Tafo Mihaavo, re-emergence of a national social movement in support of the customary governance of natural resources in Madagascar

Community mobilization (Photo: ©SGP Madagascar)
Community mobilization (Photo: ©SGP Madagascar)

Decentralized governance of natural resources, including large areas of forests, gathers apace in Madagascar.

Up until the advent of the colonial era, the traditional social structure in Malagasy society that bound diverse communities together for generations had been known as the Fokonolona. Deriving from the word foko (tribe) and olona (human), the social system had served to protect villages and their surrounding ecosystems throughout Madagascar's rich history of human migration and settlement.  

At the turn of the 21st Century, faced with an escalating trend in deforestation driven largely by foreign interests, the Madagascar government enacted a piece of far-sighted legislation that would once again allow communities to govern and manage their local natural resources. The legislation of 1996 (Malagasy Law No. 096-025), widely known as 'GELOSE', recommended that a process be initiated to reinstate a higher degree of autonomy for traditional resource governance by local communities.

The GELOSE legislation proposed to adopt a formal 'signed contract' between representatives of the local community and the central government as the legal basis for communal land governance. This new approach represented a 'bureaucratic adaptation' to local Malagasy culture, norms and customs.

The enduring power of customary institutions

Since 2005, UNDP-implemented GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) has channeled support to community-based actions in Madagascar, often by recognizing Indigenous Peoples' and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCAs). Initially focusing on the under-served communities in the dry South-West, SGP Madagascar has replicated activities across the country -- in the process, strengthening support for the enactment of the GELOSE legislation, as well as towards the shared governance of protected and conserved areas.

In May 2012, the village of Anja Miray became the site for the creation of a national network of local communities for customary natural resource management, known as TAFO MIHAAVO or 'Tambazotran'ny Fokonolona Miaro ny Harena Voanjanahary' in Malagasy language. The 'Anja Declaration' states TAFO MIHAAVO's goals and calls for the increased transfer of natural resource management to local communities throughout Madagascar. Acknowledging the benefits of the GELOSE - the declaration also calls on the government to further strengthen and clarify how the law will be applied in practice. Lastly, TAFO MIHAAVO called upon on the international community to engage in horizontal learning and exchange between communities at the international level.

As the main international partner supporting the member organizations of TAFO MIHAAVO, the SGP continues to support the realization of the Anja Miray strategy through the expanded role of TAFO MIHAAVO network in (i) developing effective by-laws for the implementation of GELOSE aligned to local and environmental needs; and (ii) safeguarding the environment for Madagascar's citizens and future generations.

Landscape level territorial governance

As of early 2019, the TAFO MIHAAVO network brings together over 580 Malagasy communities, supporting the customary governance of around 3,000,000 hectares of forests, across all 22 regions of Madagascar. Numerous SGP grantees, interviewed at the 2019 GEF OP7 National Dialogue Initiative, mentioned that TAFO MIHAAVO represents a "mechanism at local, regional and national levels to promote community values, cultural and solidarity for global benefits".

With financial support from both the German Federal Ministry of the Environment (<link en>BMU) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), SGP Madagascar has nurtured and supported a growing national social movement advocating for an effective decentralized natural resource governance framework. The TAFO MIHAAVO network continues to support the inter-generational transfer of knowledge about the values and governance systems of the Fokonolona across all regions of Madagascar.

Moreover, through the Global Support Initiative to ICCAs (ICCA-GSI) funded by BMU, SGP Madagascar is able to uphold and support the creation of new models of territorial planning and landscape-level governance as a contribution to the CBD Aichi Targets 11, 14 and 18 with respect to governance diversity in the recognition of conserved areas, ecosystem services and transmission of traditional knowledge.

Growing recognition at the international level

Looking beyond the national level, members of TAFO MIHAAVO have also disseminated the emerging good practices on the territorial governance of natural resources in Madagascar through participation and global recognition by the UNDP Equator Prize.

For more information on SGP-supported projects in Madagascar, visit the SGP Madagascar Country Page. Visit the SGP website and Global ICCA Support Initiative web-pages for more details.

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