Conservation milestone for baobabs in Madagascar

The iconic baobabs of Madagascar symbolise the island’s unique wildlife as much as its lemurs. The magnificent Grandidier’s baobab (known locally as Renala) is the best-known species, but also one of the most threatened.

This week saw a milestone in conservation of the Renala, with the granting of management rights for 6,453 hectares of forest hosting 400 adult Renala to the local community, giving them a real stake in the future of the forest and the trees.

Grandidiers (or Renala) baobab. Credit: Richard Jenkins

Grandidiers (or Renala) baobab. Credit: Richard Jenkins

The Renala, Adansonia grandidieri, is a giant, long-lived tree that is highly valued locally – its fruits and seeds are eaten, its bark is used for rope, roofing and medicinal products, and it is an important part of local culture and traditions.

The Renala is only found in western Madagascar, but the number of trees has declined due to over-exploitation and habitat destruction, and natural regeneration is very limited.

With support from Fauna & Flora International’s Global Trees Campaign, local organisation Madagasikara Voakajy is working with communities to protect and restore these unique trees.

Credit: Cynthia Raveloson/Madagasikara Voakajy

Credit: Cynthia Raveloson/Madagasikara Voakajy

After over 18 months of negotiation facilitated by Madagasikara Voakajy, the community at Bepeha, near Mahabo, have set up a village forest management organisation, agreed on zones within the forest, and developed rules for the use of forest resources within each zone. Implementation of the rules will be regularly evaluated by the authorities.

After a complex approval process, the official management rights to the forest were granted to Bepeha village during a ceremony this week, attended by the regional director of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the head of Mahabo district and the local mayor.

Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka, Director of Madagasikara Voakajy, said,It has been fascinating to see how keen the villagers are to ensure these trees survive – they value them so highly. Putting the management into the community’s hands gives them control over their own future; that empowerment is crucial, so that the trees are secure long after our conservation project has ended.”

This month has also seen the planting of 257 Renala seedlings by local schoolchildren, adding to 264 that were planted earlier in 2012. The project is running a competition for the best looked-after seedlings, while explaining the importance of the trees to the children.

Cynthia Raveloson from Madagasikara Voakajy, who has been leading the schools work, said, “The children are incredibly enthusiastic about protecting and nurturing their seedlings. Working through the schools means we have not only boosted the numbers of this rare species, we have ensured the importance of the Renala is understood by the next generation too.”