Bangor scientists contribute to efforts to reduce environmental destruction and poverty in Madagascar

Bangor University is leading research investigating how poverty is closely tied to the state of the environment in countries such as Madagascar. The research project which aims to help understand the linkages between poverty and the destruction of tropical rainforest brings together scientists from Madagascar, the UK, the USA and the Netherlands.

A marginal farmer in a village on edge of the forest in Madagascar clears a patch of forest to grow hill rice.A marginal farmer in a village on edge of the forest in Madagascar clears a patch of forest to grow hill rice.People get many benefits from nature. For example the work of pollinators such as bees helps farmers to produce crops, while planting upland trees can prevent erosion and flooding downstream. This link between the condition of these environment and welfare is even more marked in developing countries where the vast majority of people live lives highly dependent on their environment and have less resources to fall back on in times of flood or crop failure.  For example, a marginal farmer in a village on edge of the forest in Madagascar uses the resources and options he has open to him and clears a patch of forest to grow hill rice. His hard labour pays off and he is able to sell a small surplus. However, farmers growing rice on the valley floor find that their harvest is reduced as the forest on the slopes continues to be cut, as their water reduces in the dry season, and there are fewer and fewer good years.

The p4ges project (can paying 4 global ecosystem services reduce poverty?) involves researchers with expertise in hydrology, economics, sociology and ecology and aims to influence environmental policy in Madagascar and elsewhere. This research is supported by the UK Government through the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) research programme.

The recent research project launch in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, involved speeches by the UK Ambassador, and senior representatives of the ministries of Environment and of Higher Education in Madagascar.

Dr Julia Jones with Timothy Smart, the UK Ambassador to Madagascar at the project launch.Dr Julia Jones with Timothy Smart, the UK Ambassador to Madagascar at the project launch. said: “There is increasing realisation that however developed a country is, people’s wellbeing is linked to maintaining the environment. In a country like Madagascar where millions of people live lives heavily dependent on small scale farming and collecting products from the wild, this link between human wellbeing and the condition of the environment is particularly stark”

Prof Ramamonjisoa, one of the project leaders from Madagascar said “This is a really important research project and we are delighted to work together with the specialists from Bangor University.”

Dr Julia Jones, who is leading the project from the School of Environment, Natural Resources & Geography said:

“There is increasing international interest in using systems which enable us to ‘pay’ for ecosystem services such as carbon storage, and conservation to alleviate poverty in communities directly affected.

While these payments for ecosystem services schemes are attracting millions of dollars, and there is a commitment to ensure they are beneficial for poor people, questions remain about the impact current schemes are having on the poor and about how these schemes could be improved further. Looking closely at the complex ecological and social systems involved in one particular area will help us to provide the policies and theory that can be adapted elsewhere for the benefit of others.”

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Nearly 80% live on less than $1 a day. It is famous for its richness in biodiversity but unfortunately much of that biodiversity is highly threatened. The School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography at Bangor University has very close links to Madagascar. The school's senior lecturer in conservation, Dr Julia Jones has been working in the country for 13 years and many of her Malagasy students and colleagues from have come to Bangor for specific training. Bangor students are also committed to the country and last month raised £400 for conservation of Madagascar’s rainforests.

P4ges is funded by the UK government’s ‘Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation’ programme. This programme aims to provide new knowledge demonstrating how ecosystem services can reduce poverty and enhance well-being for the world’s poor.

Publication date: 26 November 2013