Women’s lives in Madagascar scared by corporate land developers
WNN MDG Stories
(WNN) Ambinanibe, MADAGASCAR: Rosette, aged 54, brought up her children as a single parent and they now support her. “Elderly parents like me rely greatly on our children to supply food because we are too old to fish,” she says.
She has seen many changes over the years. Describing the impact of the mining company’s activities, she explains how they gradually kept expanding their requests – leaving the villagers at a disadvantage during the negotiations. Her main regret is that villagers weren’t given jobs in return for giving up their sources of livelihood.
She is knowledgeable about the restrictions that have been imposed on where they can fish and keep their boats, and understands how intensive fishing threatens the community’s long-term future. However, she is sensitive to the fact that most people who fish are driven by a desperate need to feed their families: “It is hard to tell someone to stop using a net because that is the only way he can supply food for his family…”
I am a single parent. I have few family members and my children help me in my life. I have six children: four sons and two daughters…
We are all illiterate here. So what we do is fishing and we sell our catch in Fort Dauphin; we purchase food for our family in return, such as cassava and sweet potatoes. We don’t have any sources of income except fishing in the ocean, for example in Bevava…[though] we don’t make most of our catch there. Unlike Somatraha – that is where we get large catches of lobster, fish, deda (a type of shellfish) and shellfish. Our lives depend on these resources…
The inconvenience of Bevava is that when the wind blows from the south like today, in the tsiok’atsimo (windy season), our children [who fish] remain on shore because the sea conditions are really bad. Elderly parents like me rely greatly on our children to supply food because we are too old to fish.
“We have no way out now”
Somatraha was to fishermen what rice paddies are to farmers, and it sustained their lives… Losing access to Somatraha was a terrible thing. We have no way out now. In addition…we can’t make good catches using the [type of] net imposed on us because [the holes are too big]. Furthermore, fish stocks have decreased tremendously…
We used to dock our boats in Ankitsikitsiky; but since they built a road from Ilafitsignana, where the QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals – subsidiary of Rio Tinto mining for ilmenite) quarry is, to Somatraha, where they are now building a seaport, we cannot dock there any more… Our boats were always secure when moored there… [but now] people are forced to dock their boats in Bevava. As a result, about 400 boats were damaged due to the violent waves there.
Even if they took Somatraha, they should let people continue to farm the remaining land around there that these foreigners did not use for their house construction… But QMM has security guards that prevent people from accessing these lands, including the forested area that falls within QMM’s delineation… Now people in Ambinanibe are afraid to walk in the forest to collect fruit and firewood.
“We were not offered jobs”
These foreigners (QMM)…should have at least given fishermen access to Ankitsikitsiky. Instead, they paved over with tar some places that we needed to access the farmland and fishing area; and their road construction continues up to today…
It would have been different if people in our village were offered jobs to work on the port construction in Somatraha, in return for our fishing rights; instead, they hired people from Andramaka, Tsihary, Toliara and Antananarivo, distant villages and cities. People in Ambinanibe lost their farmland, but were not offered jobs…
People in Ambinanibe are willing to work; they are hardworking… Our children now wander around without jobs…two of mine are unemployed.
The story of change
At the beginning, a man working for QMM came here to talk to our village chief…he requested access to [land] where they could build a road, and to a location in Somatraha where they are now building the port.
He explained that the people who would receive the benefits of his requests were none other than our children. Knowing that, people agreed. They were indeed excited that his request would bring development to our village and…[that] our children would now have an opportunity to study and get jobs…
This man continued to make frequent visits to our village. Suddenly, he announced that his supervisors planned to build houses and would offer [building] jobs to our children. People started to wonder and reminded him that he originally came here to ask for road access and a place to build a port and now that request had shifted to housing construction in Ehoala – where our farmland is.
Then he responded that they would not appropriate the land in Ehoala for free. People would get paid with some money, he said, enough to make them happy.
Negotiations and regrets
Some of us were sceptical and did not want to trade their farmland for money… some were convinced that once foreigners were involved in taking our land, there was no way to oppose them, so it was better to accept their offer [of money]…
I didn’t accept the idea of them taking Ehoala from us. I asked my fellow farmers where they would collect their vegetables if their farmland was gone?
Despite opposition from some of us, their plan to appropriate our land moved forward. People were asked to sign agreements. Soon after this they came to measure the lands. Amazingly, they measured our land using their own paces, [step by step], which I think was inappropriate given the size of our land…
Finally, the estimation was done. They announced on television in Tana and Toliara and Fort Dauphin that the payment was about 40,000,000 ariary. So when we heard it, people said, OK, 40,000,000 ariary – but it was not in the hand yet, but still on TV… [We] received much less than what had been announced…
Some of the people were happy with the money, and some others immediately regretted it, realising that the amount they had received would not last long enough to feed their grandchildren in the way their farmland would have done.
“We didn’t know that it would end like this”
When the estimation of our land was finished, people from our village complained a lot about the results. People went to see the Prefet de Région and the mayor in Fort Dauphin, and QMM. They changed the price of our land to 100 ariary per square metre. Their excuse was that for fallow land, the price was a lot cheaper. But I know that Ehoala didn’t have fallow land because people farmed extensively there… I think it was a way to reduce the value of our land…
For me, a single parent, I did not get enough in return for my land. I inherited much land from my parents…yet with five pieces of land, I could not even build a house with the payment I received for them… I think it should have been valued higher…because the crop that I produced in the past was worth more than the money I was paid.
We didn’t know that it would end like this… Even after what happened, if they had offered jobs to our children, it would have been different. Someone like me, I could clean windows and sweep floors, just to have a source of income.
Unsustainable fishing driven by poverty
Unlike the past, when we collected shrimp and lots of fish, our river doesn’t produce enough resources to help us. Now we barely catch enough for our own consumption. Use of large fishing nets hurt our catch… A large fishing net not only catches big fish, but also the smaller fish that should be allowed to grow and reproduce – as opposed to the past, when people used nets only three fingers’ size…
People also use nets with a tighter weave now, similar to a mosquito net, to catch as many fish as possible. This type of net catches fish along with their eggs.
People also destroy the habitat by taking algae out of the river. People need it to wrap their fish to assure freshness of their catch… Someone like me who does not have a net, I can only use fish traps to supply my family with food.
I feel sad about it, but you know, it is hard to tell someone to stop using a net because that is the only way he can supply food for his family… These people who use large nets fish [day and night]…
Maybe these fishermen will listen to government officials, but if only the people in our village try to stop them, they will never listen. That is understandable because that is their job: to feed their family. If the government offers them a job, it could be an alternative.
Further threats to fish stocks
I am glad that people in my area (the lower part of the village) do not use these kinds of nets and that people recognise the bad consequences of using them… In the past, we only trapped fish and we could satisfy the needs of our family, such as food and clothing. But now, since the use of mosquito nets…as an interior layer of a fishing net, our production has suffered a drastic decline…
The doctor is amazed at how people use mosquito nets to catch fish. Even if he insists on explaining that the nets are only for domestic use, to protect against mosquito bites, people don’t really listen to him. They continue to use them to catch smaller fish…
In addition to the use of large fishing nets, the sea and river levels have risen, which makes fishing very challenging and this may impact on the existence of fish. So I tell you, currently Ambinanibe faces a critical time.
“The river was sacred”
In the past, my ancestors, my father’s grandfather, named Remandria, and later Marofotsy, gave their blessings to our river and the sea around our village… My ancestors were the first to come here. They started clearing forested land and then people arrived after them, because they discovered that there were abundant resources nearby. The village expanded little by little.
Ever since I can remember, it was forbidden to dispose of rubbish in the river… It is taboo to clean meat and wash pots in the river…even someone who has eaten pork must clean himself before touching the river. I don’t understand why people violate these rules. I think people just do not want to listen.
Whenever they slaughter a cow, the water they’ve used mixed with cow’s blood flows into the river, although they have been warned not to do that… These people are newcomers, people who are working around here. Local residents warned them about this, but I guess they think we tell them a lie.
[All this] threatens the availability of food in our village. The river doesn’t produce the expected catch, as it did in the past, because the traditional rules governing our river are being violated, let alone because of the use of large fishing nets.
From what I know, the river was sacred and anyone, whether a resident or a visitor, who violated traditional rules could suffer the consequences of the angry river. People did not raise pigs…[because] when it is hot, pigs want to cool off – so it would be difficult to keep them out of the water…
But now people do keep them and they wander around and they go in the river, which is taboo. People try to keep them fenced in, but the situation got worse when butchers came here to buy pigs and cows…and slaughtered the animals near the river.
If the family has a cow, they slaughter it [for a funeral]. If a family doesn’t have one, they must do whatever it takes to afford one.
People in rural areas feel ashamed if they do not have a cow to kill during a funeral of a family member. People try to avoid the label that “the funeral was like a burial of a snake” – a burial without the sacrifice of a cow or chickens. The slaughtered cow is used to feed the people presenting their condolences.
“People still rely on family ties”
In the past people only used mats to decorate their floor. Now people purchase plastic rugs from Indian-owned stores in Fort Dauphin. It is such a change. In addition, people now have CD and video players. These things did not exist in our village before… People have furniture to sit on as opposed to just mats. Some of us own houses with a second floor and some others made their house with metal sheets.
Such changes took place because people received money in return for giving up their land… People threw away their old mats because they were impressed by their neighbour’s house…
But people still rely on family ties and friendships. If I have a friend who visits me in my village, I must introduce that person to my family and people in my village so that whenever my friend runs into one of my family members or my fellow villagers, my friend can rely on them if he needs help.
This interview has been specially edited and translated into English with square brackets that indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets indicating translations / interpretations; and dots indicating cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview.
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