost for good and forever – no other place where you can go find it…

These huge tensions are not unique to Madagascar – they are actually common in poor countries. But the country’s iconic nature and the people’s poverty just make those challenges even more pressing and complex.

I will write more about my impressions of that beautiful and interesting country. First time in that part of the world, I have to give you more than my (boring?) spiel on sustainable development…

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