Innovative conservation: wild silk, endangered species, and poverty in Madagascar

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

For anyone who works in conservation in Madagascar, confronting the complex difficulties of widespread poverty is a part of the job. But with the wealth of Madagascar’s wildlife rapidly diminishing— such as lemurs, miniature chameleons, and hedgehog-looking tenrecs found no-where else in the world—the island-nation has become a testing ground for innovative conservation programs that focus on tackling entrenched poverty to save dwindling species and degraded places. The local NGO, the Madagascar Organization of Silk Workers orSEPALI, along with its U.S. partner Conservation through Poverty Alleviation (CPALI), is one such innovative program. In order to alleviate local pressure on the newly-established Makira Protected Area, SEPALI is aiding local farmers in artisanal silk production from endemic moths. The program uses Madagascar’s famed wildlife to help create more economically stable communities.

“We wanted to try a new approach to conservation that could replace the needs of local populations to harvest forest resources in areas of great biological importance,” Catherine Craig, founder of CPALI, told in a recent interview with herself and the SEPALI/CPALI team. The local NGO, SEPALI, was founded by M. Ratsimbazafy. “Madagascar has had a history of extreme poverty, forest loss and hence has a great need for effective conservation. In fact, Madagascar is the 13th most impoverished country in the world according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index and 80 percent of its population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. Despite millions of dollars in aid to protect Madagascar’s unique habitats, conservation efforts over the last 30 years have failed to stem species and habitat loss.

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