Milestone achieved in Madagascar: Government includes traditional communities in national land reform process
By Jean-Ousmane Camara, with inputs from Michelle Sonkoue & Daiana González

For the first time, Madagascar's traditional communities, the FOKONOLONA, are being considered in the construction of the country's land reform. Find out how this breakthrough was made possible.

28 .03. 2024  
6 minutes read

Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, is home to priceless biodiversity. Within this natural paradise, there are complex forest resource management challenges. According to a recent RRI study, in 71.7% of Madagascar’s community lands, representing 41.72 million hectares, the rights of communities are not legally recognized.  

Unfortunately, Madagascar still lacks adequate legislation to secure these lands, exposing Indigenous Peoples and local communities to constant pressure from the private sector seeking to appropriate their territories. Faced with these challenges, RRI and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) initiated a new project called “Strengthening Community Land Rights Through Coalition Building, Land Tenure Reform, and Research to Improve Forest Management and Strengthen Community Livelihoods in Madagascar” with the Initiative Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier (SIF). 

The project represents tangible hope for a more sustainable future for the big island.

FOKONOLONA: The guardians of Malagasy land and community rights

A groundbreaking initiative  

SIF and RRI deployed an exceptional transformative influence to directly reach the community council of the FOKONOLONA. The FOKONOLONA, Madagascar’s local communities, are the traditional custodians of Malagasy lands and the community council has played a key advisory role within the community since time immemorial.   

SIF and RRI’s collaboration are a response to the complex challenges of land management and biodiversity preservation in Madagascar. Since 2019, SIF has been supporting the drafting of the country’s Community Land Law. Their actions include regional consultations, capacity-building workshops for civil society organizations (CSOs), advocacy for secure land rights, and active promotion of the inclusion of women and youth in the law. 

This approach embodies a collective commitment to comprehensive and equitable land reform in Madagascar, demonstrating a willingness to create solid legal foundations and foster inclusive participation for the well-being of local communities.  

Photo: L'Initiative Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier (SIF)

Photo: L'Initiative Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier (SIF)

Ensuring the active and equitable participation of the country’s traditional communities 

Capacity building is the essential pillar of this project and marks a significant turning point in the empowerment of the FOKONOLONA’s community council. Since 2022, SIF and other local CSOs have been organizing trainings and workshops for the FOKONOLONA to help raise collective awareness of the new law being drafted and encourage the community to see themselves as central players in safeguarding their ancestral lands.   

SOAVINALAHATRA Nasolo Harijery, Technical Affairs Officer at SIF, highlights the impact of these workshops on land issues: “Various CSOs were able to benefit from the training courses we provided, and it’s fair to say that they have acquired knowledge in this area. What’s more, we’ve been able to establish a common vision.” 

The FOKONOLONA now have the skills and confidence to play an active part in drafting land laws, thereby anchoring the process in the daily lives of their communities. And the impacts are tangible. They are now recognized by the State as a rightsholder, and the community’s voice is being taken into consideration in the ongoing land reforms. This social transformation is accompanied by an increased awareness of the fundamental role the FOKONOLONA play in preserving biodiversity, a commitment that began more than a century ago. 

SIF, in collaboration with RRI and the Malagasy land administration, is fully committed to the establishment of strong land rights by supporting the creation of a robust legal framework for community land rights. Despite the formal recognition of community land use rights in law, concrete actions remain essential to ensuring effective security and protection against encroachment and private sector actors. 

“The next stage in the collaboration between RRI and SIF will consist of even more concrete actions on the ground, particularly in the process of defending land that communities manage,” emphasizes SOAVINALAHATRA Nasolo Harijery from SIF. 

Photo: L'Initiative Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier (SIF)

Establishing a consultation structure for effective and inclusive participation  

The SIF has also set up a platform within Malagasy civil society where the FOKONOLONA are not only informed but also actively involved in decision-making concerning their ancestral lands.  

Similarly, the non-governmental organization SAHA has also undertaken an ambitious initiative to establish more inclusive land governance and promote the interests of local communities: The creation of the Local Consultation Structure for Decentralized Territorial Authorities (SLC-CTD by its French acronym).   

By actively promoting the integration of CSOs within these decentralized structures, local stakeholders can participate fully in the decision-making processes concerning the management of land and natural resources.  

This approach has cultivated fruitful collaboration between the country’s local communities, authorities, and CSOs, resulting in tangible positive impacts at the community level. By encouraging the establishment of local land governance that is more transparent, accountable, and adapted to local realities, the project creates a harmonious balance between the preservation of biodiversity and the socio-economic needs of communities, thereby helping to shape a sustainable and equitable future for Madagascar.  

“Local communities are particularly vulnerable to community land grabs. CSOs, as representatives of these citizens and defenders of their rights, have an essential role to play by becoming actively involved in the SLC-CTD to significantly reduce this vulnerability,” says Léonard RAKOTOMALALA, Executive Director of the NGO, SAHA.  

This observation is complemented by the words of Madame RAKOTOBE LYDSON Mamin’Ny Aina, Director of Domains and Land Ownership within the Ministry of Decentralization and Territorial Development:   

“Indeed, securing land tenure is not an end in itself, but we must ensure that local communities are able to exercise their rights, whatever their weight, whether they be rights of ownership or rights of enjoyment. We’re not there yet, but they must be able to exercise their rights decently, legitimately, and safely, and above all to carry out their livelihood activities decently.”  

Photo: L'Initiative Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier (SIF)

Active integration of women and girls  

In the BOENY region in northwest Madagascar, major efforts have also been made to strengthen the representation and participation of women and girls in the drafting of legal texts relating to community land rights. Despite their essential role in the management of land and the region’s natural resources, women are often excluded from decision-making processes, dispute resolution processes and land governance structures, with adverse consequences for their land rights, economic autonomy, and overall well-being.  

To address this gap, the National Council of Women of Madagascar (CNFM, by its French acronym) are implementing the project “Supporting the Inclusion of Women and Girls from the BOENY Region as a Driving Force in the Process of Drafting Community Land Rights Texts.” The project aims to give women and girls in the BOENY region an active and equitable voice in discussions and decisions related to community land rights and ensure that the specific needs, perspectives, and interests of women and girls are fully considered in the development of land policies and laws.   

Including women and girls in these processes promotes the sustainable management of natural resources and strengthens the resilience of local communities in the face of environmental change. In BOENY, women and youth are now stakeholders in decision-making processes, contributing to more inclusive land policies in Madagascar. 

This step towards a more inclusive land reform in Madagascar raises hopes for a more sustainable and equitable future for all communities involved. However, the work is far from over. To fully materialize the adoption of a new land law that guarantees the security of the rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, we must continue to strengthen our actions in favor of an inclusive participation of communities in the creation of this law.  

In 2024, SIF plans to continue its training programs and intensify its advocacy efforts to secure the land rights of communities and move towards more transparent and accountable land governance in Madagascar. 

For comments or questions, contact Daiana Gonzalez.


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