In the next instalment in our interview series we meet another dedicated conservationist working with GTC to save the world’s most threatened trees from extinction. Introducing Tonisoa Ivoandry, project officer for the Communities and Conservation Program at Madagasikara Voakajy, GTC partner in Madagascar. Tonisoa is responsible for managing baobab research and conservation in the north of Madagascar.
How did you get into tree conservation?
Since my childhood, I have been interested in woodworking and furniture built with wood, especially those made from native plants. Over time I have noticed that the most sought-after plant species have become increasingly rare and come from very faraway places. Following this realization, my ambitions in conservation began. At university, my studies in conservation and plant restoration enabled me to learn about the forests and over-exploited forest fragments, as well as the need for wood as raw material for Malagasy artisans. Indeed, the exceptional values of wood products, the decline of exploitable tree species, and Madagascar’s position as a biodiversity hotspot have broadened my vision of biodiversity conservation and especially trees.
How do you contribute to the Global Trees Campaign (GTC)?
My main role is project implementation of Madagasikara Voakajy’s baobab project, in collaboration with local authorities and communities. During project implementation in the field, I researched the approaches necessary to integrate the local community into conservation, reforestation, and the ecological restoration of threatened species. Throughout projects funded by GTC, whether for applied research (such as the study of baobab seed germination) or for planting and conservation, we have shared with local communities the links between these projects, their daily life and local sustainable development. We have always tried to show people of the roles and importance of each element of the ecosystem in maintaining ecological integrity, including trees like baobabs, which may not have direct socio-economic benefit for the local population. Through these projects we have also had the opportunity to influence protected area authorities, stakeholders and managers, to integrate baobab trees into their management plans as a target species for sustainable development and conservation in Madagascar.
Which conservation achievement are you most proud of?
Compared to the other Malagasy baobab trees, the Adansonia perrieri is the most threatened species according to the results of our research which we have been undertaking since 2015. In the beginning of the project, we could not find the best way to conserve the target species. The local perception and value of the baobab tree was very low in my work area. To grow young baobabs was difficult due to the low viability of seeds. Research on seedling germination and growth was conducted to allow us to start restoration of the species. Through the results of this work, we were able to double the numbers of seedlings surviving, and we have since produced more than 4000 seedlings to reinforce wild populations. We have also gained the trust and support of the local population to reinforce wild populations of baobab.
Best story from the field?
One of the things I remember well is a story of our first meeting with the local people, in a special place in a village called Ankijabe. It is a very simple village with about 25 houses. A house only has one room inside, not like the ones in big cities. The houses are built from Satrana or Raphia, a palm tree. All construction is made from local products and people’s daily life is closely tied to the forest. I admired the villagers’ ability to use the forest and non-forest products that surround them in their daily lives. Upon arrival, many foods were collected from nearby for a meal, such as Moringa oleophera, Dioscorea sp. and many desserts, such as “Annona Squamosa”, mango, banana, etc. However, there is also the use of new technology products, such as solar panels for the production of energy for light. It is truly amazing to have such a beautiful light in an almost enclaved village, located in the center of a particular landscape with all the existing plant formations: savannah, shrub formation and forest!
What is your favourite threatened tree?
Besides the three threatened species of baobab, three genera Dalbergia, Diospyros and Raphia and one species of tree, Schizolaena tampoketsana, come to mind. The precious woods of Madagascar belong to the genera Dalbergia (Fabaceae) and Diospyros (Ebenaceae). They are therefore the most sought after in national and international trade. However, they have an important function in ecological restoration (soil fertilization).
The genus Raphia is among the most used endemic plants in Madagascar, with many different parts of the tree being used. Raffia products are widely used across different socio-economic sectors. They are also integrated into local tradition and practices. Among the most notable uses of Raffia products is the construction of houses, tools and crafts to supply local, regional and international markets.
As for Schizolaena tampoketsana, this species of tree has been rediscovered in the Tampoketsa region. It had not been seen for over fifty years and was thought to have become extinct. Actually, this tree is the emblem of the new protected area called Ankafobe created in 2018.
What are easy things people can do to support tree conservation?
Planting tree species is one of the easiest ways that the population has supported tree conservation. In our sites, the population has long planted fruit trees, forest species that are useful in everyday life. It is the most familiar practice for local communities to connect with when we are talking about environmental conservation projects.
The final question – which tree product could you not live without?
My collections of ornamental plants, such as succulents, euphorbias and Adenia, in different flower vases, are an inseparable story between different field missions and my everyday life with my family. By trying to collect flowers during trips in order to have a representative collection of the different regions of Madagascar, each plant represents a real historical treasure of the trips made and the frequented sites.