From the field

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Eyewitness – Cyclone Pam

Photo: Isso Nihmei/350.org

We have launched an emergency appeal to help people in the island nation of Vanuatu where Cyclone Pam have wreaked devastation. This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific. The scale of humanitarian need will be enormous and the people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives. 

Clean water, sanitation and hygiene supplies are a major issue for those left homeless and also those in evacuation centres, where there simply are not enough toilets or clean water for the amount of people in those facilities.

 

Here is a personal account of what it is like to experience the destructive forces of a Category 5 Cyclone from Colin Collett van Rooyen, Country Director, Oxfam in Vanuatu.

It was a dark and stormy night…no, seriously, it really was! Okay, so it never had a chance of being the perfect night in Vanuatu did it? We knew that Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam (we just call her Pam for short) was on her way. We knew (almost) exactly where she was and what her most likely next move would be and we knew that she would only reveal to us her secrets as she arrived over us.

Radios on, candles at the ready, water set out, lock down level red announced and cyclone tracking maps and pens on the table. Nothing unusual for cyclone season in Vanuatu really. This is a country so prone to cyclones that we have tracking maps in the early pages of the telephone directories. What was unusual was not knowing how strong Pam was going to be; how dark and stormy it would all get given that she was a category five cyclone. A rare beast.

Regular radio announcements in calm tones; traditional Vanuatu string band music in-between statements of how harsh things may be when she gets to us. All a bit surreal really. The cyclone shutters boarding up our windows and doors start to shudder, at first gently and irregularly and then faster and constant. Pam is now moving in, getting closer to us at a rate of 10, 15, 20 kilometers per hour. Her eye moves at an astounding speed, creating wind forces of unimaginable speeds.

Can you imagine ‘over 200km an hour’? I couldn’t at the time. But I could hear it. I now know the sound of 200km per hour or more, and I don’t think I would willingly subject myself to it again. Pam arrived announced by the drum roll of our shutters. Then she roared, she squealed, she hissed. She spat and cursed in deep bass tones, and at the same time she whistled and screeched in ways that messed with our senses. What was that we just heard?

Someone outside screaming? The high-pitched string band notes we had heard earlier on the radio? No, the radio was off and people had taken shelter. It was Pam in her many voices. She spoke a language of essential fear at its most primitive and we understood it instantly.

I could also ‘see’ what more than 200km per hour looked like. It was dark, the lights went out, it had that wobbly candle lit orange to it (not the romantic one you may be used to). It had pictures in my head of houses falling apart, metal sheets ripping of roofs, yachts in the bay turned upside down, trees tearing themselves into shreds, people cowering in dark corners and animals confused and wild. I could see 200km per hour in our eyes where we reflected the fear we were feeling so transparently despite our attempts to do the “I’m cool, you cool” act.

And of course we could feel it too. Pam’s special brand of 200km per hour or more shook us to the core. Our sturdy home rattled a bit at first and then at Pam’s most powerful moments she shook it. Just to remind us that she was in charge. Just to add to that already sharp edge that had moved us to huddle on the floor closest to the strongest walls and as far as possible from windows and doors that felt like they may not hold.

We could feel it too in another way. In wondering about family far away, in thinking about friends close by and those less fortunate to have a sturdy home, and in trying to reconcile this ugly yet astounding moment with the beautiful and gentle Vanuatu we love so much. And then after dragging us around with such aggression she decided to move on, to try her power games on anther small island of Vanuatu, and then another and another.

And at the end of this ‘dark and stormy night’ we were left wide awake, unable to sleep a wink in case she came back, wondering if what we saw in our mind’s eye, what we felt and heard, would be real when we eventually cracked open the doors after the all clear in the morning.

And it was.

Colin Collett van Rooyen, Country Director, Oxfam in Vanuatu. Follow Colin on Twitter here.

You can help support Oxfam’s Cyclone Pam response by donating here.

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Cyclone Pam leaves ‘unprecedented disaster' in Vanuatu

 

Stories of devastation emerge from Oxfam staffers.

Cyclone Pam, possibly one of the worst ever seen in the Pacific region, has now passed over the island nation of Vanuatu, and reports are emerging of the devastation left in its wake as Oxfam prepares to launch an emergency response.

 
Packing winds of up to 160 miles per hour, the storm slammed directly into Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital on the island of Efate, where about 65,000 people live. Oxfam staffers there are reporting the complete destruction of homes: Winds have uprooted trees three stories tall, and in some of the smaller communities, barely any houses are left standing.
 
Power and water have been knocked out and people are still not able to move around freely.
 
“The scale of this disaster is unprecedented in this country and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives,” said Colin Collett van Rooyen, Oxfam’s Vanuatu country director. He said residents have told him that they have never seen a cyclone of this intensity and were scared about the devastation that will likely unfold as emergency teams make their way into hard-to-reach areas.

Slightly smaller than Northern Ireland, Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain of four main islands and 80 smaller ones made up mostly of mountains with narrow coastal plains. Though many of the islands are uninhabited, the total population of the country is estimated to be close to 267,000 - that's around twice the population of Cork city.

Port Vila, the capital, has been named in the Natural Hazards Risk Atlas as the city most exposed to natural disasters in the world because of the risks it faces from earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, and cyclones like Pam.

 

Wake-up call for disaster risk reduction

For the president of Vanuatu, the terrible reality of those risks reportedly brought him close to tears as he delivered his opening statement Saturday at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. The event is aimed at tackling the devastating impacts of disasters.
 
“I speak to you today with a heart that is so heavy,” said the president, Baldwin Lonsdale. “I stand to ask you to give a lending hand to responding to this calamity that has struck us.”
 
Ben Murphy, the humanitarian advocacy lead for Oxfam Australia who is attending the conference, said Lonsdale’s words are a wake-up call for the international community which is not doing enough to help reduce the risk of disasters like this and the impact they have on the world’s most vulnerable people.
 
“With Cyclone Pam and Typhoon Haiyan scale events likely to increase in severity, including due to the effects of climate change, current disaster risk reduction, preparedness, and response capacities from the local to the national and international levels will increasingly be pushed to the breaking point in the future,” said Murphy. “That’s why delegations meeting in Sendai need to have President Lonsdale’s words ringing in their ears as they negotiate new international framework on disaster risk reduction.”
 

Oxfam in Vanuatu

 
Oxfam has been working on disaster preparedness at both the local and national level in Vanuatu for the past four years. We have been funding communities to build cyclone-proof classrooms and coordinating the Vanuatu humanitarian team while working closely with governments and donor agencies to strengthen disaster preparedness across the country.
 
Following disasters like Cyclone Pam, Oxfam’s first step is to assess where the greatest needs are and then make determinations about shelter, clean water, sanitation, and food supplies.
 
The Vanuatu Humanitarian Team, coordinated by Oxfam, is now in action. As we learn more, we will continue to provide updates on the situation.

 

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Celebrating the Female Food Heroes of Nigeria

Breakfast in Lagos, the same as the day before, two large slices of boiled yam (a root vegetable) with spicy egg sauce. Surprisingly it actually works as a breakfast and my stomach has been fine. The strong spices make the bland yam edible and I find myself enjoying the combination. Lunch and dinner will be more spicy soups and sauces along with fish or other meat and eaten with various porridges made from cassava and other crops. Nigeria, like the rest of West Africa, has a strong culinary history with a wide variety of dishes prepared from indigenous crops. Nigeria also has the hottest, spiciest food of any country in the world. If you have never tried it and especially if you have blocked sinuses, you need to try proper Nigerian hot pepper soup.

I was in Lagos for the 2014 Female Food Hero awards, a competition that began in Tanzania. These 12 great rural women came from all over Nigeria and were selected from more than 1,200 nominations. They, along with millions of other women, grow the crops, care for the livestock and in the end produce the food that makes up the exciting Nigerian cuisine I was enjoying. These 12 women spent a week together in Lagos in the build-up to the final award ceremony and announcement of the overall winners. In the past two years the awards were held only in certain states among women farmers that Oxfam and partners worked with, but this year for the first time it has become a national competition open to all women involved with primary food production.

During the week, the women joined together in morning exercises with Tony the trainer, who also works as a model and actor. They had training sessions with different people on a range of topics relevant for women and for farmers. They held discussions and went on field trips. To the end, even in celebrating the eventual winners, they demonstrated a unity that this large and complex country sometimes lacks. 

Clockwise from top-left: Catfish at urban fish farm in Lagos – this visit showed how nutritious food can be produced and made into a good business, even with limited space. An exhibition of farmer produce set up during the award ceremony. The 12 finalists of 2014 competition join winners from previous years and a representative of the farmers organisation on a field trip. From left to right: second runner-up Chinasa Asonye; first runner-up Monica Maigari; and Female Food Hero 2014 Marian Buhari. From left to right: Oxfam’s Acting Nigeria Country Director Evelyne Mere; first runner-up Monica Maigari; overall winner Marian Buhari; second runner-up Chinasa Asonye; Oxfam Food and Land Rights Advisor Marc Wegerif. The finalists visit the Tropical Naturals Ltd factory which turns agricultural products like shea butter and honey and turn them into creams and products for export.

These women also underwent health checks and received healthy living advice. Stress management was one of the favourite topics. There are so many stresses that rural women face that they are normally expected to simply cope with themselves. They learnt they have a right to care for themselves and be cared for. There were also meetings with celebrities, actors, singers and women leaders. There were dramas that the women themselves prepared and as well as the hard work, lighter moments and lots of singing. The whole process was filmed and is being produced into a series of TV programmes. 

The field trips included a visit to the inspiring factory of Tropical Naturals Ltd. They take agricultural products like shea butter and honey and turn them into creams and products like the famous Dudu-Oson black soap that is sold in Nigeria and exported. The dynamic Chief Executive Officer, Abiola Ogunrinde, stressed to the women the importance of adding value to all their agricultural products in order to get a greater return as farmers and for the nation.

An urban fish farm showed how nutritious food could be produced and made into a good business, even with limited space in a densely populated urban area. Some of the finalists are already involved with fish farming, others were inspired to start.

Nigeria is now the largest economy in Africa with 180 million people and famous for its oil industry, but agriculture remains a vital part of the economy. Agriculture makes up more than 30% of the economic activity and importantly 70% of all employment. Women provide most of the labour in the sector, but get little recognition and little support, something that these awards are working to change.

By highlighting the importance of women’s contribution to food production and the economy, the Female Food Hero awards help increase public support for women involved with food production. The awards also show the challenges women face, through the stories of the female food heroes themselves, told by themselves. We are asking for the creation of a more supportive environment for women food producers. Look what they have done despite all the challenges they face and imagine what they could do with a more enabling environment. The responses have been good and other women food producers have also been inspired.

On Friday 20th November the hall at the hotel was crowded and sometimes chaotic during an exciting celebration of the Ogbonge (strong, heroic, magnificent) Nigerian Women Food Heroes of 2014. As many speakers stressed, all the finalists are good representatives of the millions of hard-working women who produce most of the food in Nigeria. But everyone also wanted to know who would be the winner and walk away with the largest prizes.

Above, left-right: Some of the produce made by first runner-up Monica Maigari. Previous Female Food Hero award winner Gloria works out in the gym. Tony puts the women farmers through their paces in the gym. 

Guests included government officials, NGOs, farmer organisation representatives and private sector representatives. Jennifer Abuah of OLAM Nigeria Ltd noted that of 10,000 cocoa farmers they work with on sustainable cocoa production, only 500 are women. “We know they are there, but they are not visible”, she said. “Women don’t own their land, they are farming the land that belongs to the men in their families and women are doing so many other things besides farming.”

Karima Babangida, the Head of Gender and Youth in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, announced the winners for 2014, but not before she praised the “12 very beautiful hard-working women” who made it to the finals. She also committed the Ministry to providing start-up kits with fish for all the finalists to start or expand fish farming. 

The second runner-up was Chinasa Asonye from Lagos state. A young married woman with three children, she has gone from only cultivating ofada rice to now processing and packaging the rice, for which she gets a much better return. Chinasa leased land from Lagos state government under the Rice for Jobs Initiative and has also branched into fish farming. Last year, she harvested 31 sacks of rice and 5.2 tons of catfish.

The first runner-up was Monica Maigari from Kaduna state. She is a mother of four and farms soybeans, maize, guinea corn, rice, poultry and goats. In 2013, she produced and sold 34 sacks of grains, 130 birds, 360 crates of layers and eight goats.

It was hard to get any picture of the winner, Marian Buhari, when she was announced as people crowded around with cameras to capture the moment. Marian is from Kwara state. She is married with five children and farms cucumbers, maize, cassava, melons, tomatoes, cabbage and fish. She was assisted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to get started in fish farming with catfish fingerlings (young fish) and two bags of fish feed. Now in 2014, she harvested over 150 tons of produce. Like Chinasa, she had also relied on renting other people’s land for her production.

The best speakers of the day were the women farmers themselves. The past winners shared how much the awards had meant to them, including their activities as ambassadors for women farmers that had taken them to national events and international events in the United States and African Union meetings in Ethiopia. This year’s finalists called for women to get better access to inputs, machinery, finance and land with secure rights. 

As the finalists often chanted:

Ogbonge Women, Our Future! Ogbonge Women, Our Farmers! Ogbonge Women, Our Nigeria!

Marc Wegerif is a South African, currently based in Tanzania, who has worked on development and human rights issues in a range of organisations for over 25 years and has a Masters in Land and Agrarian Studies from the University of the Western Cape. Marc has focused on land rights issues for much of his professional life and is currently Food and Land Rights Advisor with Oxfam Ireland. In this role Marc is involved with international advocacy and running several multi-country projects. He is married with two daughters. This blog is a personal reflection and the views expressed are not necessarily those of Oxfam. 

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Your Impact: One Year On From Philippines Typhoon

Two ships sat wedged on the land. Underneath their hulks lay the remains of houses and the bodies of those who called them home.
 
All around lay flattened. On a piece of corrugated iron read the words ‘HELP ME’.
 
A teddy bear was face-down nearby and underfoot were the remants of everyday life as we know it; school books, shampoo bottles and plates among the debris.
 
I was in the Barangay 70 and 69 district in Tacloban city in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Earlier that day we saw bodies on the streets and drove past an evacuation centre which collapsed on top of those who had sought safety there, the steel structure twisted horribly by the storm.
 
More than 5,000 people were killed and 4 million were forced from their homes as Haiyan (or Yolanda as it’s known in the Philippines) wove its destructive path through the central Philippines. It was the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall.
 
Grief was raw. We stopped at a church surrounded by newly dug plots. A photograph of a boy no older than three marked one resting place, surrounded by favourite sweets.
 
Back where the ships lay, we met a father who had lost his wife and three children. In an emotional encounter, he wept as he showed their pictures in the family photo album.
 
Amid the devastation, children played in the street and begged us to take their smiling pictures. Nearby, an Oxfam water bladder was providing clean and safe water. Opposite stood one of another Oxfam tap.
 
In spite of their overwhelming loss, people were trying to get back to some sort of sense of normality. Stalls were opening again on the side of the roads and the most popular items were torches, proving that demand dictates the market no matter what the circumstances.
 
Everywhere we went in the Philippines, people on spotting the Oxfam t-shirt would ask where we were from and express their gratitude for the support coming from the island of Ireland at this most difficult of times. Their resilience stunned us.
 
This was my first time in Asia and my first experience witnessing our humanitarian work in action. It was a real privilege to see how the generous donations of people across the island of Ireland translated into positive results on the ground. 
 
From those who came into our shops with cheques written out to the appeal (the odd one written in four figures), to children who saved up their pocket money, along with bucket-shaking, events and even a charity single, we are incredibly grateful for your support. 100% of the funds raised went to our emergency response and had a positive and long-lasting impact.
 
 
Photos:
 
Top left: Seaweed farms like Marissa Gegante’s on Bantayan island were destroyed by the typhoon. She says: “We are thankful again for having Oxfam. They helped us to recover from the typhoon and to the donors of the livelihood programme and cash-for-work – and for the love we received from them. God bless Oxfam.” Tessa Bunney/Oxfam.  
 
Top right: Enfracian Boca, pictured with her granddaughter Marcy Anne Fuentes (8 months), received  an Oxfam hygiene kit containing essential items including soap, detergent, toothpaste, and underwear. She says: “Thank you to Oxfam for the hygiene kit. It has been very useful – we have used everything, especially the soap.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.  
 
Bottom left: Arlene Arceo, Manager of Latufa Farmers' Association, says: “We thank Oxfam for helping us to recover after the super typhoon Yolanda. You give us new hope for our livelihoods and a new job on our coconut lumber project.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.  
 
Bottom right: Kenneth Caneda stands in front of two Oxfam latrines in Tacloban. “I use these Oxfam toilets,” he says. “We have no other toilets here. Also thank you for the cash for work for clearing the paths here.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.
 
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to not only provide vital aid such as food, clean water, sanitation and shelter in the immediate aftermath but also be there for long-haul, helping people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
 
Typhoon Haiyan delivered a double blow. In the short term, it left more than 14.1 million people in need of immediate, life-saving assistance. But it also pushed millions of poor people further into poverty. Rice crops, coconut trees and fishing boats were wiped out, leaving people struggling to grow food and earn an income. 
 
In response, we have reached more than 860,000 people so far. Our first priority was to provide life-saving assistance, such as clean water, toilets, hygiene kits, and cash to buy food and other essentials. We then began helping people to recover the livelihoods that had been destroyed by the disaster.
 
For example, we provided rice seeds for farmers to replant lost crops and chainsaws for clearing fallen trees that obstructed fields. 
 
One year on from the disaster, the emergency phase of our response has finished. We’re now focusing on long-term recovery and rehabilitation. One way we’re doing this is by planning how water and sanitation facilities will be managed on a permanent basis. We’re also looking at how people will be able to earn a living. 
 
We need to ensure that communities not only recover, but are more prepared for the next disaster. 
 
The Philippines is the third most disaster-prone country in the world. In the face of predictions of more extreme weather, our new report Can’t Afford to Wait highlights the importance of being prepared for climate-related risks. It follows a warning last week from experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the irreversible impact of climate change on people and eco systems. But there is a solution, if we urgently reduce carbon emissions.  
 
Our Philippines campaign called #MakeTheRightMove calls on the Filipino government to get resettlement and rehabilitation efforts right, and immediately put in place their disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation plans. 
 
As the world reflects on the events of November 8th, 2013, for those grieving nothing can ever replace their loss.
 
All we can do is continue to provide life-saving and life-changing support in times of crisis, and ensure people can face the future prepared, come what may.  
 
Sorcha Nic Mhathúna is Oxfam Ireland’s Communications and Content Manager.
 
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Farmers in Madagascar taking on climate changes & land grabs

It was 8am, the coffee was strong and welcome, the small cakes, some savoury and some sweet, made of rice flour, tasty, similar to the vitumbua that are common in Tanzania. I was in the small town of Mahitsy, about 30 kms from Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo. 

Richard Rabetrano was showing me around, giving me some idea of the life and work of farmers in this part of Madagascar. We had started at the market: the essential place for farmers to sell their produce, for the exchange of goods, for meeting, for learning and of course for eating.

At the market a wide range of fresh vegetables and fruit are available as well as other food. There are also shops and traders selling farm inputs, like seeds, equipment, tools and pesticides. 

The coffee stall we stopped at is on the side of the cobbled road running through the centre of Mahitsy. We leaned on the counter and watched the busses, oxcarts, cars and above all pedestrians passing in the crowded road, many bringing goods to and from the market and the surrounding shops.

The coffee, grown, roasted, ground, sold and drunk in Madagascar was great and only cost 200 Ariary (about 6c/5p) a cup, the small cakes 50 Ariary (about 1.5c/1.17p) each. 

Photos - Top left: Marc has coffee in Mahitsy market – it costs just 6c/5p.  Top right: Fresh vegetables at the market. Middle: A husband and wife work in their field of green beans. Bottom left: Rabetrano stands in his field where both he and his neighbouring farmers have to rely on a mere trickle of water to irrigate their fields  Bottom right: It is the dry season. In this valley we can see the irrigated fields and the dry land around.

Rabetrano is a local farmer who is part of the leadership of the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum. He and his national farmers’ confederation (Confédération des Agriculteurs Malagas) organised to get the government to allocate land and build better infrastructure for the market we were at.

Oxfam has for years supported ESAFF in its work to link up farmers from across the region, enabling the sharing of experiences and knowledge with each other and also joint advocacy for their essential interests. ESAFF has advocated for farmers, often alongside Oxfam, on issues like trade policy, climate change and land grabs.

Land grabs that in some cases have taken the land that the ESAFF members depend on for their prosperity. Rabetrano and the other farmers I met can work hard, produce crops and set up local markets, but there are policy and other decisions that can undermine all their work. 

After the market we visited farms. It is the dry season and crops are only growing in the river valleys where there is enough water. We talked to a husband and wife who were picking green beans in their field.

With carefully constructed irrigation channels these and other farmers are producing beans, peas and other legumes as well as some potatoes, tomatoes and green vegetables. The same fields will be planted with rice once the rain comes.

Rabetrano’s own fields were dry; the clay rich soil hard and empty, aside from some stalks of rice plants left from last season. “There is just not enough water this year,” he explained and showed me the trickle of water he and other neighbouring farmers have to rely on.

“Last year we had good rain and I was able to plant some land throughout the year,” Rabetrano said. Now he is waiting for the rain before ploughing and planting, rain that has become unpredictable over the last years.

Five days before there was a little rainfall and Richard had hired someone with oxen to plough land higher up the hill, but since then there has been no more rain and the soil is dry and dusty; there is no point in planting yet.

Despite the lack of water Rabetrano manages, with careful use of his 5 hectares of land, to produce food for the market and home, supporting himself and his family.

He combines different crops on the same land, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes by rotating crops, to replenish soil fertility and minimise the need for fertiliser. He farms with little environmental impact or carbon footprint.

In another village we found a vibrant cattle market, hundreds of men (yes, it was almost all men) gathered to sell and buy cows.  Alongside the field where the market was a line of small buildings contained eating houses (mostly run by women), where a busy trade was being done.

Other businesses were also there to take advantage of the market opportunities. I bought a handmade sisal rope; just in case I bought a cow and needed to lead it home. I had to explain to some of the sellers that getting a cow on the plane was going to be hard. The cattle are used for meat and milk as well as for ploughing and transport.

At Rabetrano’s neat two-floor house we had a tasty and nutritious lunch of rice (from Richard’s fields of course) and spinach with a just a few small morsels of beef mixed in. The meat a small part of this meal, just adding a bit of protein and flavour as meat has done in the diets of many throughout history.

This is not consuming meat in the way the rich of the world now increasingly do with huge environmental and sustainability repercussions.  

Rabetrano lives upstairs in the house with his wife and younger daughter (his older children have left home). His sister lives downstairs with her children. On the desk at one end of the combined living and dining room where we were sitting is a computer, the internet modem working via the cell-phone network.

The connection may be a bit slow and expensive, but Rabetrano can be in touch with fellow farmers in different parts of the world and his daughter, who is doing clothes design, can follow international fashion trends. Rabetrano also uses his smart phone to get online and Facebook has been the main way I communicate with him since returning home to Tanzania.

I had come to Madagascar to attend an Africa Forum of the International Land Coalition, which Oxfam is a member of. The Forum brought together organisations working on land rights and land governance issues across Africa to share experiences and develop approaches to ensure good land governance for sustainable development in Africa.

Over the last decades there have been improvements in land policy in many African countries. In 2009 the heads of state of all African countries, meeting in the summit of the African Union agreed on a Framework and Guidelines for Land Policy in Africa. This serves to encourage and guide countries to “Strengthen Land Rights, Enhance Productivity and Secure Livelihoods.” 

Such agreements can seem like a lot of talk with little action. Indeed there are real challenges in getting implementation of policies to make real difference in people’s lives. At the same time, however, we are seeing progress and all the organisations gathered at the Forum in Madagascar are working to make the policy commitments known to communities and to people in poverty and pushing to ensure there is implementation.

Rabetrano, like many other farmers in Madagascar, has a document from the local authority confirming his inheritance of land from his parents, but the legal strength of such documents is questionable. There are others who have no documentation at all to show their rights to the land that they depend on and need to invest in for their livelihoods.

Community practice and knowledge of which land belongs to whom continues to be important for people’s sense of tenure security, whether people have documents or not, but this can be hard to defend when there are large government or private investments.

Land reforms in 2005 aimed to give citizens in Madagascar stronger rights over their land and set up a more affordable process for those with land rights to get a proper certificate documenting that right. This has increased the sense of security on their land, for those who have got the certificate.

There are challenges, however, with only a limited number of the certificates issued. Rabetrano has not got one yet, and most of those issued have gone to relatively wealthy people. Although the law calls for gender equality, men are still seen as the owners of land with the result that over 80% of land held by couples has been certified in the name of the man alone.

Large-scale land grabs are a real threat that increases the need for secure land rights and strong organisation of people aware of and able to defend their rights. One land grab in Madagascar involved over a million hectares of land, but was eventually cancelled after protests.

So strong where people’s objections that the deal contributed to the overthrow of the president. Other land grabs continue and as investors seek to profit from the rich natural resources of the country they are too often threatening not only the livelihoods of farmers, like Rabetrano, but also the vibrant markets and other local economic activities that the local agriculture is a central part of.

The area I visited with Rabetrano is in the wealthier highlands of the country, close to the capital city, which means market opportunities and easier access. Not all farmers are as well situated; indeed Madagascar is ranked 155 on the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index and does have extreme poverty.

What has been good to see is what farmers like Rabetrano can do when the conditions are right. Rabetrano is creating a good quality of life for his family and contributing to the economy. His children have got an education and are having greater choices about what kind of future they want.

This cannot be taken for granted though; the right conditions need to be extended to other farming areas and also defended from the real threats posed by climate change, bad trade deals and land grabs.

Marc Wegerif is a South African, currently based in Tanzania, who has worked on development and human rights issues in a range of organisations for over 25 years and has a Masters in Land and Agrarian Studies from the University of the Western Cape. Marc has focused on land rights issues for much of his professional life and is currently Food and Land Rights Advisor with Oxfam Ireland. In this role Marc is involved with international advocacy and running several multi-country projects. He is married with two daughters. This blog is a personal reflection and the views expressed are not necessarily those of Oxfam. 

 

 

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