Monday, 26 August 2013

Planetary wealth

Fisherman's pirogue - Saint Luce - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Making a living from the resources provided by nature is something of a normal way of life in Madagascar.

However there is also a crucial role for education in terms of environmental stewardship.

Much of this has to do with ownership.

For example, it is very challenging to create a meaningful dialogue with a local community whose land has been bought up by foreign investors.

All too often, this creates a mindset whereby locals see minimal advantage in stewarding both their marine and land based assets, because as far as they are concerned foreign investors will most likely tear down the forest or pollute the seas.

This creates a short mindedness that damages the environment and the heritage of future generations.

Giles Crosse
But offering a true sense of ownership generally has the opposite effect in terms of long termism and a more meaningful appreciation of how best to protect and utilise natural resources into the future.

When an individual or a community is invested in the local ecosystem, it is so much easier to build bridges, to educate and influence and set up an alternative to short term resource use and exploitation that has unfortunately already damaged many of the planet's ecosystems.

This offers huge benefits to humans and ecosystems alike, of which we are of course a part, and upon which we depend for food, air, water and the materials to clothe and protect our children.

Giles Crosse

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Simple beauty

Giles Crosse
In the midst of poverty and pain, it is easy to forget the breathtaking diversity and scenery of Madagascar.

Vast mountains, desert plains stretching to the horizon and an array of flora and fauna are visible here.

Giles Crosse
Bountiful waterfalls rise to the skies, while spiders cast their webs across the flowing waters.

This is the nature that is at risk should expansion, mining or human greed, and potentially need, impact fully upon this most unique of island habitats.

Giles Crosse
Music, art and creation are so often forms best utilised to express the need for thoughtfulness regarding these matters. Malagasy dance, where dancers join and enter in and out of circles, may perhaps have something to tell us surrounding the oneness and returning nature of man and his environment.

Western writers too have input into these matters.

"It's a beautiful world
And when the city sleeps we go walking
We find a hole in the sky and then we start talking
And then we say "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Buy us some time, buy us some time"" - Richard Ashcroft

There is still time left to look after ourselves and the planet bequeathed in our keeping.

Man's influence casts a long shadow - Giles Crosse

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto operates in Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Rio Tinto has an interesting reputation globally.

Here in Madagascar, the company operates a partnership firm with the government, named QMM. This firm is operating in the Saint Luce region of the island, and had been planning to mine minerals from the littoral coastal forest.

Presently, whether or not this mining is going to go ahead remains uncertain. Back in January, the low prices the firm paid for the land rights sparked fury amongst Malagasy locals who blockaded the QMM site.

It seems that QMM now seems uncertain of precisely how much mineral asset remains, and hence how much profit it will make from the portions of  Madagascar it bought to the outrage of communities living here.

This in turn has led to fears that Rio Tinto will simply sell off its land to the highest foreign bidders, to do with as they will, again denying Malagasy people access, rights and a voice in the future of the island's 80 per cent endemic flora and fauna.

Signage describing Rio Tinto's presence outside Saint Luce - Giles Crosse
Rio Tinto has built a local school in the Saint Luce area. Then again, local community leaders say neither staff nor educational assets were provided.

Equally, Rio Tinto built what NGO staff describe as the finest roads on the island. But they serve only as access points to the port, enabling easy transportation and movement, and offer little or no wider infrastructure benefit.

Rio Tinto operates a 'net benefit' policy. This, according to the firm, illustrates, 'An evaluation of the achievements and above all, impacts of the Biodiversity Program shows positive development towards a net benefit for the Fort-Dauphin environment.'

Such benefits are a little tricky to evaluate, when NGO insiders argue the Tinto plans were to mine some 80 per cent of the unique littoral forest it bought, leaving 20 per cent of the resource intact.

Rio Tinto's presence has sparked controversy - Giles Crosse
Plainly, the illegitimacy of Madagascar's government, which begs questions over precisely how much of a voice any Malagasy natives have in the QMM partnership, does not help the situation.

Locals, working with the Azafady NGO, monitor littoral forest gecko numbers - Giles Crosse
Perhaps the only certainty surrounds the diversity and importance of the species existing in Madagascar's forests. The future of these will largely depend upon the outcomes and decisions to be made by QMM.

Only this month, Azafady researchers suspect they have discovered unique new frog species dwelling in these regions. How many such forms of life will lose their habitat before they even been described or documented?

Monday, 19 August 2013

Paths to the future

Libanona - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Value, society, sustainability and development are all brought into sharp focus in developing countries like Madagascar.

In many ways it might be argued such value of life is cheap here. Arguments spark freely on the streets, poverty is visible in every corner, life is hard, challenging and for some people short.

Perhaps the most arresting images are those of children, hanging outside supermarkets seeking handouts from Westerners. Or combing the beaches, seeking an opportunity to sell trinkets or necklaces.

Yet these are not thieving, offensive nor aggressive youths. These are merely children introduced at too young an age to the concept of working for a living.

Polite, energetic, bouncy and friendly, these youngsters retain a smile and a cheerful demeanour among some of the hardest living conditions imaginable.

An empty plastic bottle, waste to a Westerner, is a resource to a Malagasy child.

Perhaps this might be worth a hundred Ariary to sell, perhaps it could be a handy container for the future. Perhaps it might be a useful tool to build a home made toy or pastime.

Many commentators here tell me that actually one of the main things Malagasy youngsters seek is diversion. Something to do, an occupation, an opportunity to dream and to run like a child.

And indeed this they do in many ways; on homemade stilts, pushing empty bicycle rims or dragging car toys, home made from wood or old cans along the streets.

Libanona - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Yet minutes from where children work on the beaches, a luxury hotels sits, offering breathtaking views across the bay towards the international port, built by QMM, the Madagascan / Rio Tinto joint partnership to mine minerals from the island.

How many Malagasy youngsters will ever enjoy these views? How many will spend a night in the luxury rooms, pampered in the spa or drinking cocktails in an infinity pool?

How many will find the education they need to climb out of poverty and earn a better future for themselves and for the development of their country and their children? What future form will their lives take.

It may be that the long awaited elections here will take place, offering a sense of power and meaning back to the people and perhaps enabling a return of wider international aid and assistance.

Futures, questions, livelihoods and the balance of life here all hang in the balance.

Basic Malagasy

Libanona - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Sunsets, conversations and moments in developing countries, or anywhere else for that matter, are so much more meaningful and poignant with a few basic words of the native tongue....

Salama - Hello
Ino vaovao - What's happening
Tsi misy - Just the usual
Tsi misy akory hanao - How are you
Soa - Good
Faly mahalala hanao - Nice to meet you
Iza gnagnaranao koa - What's your name
Veloma - Goodbye
Tsi misy fisaora - You're welcome
Faly - I'm happy

Raiky - One
Rua - Two
Fulu - Ten

Fort Dauphin - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Mila labiera telu zaho - I would like three beers
Hotrina labiera raiky - How much is one beer
Misy credit - Is there credit
Eka misy - Yes there is
1,000 - Arivo
3,000 Telu arivo
3,500 Telu arivo sy dimanjato
4,000 Efajato
Ino itihoky - What's this
Rano - Water

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Taxi Broisse

Taxi Broisse stop - Fort Dauphin - Madagascar - Giles Crosse

A Taxi Broisse is a quintessentially Madagascan experience.

Basically a 7 1/2 tonne truck, this taxi service is the commonest and cheapest way for Malagasy people to navigate their way around the island.

To Western eyes, the entire process is pretty remarkable.

Once the Broisse arrives, in my case some three hours late, something of a frenzy occurs.

Rice, spring onions, spare tyres and anything else that will fit on board are crammed into the space. Including live chickens and ducks.

After about an hour, the humans come next. Including me.

Loading Taxi Broisse - Fort Dauphin - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
The back of the truck is literally crammed to bursting. We sit on rice, floorboards, crushed beans, tyres and whatever will suffice. I had a Malagasy woman's baby balanced in one arm, whilst my foot became trapped between another's leg and a huge bag of rice.

The Broisse then rolls off for some 4/5 hours of travel across dirt tracks. On our particular journey, heavy rains the night before rendered the road impassable, leading to a couple of hour's delay whilst leaves and trees created a pathway across the saturated ground.

The road to Saint Luce - floods - Giles Crosse 

Yet more apparent chaos occurs on entering villages along the route. Shouting, sweating Malagasy shift bags of rice down for the villagers, crowding at the back of the truck presumably seeking their next meal.

It is a touching sight and one that contrasts harshly with the vast volumes of food waste created in developed countries.

Some hours into the drive, the Malagasy break out into frenetic chat, song and laughter. It's a remarkable moment, some 200 voices in the back of a truck, smiling and laughing amid the most uncomfortable journey imaginable.

Within moments, talk turns to the only white face in the Taxi. My age, marital status, job and name are all enquired after, followed by attempts to pronounce it with varying degrees of success.

Once again the fundamental good nature and empathy underlying the Malagasy people is well revealed. Sharing such a journey is a pleasure and offers a real insight into how we might alter approaches to life, and consider quite how more meaningful are companionship and laughter than the solitude of business class.

Road to Saint Luce - Madagascar - Giles Crosse 


Attending a weaving class with Malagasy women is a moving and humbling experience.

Woven crafts - Saint Luce region - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Over the course of an hour, they create beautiful, intricate patterns with speed, grace and dexterity.

They also show a welcome lack of judgement over this particular reporter's weaving skills. Although after an hour or so I was getting the hang of it.

There is something disarming and natural about sitting with Madagascan villagers whilst they work on these crafts. Perhaps an element of the frenetic lifestyle we have created in Western societies drifts away, enabling a calmer and more pensive way of thinking.

Village - Saint Luce region - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Then again there are polarities also. Weaving represents one of the few income sources available to villagers in this part of the world. It is hard work, requiring concentration and good eyesight.

Equally, it brings to mind relative questions surrounding the balance between financial realities. An hour's weaving cost me 5,000 Ariary, about £2.

This covers all materials, teaching, some woven crafts, a priceless experience and moments with some of the most charming and charismatic people I have ever met.

In the EU, US or many other parts of the world, few people would even consider getting out of bed for £2 an hour. Yet here the idea is welcomed with a smile, a laugh and the most benign and beautiful attitude imaginable.

The lessons take place in the midst of the village, surrounded by the realities and hardships of village life.

Here there is little or no external power. No sewerage system. No police, no healthcare. Women in childbirth will deal on their own, without a midwife, hospital ward or painkilling drugs, with however their individual case develops.

Open air stoves pollute the local atmosphere and the lungs of women cooking for families. Children run and skip in the dust, mostly without shoes and clad in second hand football T shirts from the West, often torn and filthy.

In the midst of this is found the most welcoming and empathetic human nature imaginable. The contrasts between money, development, society, happiness and friendship have rarely been better demonstrated.

Village - Saint Luce region - Madagascar - Giles Crosse


Shipwreck beach, Fort Dauphin, Madagascar - Giles Crosse
The beaches in this part of the world are some of the most beautiful around, with breathtaking views to the horizon of the Indian Ocean.

But there is also a stark human lesson to be learned amidst this natural spectacle.

Open air defecation is among one of the many development issues facing Madagascar. A lack of sewerage systems and latrines, plus issues surrounding cultural change and education, mean that many people throughout the island still view open air defecation as the norm.

Of course this societal concept has wide ranging implications in terms of healthcare and disease control, in addition to potentially less obvious impacts on the tourist trade.

Many NGOs have installed latrine systems on the island, all too often used and then left. What is required is a newer type of development mindset, that offers people living here the tools to implement and create their own change.

It is blindingly obvious that with the ingenuity and intelligence they possess, Malagasy people are more than capable of building and maintaining basic latrine systems.

What is needed is an approach that suggests the cultural and mental tools to enable a shift from outdated mindsets, which are so often at the core of development work.

In many ways the reasons beaches become defecation sites are simple, the tide comes in and washes away the problem, neatly, freely and regularly.

But this reality makes beaches unpleasant places to be, spreads disease, and creates a number of additional negative impacts on both the tourist trade and foreigner's perceptions of Madagascar itself.

This might seem like a simple problem to fix, but as is often the case it illustrates the complexities facing development workers and the developing world as a whole.

Giles Crosse

Giles Crosse

It may not seem that attractive, but a long drop latrine is actually a pretty amazing tool viewed in a wider context.