Poverty and biodiversity

Looking back on my time in Madagascar, I am amazed at what my International Business Development (IBD) team has seen and done in the last three weeks. Our project involved developing a business plan to conserve a natural park while improving the lives of those in and around the park. In the process of tackling our project we were confronted with the country’s stark poverty, exacerbated by the many challenges facing Madagascar – political instability and corruption, population pressure, unproductive agriculture, lack of infrastructure, healthcare and education – all factors that threaten livelihoods and biodiversity.

Although I read about the dramatic contrast between poverty and biodiversity in Madagascar, it is one thing to do research from afar and quite another to see it in person. Seeing the state of the country on the ground – the extent of the poverty and declining situation – was really shocking and eye opening. From the beginning of our trip it was painstakingly clear that many of the Malagasy were in complete and utter distress. I had never seen such devastating poverty. We quickly learned that the people were in desperate need of basic resources such as food and clean water. This was consistent with our research as malnutrition is one of the biggest challenges for the people in Madagascar.

It was incredible to me that a country characterized by such extreme poverty could also be home to such beautiful and substantial flora and fauna. We visited incredible natural forest areas with biodiversity unmatched by any other place in the world. The lush rain forests were so dense that the sunlight could barely break through the canopy. And, the lemurs, frogs and chameleons, endemic and unique to Madagascar, were barely visible in the boundless vegetation. I could not imagine that deforestation and unproductive agriculture could be significant problems for the country, but indeed they are. The Malagasy, particularly in remote regions of the country, are in need of technical assistance and education to protect the forest and sustainably cultivate the land.

Working on our project reveled many opportunities to meet the needs of the Malagasy people and protect biodiversity. We investigated different potential revenue streams to both fund operations of the protected area as well as fund various community programs. The final business plan that we developed for our client will help, on a small scale, alleviate the poverty facing the country by improving livelihoods and decreasing pressures on biodiversity. if successful, sustainable financing through the sale of REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) carbon credits and community engagement programs such as subsistence agriculture and agro-forestry has the potential to not only conserve natural forest and improve the lives of people in and around the natural park, but nationwide.

—Julianne Wu

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