Madagascar’s coastal communities are highly dependent on mangrove forests, which are increasingly lost due to poverty, a lack of sustainable financing for conservation, and a lack of governance structures for managing natural resources. Participatory approaches were used to empower coastal communities to develop management and conservation strategies for critical coastal ecosystem services in mangroves and spiny forests in the highly biodiverse Bay of Assassins, in Southwest Madagascar.
Participatory mapping was conducted in 11 communities in focus group style with participants delineating forest areas used, species targeted or observed, the state and trend of the resource base, and origin and intent of forest users. To complement participatory mapping, a Theory of Change approach has been taken with communities to build an understanding of how forests are used and what socioeconomic factors are driving mangrove and spiny forest loss by visualizing information on agents, drivers, and underlying causes of deforestation. The Theory of Change also identifies potential strategies that could be implemented to reduce loss of mangrove and spiny forests and promote sustainable use. A concept model has been built using Miradi (2013) software, and continuing fieldwork will include building on concept models through the development of results chains to guide community-led forest monitoring and management strategies.
Theory of Change identified drivers of forest loss: population growth, migration, a lack of livelihood options and management, and cyclones. Strategies identified to reduce forest loss included: access to family planning, education, and promotion of alternative livelihoods. The process allowed communities to visualise the barriers to conservation and the results highlighted the importance of social norms in community management of coastal forests.
Although still in the early stages, the Theory of Change for mangrove and spiny forests represents an important tool that draws on local people’s knowledge. This methodology has prompted communities to think critically about conservation problems, created a forum for communication between stakeholder groups, and provided a framework for sustainable forest management in some of the most remote and poorest, yet biodiverse, coastal regions of Madagascar.