My name is Philémon Eugène. I am 50 years old and spent my whole life in Ambondrolava near Toliara in the Southwest of Madagascar. Of my six kids, only one is a girl. The oldest is 30 years old while the youngest is 6. They all live here with me.
Ambondrolava literally means “long reeds”. We have a huge site with mangroves and a lot of reeds, “vondro” in Malagasy. Many people moved here between 1957 and 1958 to cut the “vondro” and make a living selling it. Vondro proved to be a valuable material for roof making. As a settler, my father was among those who helped building the road.
As people flocked in, there was increased need for firewood and charcoal. Settlers first started to cut the spiny forest, then the mangroves. One businessman even cut a large area of mangroves to build salt plants.
I remember the copious rainfalls in the mangroves area and the resulting big lakes of fresh water. Now that most of the mangrove trees are gone, it virtually doesn’t rain any more. Sand dunes often move quickly as there is no forest cover left to stop them. I know a village where they had to move all the houses!
Previously, with much more mangrove trees, eels could easily be found. At current price, eels sell for 10,000 Ariary (3 Euro), the reason why many people collect them. It’s becoming harder to find them because there are so many collectors for fewer mangrove trees.
My father used to plant manioc and maize. In 1980 he stopped raising them because of scanty rainfalls. While it usually rained at four in the morning, today it virtually doesn’t rain anymore early in the morning. We still grow plants, but only vegetables since we have to water them.
Our main sources of income are the “vondro” and fishery. Some other villages specialize in hunting sharks for their fins. They make big money selling them to Asian markets. Still other people collect swimming crabs in the mangroves. As for lazy people, they simply cannot afford living here as life is becoming harder and harder.
As far as I am concerned, I am currently being trained as an ecotourism guide. The joint support from a Belgium association and WWF helps us to restore the mangroves. Hopefully this partnership will make life a little easier for everyone.
Source: WWF Madagascar and the WIO Region