Journalist: What is behind the American Interest for the environment, especially in the Atsimo-Andrefana region?
Ambassador Pierangelo: Well, you know, in the world we only have one environment. The land is important because it is quickly getting deforested and you’re losing resources that also has a tremendous impact on water and water security. Cut down the forest, you also lose your water … and you lose your diversity of species of animals and plants and insects which are critical to the health of this country and its people. And then when you look at Marine Resources, those are even more endangered. It is so easy to lose to destroy your resources, your protectors, your coral reefs, and then this leaves you more vulnerable of course to poverty but also to weather. So when we as the U.S government do projects in Madagascar, we are always focused on three main elements:
- first poverty alleviation with the communities,
- and through a cooperation with the private sector, with companies that work with us, the second, is the introduction of good practices whether agriculture or Maritime. Teaching the farmers and the fishermen good practices, how to do better,
- with the ultimate goal being the third one, which is creating knowledge and commitment within the communities to be advocates for preservation of the environment.
And in those areas where we work, we’ve had great success because the communities learned. They see that better practices mean better farming better maritime practices and better income for their families. But what is sometimes lacking is that commitment at the middle levels of authorities in government to fully support those villages in doing new and better practices. And even if at a higher level there is a commitment in general to conservation and a poverty alleviation, it’s making that commitment go all the way through the levels which is Madagascar’s Challenge. And so that’s you know support for what we consider good quality investment that invests in the community but also invest in a commercial operation and not just … middlemen who come in from outside and are just looking to buy. They’re not looking to invest, they’re not looking to help, they’re only looking to buy and leave. And they don’t care what happens in your communities.
Journalist: What kind of commitments do you expect from the middlemen?
Ambassador Pierangelo: Well, every level every authority: local law, enforcement local, environment officials, all the way up to Tana, they all have to be committed to the success of their communities and encourage good quality investment and then support those investments. They have to enforce the law. And it’s a challenge because there’s a lot of money to be made but they have to enforce the laws, and support the communities, and support the investment, and support Madagascar.
Journalist: You are among the actors of the Blue Economy, especially seaweeds and sea cucumber farming, how do you foresee the future of this sector?
Ambassador Pierangelo: It could be an amazing future for Madagascar … if…. there is commitment throughout the government and the authorities to support law and order, to support quality investments, …and to stamp out corruption and trafficking in this area. As the governor told me, you have the longest coastline of any region in Madagascar. And it is ideal in many places for this type of aquaculture: seaweed, cucumbers, maybe other things … crab for example. But it needs to be done in a really systematic quality investment in the community manner. And if it’s done like that there’s no, I mean there’s hardly any limit to what you can produce in this region. The harvesting of sea cucumbers from the wild or even the harvesting of seaweed from the wild without any plan we’ll just deplete everything. You almost have no sea cucumbers in the wild anymore. You know this is a real problem. So organized thoughtful agriculture not only provides incomes for farmers, but it can resupply the natural world and return some of these animals to the wild.
Many other countries have been very successful in agriculture and there’s no reason why Madagascar can’t. If again, it makes a commitment. People can’t come and invest and then have their investments stolen and then trafficked. There has to be support at all levels to support those projects those investments so that they can grow and that more can happen. But if there’s no protection of those investments or of those farmers in those communities – because that theft is happening against people, Malagasy people – if there’s no protection of those farmers and their investments then you won’t get more investment. So I think sometimes people think :oh its somebody else, it’s a foreign project, it’s a foreign investor, so who cares if somebody steals from them. But it’s not. You know it’s farmers, it’s Malagasy, it’s people who go out every day to work to harvest that seaweed or to take care of those sea cucumbers or whatever the product is. And the idea that people can just steal from them is really not acceptable.
Journalist: Now that you have seen the reality in the Atsimo-Andrefana region, what will be next? Or was it just a trip for a trip?
Ambassador Pierangelo: No because we have presence, we have projects through USAID, and through the U.S Department of State where we are supporting different parts of this blue economy so that will continue. And from what I’ve learned on the trip and seen firsthand, that will help me when I talk to national authorities about how to create good environmental policies and how to make sure how we can help them enforce those policies. But that’s all how can we can help Madagascar in those areas that the government says is important, and now we have some ideas about how to help them shape it. We help them because I feel very strong that …we’ve made a commitment to Madagascar in this area. We fund assistance projects and that money comes from the American people: from her, comes from me, comes from all the American people to the Malagasy people. So, we want to make sure that gift, that investment is used as good as possible ant that it is supported by the government.