Boosting Marine Conservation Efforts Through Voluntary Family Planning
Velondriake, southwest Madagascar
Many developing countries are facing challenges of poor health, unmet family needs, gender inequity, food insecurity, environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change. One such country is Madagascar, where 92% of the population lives on less than $2 US per day. Along this coastline is the Grand Recif de Tulear, a 450 km barrier reef on which approximately 80% of these communities depend for their livelihoods and food security. Semi-nomadic fishing communities along the southwest coast are some of the poorest and most isolated in the country; almost wholly reliant on the marine environment for food, income, transport and cultural identity. In recent years they have observed declining fish catches, owing largely owing to pressure related to market-driven exploitation, as well as increasing subsistence demands from a growing coastal population.
Population growth among these communities is high, with women giving birth to an average of 6.2 children, causing the population to double every 10-15 years. This is placing increasing pressure on traditional livelihoods that are dependent on limited marine resources. Up to 90% of the women in this region would like to be able to plan their pregnancies, only a third were using contraceptives.
In an effort to protect marine biodiversity and sustain traditional fisheries along the southwest Madagascan coast, Blue Ventures, an international nongovernmental organization, is working with local communities to establish locally managed marine areas (LMMAs); networks encompassing temporary fishery closures; permanent marine reserves, and designated aquaculture zones. More than 750 km2 of marine, coastal, and terrestrial area is covered by the LMMA, serving nearly 8,000 people. They decided to call this LMMA ‘Velondriake’, which means ‘to live with the sea’. Customary laws called dina, that are formally recognized by the government, have been created and are enforced by the Velondriake communities in order to prohibit destructive fishing practices and safeguard certain areas for permanent protection. These were agreed upon and are reviewed by local stakeholders through community meetings attended by representatives elected from each village.
For these conservation efforts to be successful, it was clear that alternative income sources were needed to reduce fishing pressure. Community-based aquaculture – seaweed and sea cucumber farming – was therefore developed with private sector partners, in order to provide coastal communities with a viable alternative means of income generation. In direct response to the unmet family planning needs of these communities, Blue Ventures also started offering voluntary reproductive health education and services to Velondriake communities.
Together, these initiatives combined to form an integrated approach reflecting the inextricable links between humans, their health and the environment. This “Population-Health-Environment” (PHE) model is a holistic concept that aims to combine reproductive health service, education, and marine conservation. The integrated PHE approach aims to empower couples to plan and better provide for their families; improving food security and boosting local conservation efforts by promoting more sustainable livelihoods.
After the initial introduction of a voluntary family planning clinic in the village of Andavadoaka in 2007, which provided counselling and contraceptive options to women and their partners, it was quickly apparent that the demand for these services throughout the Velondriake area was great. In order to scale up service delivery, local women were trained as community-based distributors of contraceptives, and today Blue Ventures provides health services across 40 villages in and around Velondriake. Couples now have the means to freely choose the number and spacing of their births, and in addition a range of integrated community education activities have been introduced to promote sustained behavior change. The full PHE approach encompasses locally-led marine conservation; sustainable fisheries management; aquaculture enterprises; community education and capacity building; sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health services; and water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives. These are described below:
Locally-led marine conservation:
Local conservation management is implemented through a local set of laws, which were created, and are now enforced by local communities through a democratically-elected local management committee. This brings together representatives from isolated villages, and local leaders collaborate on a regular basis to manage the region’s marine resources.
Sustainable fisheries management:
Fisheries are managed through the above mentioned laws, e.g. restricting fishing methods, permanent no-take zones, and seasonal closures.
Introduction of sea cucumber and seaweed farming provides an alternative income to wild harvesting. Some 168 people are currently involved in sea cucumber farming in 3 villages and 459 people in seaweed farming in 11 villages.
Community education and capacity building:
A school scholarship program provides financial assistance to over 200 children and young adults to attend local primary and secondary schools each year. A separate program provides assistance for undergraduate, MSc, and PhD students interested in pursuing higher education in environmental sciences as well as ongoing informal education for the communities focusing of increasing local capacity building (e.g. book keeping, habitat monitoring techniques, management and leadership skills).
Sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health services:
Family planning and community health services are provided to isolated villages. Clinics are provided in several main villages, as well as community-based distributors of contraceptives, serving some 40 villages.
Water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives:
Community education and outreach regarding clean water, sanitation and hygiene, addressing one of the area’s greatest causes of morbidity and mortality.
How successful has it been?
Through the introduction of voluntary family planning services in the region, the proportion of women using contraceptives has increased from 10% in 2007 to 55% in 2013, while the general fertility rate has declined by 40% over the same period.
Women have become more empowered to plan their families and space their births, and as a result they are better equipped to engage in income-generating activities and fisheries management. They are able to freely choose the family size that is right for them, striking a sustainable balance with the marine environment upon which their livelihoods depend.
Lessons learned and recommendations
Blue Ventures’ integrated Population-Health-Environment (PHE) approach addresses the interconnected challenges of poor health, unmet family planning needs, gender inequality, food insecurity, environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change in a holistic way.
This integrated model is underpinned by educational village outreach tours, which engage communities in topics including family planning, maternal and child health, sanitation and hygiene, sustainable fisheries management, alternative coastal livelihoods and marine conservation. Combining health and environmental messages in this way enables Blue Ventures to reach broader audiences, for example, informing men about family planning by relating food security to reproductive health.
Through this approach, Blue Ventures empowers couples to make their own reproductive health choices, and gives them the skills to manage their resources sustainably. Gaining access to family planning services improves maternal and child health outcomes, allows girls to delay their first pregnancy until after they have completed their education, and affords women more opportunities to become economically active. Couples are supported to plan and better provide for their families; improving food security, boosting local conservation efforts and enabling them to create their own paths out of poverty.
Part of Blue Ventures’ success in this integrated approach comes from building good relationships with the communities through previous marine conservation efforts, but also through their culturally sensitive approach, which upholds women’s reproductive rights, and ensures that couples are given the information and options to freely choose the number and spacing of their births. Blue Ventures uses a variety of approaches including community theatre and sporting events to inform communities about sexual health issues. Activities are tailored to specific demographic groups using a wide range of methods including sporting events, village meetings, women’s groups, youth clubs and school workshops.
Pushing against an open door: establishing a family planning service in Andavadoaka (pdf)
Safidy Development Plan (pdf)
To live with the sea Development of the Velondriake community: Managed protected area network, southwest Madagascar (pdf)
Building Socio-ecological Resilience to Climate Change through Community-Based Coastal Conservation and Development: Experiences in Southern Madagascar
Written by: Ida Vincent