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"Saving the forest of Vohibola only depends on the determination of the Malagasy government"

The thousand hectares, home to the world's smallest frog, is threatened by illegal coal production. Like the other primary forests of Madagascar.

Posted today at 19h00 Time to Reading 4 min.

"Stumpffia vohibolensis", the smallest frog in the world, lives in the primary forests of Madagascar and measures just over 1 cm.
"Stumpffia vohibolensis", the smallest frog in the world, lives in the primary forests of Madagascar and measures just over 1 cm. Alexandre Poussin

Tribune. Here there is no coal, no iron industry, no empires that clash with cannon. There are no chainsaws, no predatory multinationals, large landowners eager for monocultures, corrupt politicians selling their souls to China. It is a slow, uneventful war between poor women and the foliage of the last primary forests of Madagascar, driven by the imperative need to feed their children. Madagascar carbide with charcoal.

One can retort, by bursts: and the gas, the electricity, the stoves with oil? Smoke screens. The reality is that 28 million people cook on charcoal. Second salvo: but wood is renewable? Not here yet. The solitary sappers attack the last primary forests, the young plantations do not reach maturity, when they see only the day. Their resource is the free, public forests offered by Mother Nature, God, Zanahary. Then the forests recede under the assaults of millions of coalmen who have only that to live.

Roll back poverty

The front is not united. The enemy can not fight in a lightning war, because it would be necessary to be able to reduce poverty. But this one is only growing. At the top of the pyramid, the sponsors of this massive destruction know how to profit from it. They send their sapper regiments in a noria that nothing and no one can stop.

We are external but committed witnesses who dream of primary forests and protected biodiversity. Since 2016, we have been trying to preserve the last coastal forest on Madagascar's east coast, the Vohibola Forest, a 1,000-hectare green postage stamp, wedged between the sea and the Pangalanes Canal. On 2,000 km, there is no more. We do it because it houses the world's smallest frog, the Stumpffia pygmaea, endemic to Madagascar and whose size is just over 1 cm. There is also the smallest chameleon in the world, Brookesia minima, listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Read also Bolabola, the bleeding wood

We also do it for the riparian populations for whom the forest is sacred because, according to their beliefs, their ancestors live there. Hence the name of the association through which we try to act: Razan'ny Vohibola, "the ancestors of the forest". Its modest means rely on participatory financing and partnership with a local company.

But wanting to protect a forest in Madagascar is often precipitating its loss. It is to attack the interests of those who plunder it. When it comes to the holder of the local authority having two or three gendarmes to his boot, the fight is unequal. Predators have in hand cutting and coal mining licenses purchased from the neighboring commune, duly stamped, specifying a plot of land on which there is no longer a tree … Poachers come at night to commit their package in Vohibola and deposit discreetly the fruit of their "work" in small hidden stocks along the Pangalanes canal which borders the forest. Then come on the scene carriers to pick up these stocks and forward them through collusion, they also minted. The system is well oiled. All this is obviously prohibited by law because, in Madagascar, the forest is officially protected.

Grotesque masquerade

For three years, between the guards of Vohibola who are not armed and the coalmen who are often it is the game of the cat and the mouse. In March, more than 6 hectares were charred and a hundred lemurs massacred. The alert launched by Razan'ny Vohibola and relayed by a petition on the website of the NGO Avaaz has raised the indignation and the temporary stopping of the cuts. The guards of Vohibola have paid the price by an arrest organized in violation of all rules of the rule of law. Handcuffed, blindfolded, they were dragged to the Regional Directorate of Waters and Forests, 60 km away, for a staging in front of an audience of journalists with orders with a headline: "Trafficking ring dismantled". The thing was credible: gendarmes, the mayor, the director of water and forests of the region, with a search warrant signed by the prosecutor of the economic capital of the country, but which was applied as a warrant of arrest accompanied by humiliations and bullying!

A larger than one inch, "Brookesia minima", is the smallest chameleon in the world. He lives in Madagascar. The species is listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
A larger than one inch, "Brookesia minima", is the smallest chameleon in the world. He lives in Madagascar. The species is listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). CC 2.0

The Ministry of the Environment has happily put an end to this grotesque masquerade. The guards were released, but the cup has since resumed. Proof that traffickers, even if they are representatives of the state, always feel above the law.

Read also African biodiversity, heritage under pressure

The new government has made commitments to make forest protection in Madagascar a reality. A reforestation program has been announced to begin repairing years of mass destruction. It is an emergency if we want to save the last primary forests and if we want to preserve the environment on which the poorest depend to feed themselves. The future of Vohibola lies only in the determination to make these words acts. To finally put an end to the impunity that has allowed the charcoal business to prosper. For the new government, Vohibola will be worth test.

Alexandre Poussin is the co-founder of the association Razan'ny Vohibola. From 2014 to 2018, Alexandre Poussin went around with his wife and their two children from the island of Madagascar in a zebus cart. An adventure of which he made a film entitled Madatrek.

Alexandre Poussin

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