Makira REDD+ Project
Madagascar is considered to be one of the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world due to more than 75% of all animal and plant species being endemic while less than 10% of its primary vegetation is remaining. The Makira project plays an essential role in biodiversity protection by limiting deforestation in 360,000 hectares (more than twice the size of greater London) of the Makira forest and working with communities around the forest in a ‘protection zone’ of 320,000 hectares. The project is validated to the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and has also achieved Gold Level of the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard, due to its huge biodiversity benefits and its extensive work with communities to assist in adapting to the impacts of climate change.
Summary of the Project
- Limits deforestation in 360,000 hectares of humid forest: protecting the habitat and viability of crucial species of flora and fauna.
- Home to 20 of Madagascar’s lemur species: likely to be the greatest diversity in a single area.
- The project will reduce deforestation from 2-3,000 hectares a year to 70 hectares a year.
- Conservation of Madagascar’s only large predator, the cat-like fossa.
- Forest protection maintains rainfall and water reserves and protects against soil erosion and sedimentation which degrades aquatic habitats.
- Improving livelihoods of 50,000+ people in 120 villages.
- Adopting farming practices to improve rice cultivation, enhance soil fertility, and avoid unsustainable slash and burn.
- Farmers have increased rice productivity three-fold.
- 22 water points/wells and one hydro-agricultural dam constructed to improve clean water and irrigation for more than 2,000 households.
- Training to generate new income streams for households: fish farming, bee keeping, eco-tourism, artisanal craft, market-based cash cropping.
- Working with national community-focused foundation to provide low interest loans to local communities to support ‘green’ activities.
- Training local community members to provide council and advice on general health, first treatment of common illnesses such as malaria and diarrhoea, family planning and water hygiene.
- Training and tools for schools on environmental education.
- VCS validated and verified and Gold Level Climate Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard.
- Estimated to generate 1.3 million emissions reductions annually.
Of any country in Africa, Madagascar contains the greatest number of total animal species classified as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable, under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the third largest number of plant species under the same IUCN classifications.
The Makira forests lie in the north eastern part of country and provide one of the country’s last great wilderness areas, representing one of the largest expanses of humid forest left. It is estimated that more than half of the country’s floral biodiversity can be found in the Greater Makira/Masoala/Antongil Bay landscape, making it the richest region in terms of biodiversity. Makira is home to 20 of Madagascar’s lemur species – likely the greatest diversity of lemur species existing in a single area. Lemur species include the critically endangered black and white ruffed lemur and the critically endangered Silky Sifaka (one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world). The Makira project also ensures the conservation of many other species, including Madagascar’s only large predator, the cat-like fossa, which requires large areas of intact forest to maintain healthy populations.
Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
Despite its ecosystem importance, the area has seen an unsustainable use of resources and forest loss, estimated at 1,500 hectares per year from 1995 to 2005. In the absence of the project it is projected that these forest loss rates would continue and increase, but the successful implementation estimates the deforestation rate will reduce to approximately 70 hectares per year.
The main driver for deforestation in the Makira Project is ‘tavy’, a form of slash and burn agriculture which is used to cultivate rain-fed rice, primarily for subsistence needs. Other drivers of deforestation and degradation include clearing for pastures with fire, and small-scale illegal logging and mining. These activities are primarily caused by the open access to forest resources because of insufficient enforcement of the protection of the area, rapid population growth, low agricultural productivity, and poverty more generally.
Community engagement and development
In order to reduce the pressures on deforestation, the Makira project is working in five main areas: transfer of management of natural resources to communities, community development, communication and education, ecosystem conservation and research, and carbon accounting and monitoring.
The goal of the project is to engage with and improve the livelihood of a population of 50,000+ people living within 120 villages inside the protection zone around the project area. Local communities are involved in the negotiations and management of the project through a network of community associations. Land tenure security and resource rights for the communities are also improved through legal land certifications transferred from the national government.
The community development activities are planned with the communities in order that they are able to identify and prioritise their needs. The initial development goals are based on improving agricultural productivity, creating alternative sustainable livelihoods and links to new markets, and improving access and quality of health services and education. The Makira Project has committed to distributing over 50% of net revenue from carbon sales to the communities and these activities.
Improving agriculture and natural resource use
The household economy in the area is almost entirely based on agriculture, primarily from rice and cash crops. Prior to the project, farmers were using traditional farming techniques, which proved labour and capital intensive, yielded low productivity, and degraded the land beyond the first cycle of slash and burn. The project is helping households to adopt alternative techniques that replace these destructive and unsustainable methods. These activities include: improved intensive rice cultivation, soil fertility enhancement through composting, and improved crop rotation practices.
As rice is an important staple, improving rice yields is integral to improving food security. The system of rice intensification includes techniques that are based on improving water management, plus weed and pest control. Farmers who have been trained by the project and have adopted these techniques have already increased their productivity threefold (from 2 tonnes per hectare in 2007 studies to almost 7 tonnes per hectare from measurements taken in 2012). The project has seen an annual increase of 15-20% of farmers adopting these new techniques so far.
Water scarcity has been a problem for communities in the area in terms of both health and agriculture. The project is improving water infrastructure by constructing community dams, irrigation channels, and wells and water points. As of December 2013, 22 water points/wells had been constructed and over 2,000 households were benefiting from one hydro-agricultural dam.
The project has also established approximately 20 village tree nurseries to improve the availability of legal fuel wood for the local communities and there are plans to distribute efficient cookstoves and introduce solar cooking and power supplies where appropriate.
Biodiversity and ecosystem conservation
With its important role as one of Madagascar’s last great wilderness areas, protecting its exceptional biodiversity value is the Makira project’s key focus. The protection of the forest is essential to ensuring that the species populations found in the area are able to survive. Fragmentation of the forest into smaller patches due to deforestation will limit the viability of the flora and fauna found there. For instance, lemurs play an important role in seed dispersal and subsequent natural forest regeneration. The reduction in their population caused by deforestation also slows down forest regrowth, thereby exacerbating forest fragmentation further.
Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
In addition to decreasing habitats, if deforestation were to continue in the project area, there would be major impacts on the ecosystem services which deliver benefits to local communities. A healthy forest has an important role in the water cycle and helps maintain rainfall and water reserves, particularly important for the local reliance on rice. Deforestation also exposes fragile topsoil to rainfall in an already vulnerable area (due to hilly topography), accelerating erosion and sediment in numerous streams and rivers. Erosion and sedimentation degrades aquatic habitats, but also leads to further land conversion as farmers try to compensate for the loss of irrigated rice fields by moving to new forested areas to use as cropland.
Ecological monitoring is central to the project’s design and activities, and includes monitoring of forest habitat loss and fragmentation, forest corridors and connectivity, and species loss. There is a particular focus on lemur species populations and forest carnivores, as they provide a tool for assessing the overall forest system functionality.
In addition, the project has also initiated a field-based monitor¬ing plan with local community members whereby 4-6 people in each community site are trained and monitor certain indicators quarterly, including status of key floral and faunal species and nature and frequency of pressures and human disturbances.
Creating new income opportunities
The project is also training communities on other activities to generate revenues for households, including improved fish farming, bee keeping, eco-tourism, artisanal craft and hostelry, and market-based cash cropping (vanilla, clove, coffee, cacao). This includes helping gain greater access to new markets by identifying and establishing opportunities to sell sustainably produced natural products, such as certified fair trade biovanilla, bio-clove and eco-silk.
To help with the development of some of these activities, the project is working with the Tany Meva Foundation, a national community-focused foundation, to establish a rural micro-credit programme that provides low interest loans to communities exclusively for supporting ‘green’ activities. For example, these micro-credit loans could be used by farmers to purchase tools required for improved agriculture techniques or for purchasing bags for saplings, buying grains, cassava, or other cash crops.
Improving health services and awareness
Lack of basic health services and malnutrition are the prime causes of mortality in the region. In collaboration with Population Services International (PSI) and local representatives of the Ministry of Health, the project is delivering a programme to improve knowledge and facilities for basic hygiene, sanitation, good health practices and disease prevention. As of December 2013, the project had trained 137 agents from 16 rural communities to council households on general health, first treatment of common illnesses such as diarrhoea and malaria, family planning and water hygiene. Previously this information was unavailable in such a remote area and by the end of 2013 nearly 6,500 households and 35,000 individuals had benefited from the health and awareness campaign.
Improving education and communication
Working with the district-level government education office, the project has established 22 environmental youth clubs, trained 60 educators in the network of primary schools in the area, and developed teaching tools to be integrated into the school curriculum. There are also plans to invest in community infrastructure, including the development of new schools.
Carbon and community monitoring
The Makira REDD+ project is validated and verified to the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). In order to generate carbon credits from its forest protection activities, the project must use regional land use and deforestation modelling and run a detailed analysis of the existing forest carbon. Forest cover change is monitored through periodic assessment of land satellite imagery.
The Makira project area, which is the vast majority of Makira Natural Park, is 360,000 hectares of dense primary forest. This is the area which is used for the carbon accounting and sale of carbon credits. Around that is a ‘protection zone’ of 320,000+ hectares which makes up a buffer area and is where the majority of the local communities live. The project is estimated to generate on average 1.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions reductions annually and more than 38 million tonnes of emission reductions in its 30 year crediting period.
In addition to its VCS validation for carbon accounting, the project has also achieved Gold Level status under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard. To achieve this it delivers net positive community and biodiversity impacts and significantly assists communities in adapting to the impacts of climate change. Impacts are monitored through assessments of child mortality, literacy and education rates, agricultural productivity, average household income, and income from new activities such as bee keeping and fish farming.
The project land is owned by the State of Madagascar, which has appointed the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to manage the area and address the deforestation pressures.
WCS works with national governments, universities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and dedicated individuals to increase understanding and awareness of the importance of wildlife through the establishment and strengthening of protected areas. They have been working as a research organisation in Madagascar since the mid-1980s, including carrying out biodiversity inventories to establish Makira’s sister park, Masoala – the largest protected area prior to Makira’s new protected area designation in 2012.