During the three day meeting, and three days of field trips, we listened to some inspiring people talk to us about some really exciting projects and prospects for harnessing the potential of insect-human interactions to combat problems of wealth inequality, environmental degradation and malnutrition. Here are some highlights.
CPALI - wild silk in Northeastern Madagascar
Catherine Craig spoke to us about CPALI(Conservation through Poverty Alleviation, International)'s work in Madagascar. In partnership with a local NGO, they base their strategies on the belief that local communities are crucial for effective conservation. They have set up training centres where they teach local farmers how to rear wild silkworm and plant native silkworm feeding trees. Farmers are offered 'stepping stone' incentives (such as further rearing equipment, further training, and eventually a salary) in return for their participation in the rearing program.
This gives value to the forest, and therefore helps with habitat conservation and reforestation. At the same time, it gives people a source of livelihoods. The enterprise relied mainly on crowdfunding to get going.
CPALI are currently focusing their efforts on repairing the damage wreaked by a major cyclone that hit the northeastern coast of Madagascar. They are seeking donations to the relief effort via their GlobalGiving page.
Conserving the Tapia forests in central Madagascar
Bombyx silk (and pupae!) in Antananarivo
It's unclear how long it's been used in Madagascar (the island was first settled 4000 years ago by migrant agricultural populations from Asia), but it's certainly fairly important today. It was the only insect for sale in the city markets that we visited, and it clearly has great economic importance to the people who cultivate it and make products from it. Here are some photos of people using Bombyx mori in Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital city:
It was also really relevant to my PhD work. Of course, on the practical side, it was invaluable to see first-hand the methods used for rearing different African silkmoths, and hear about some of the logistical problems that had been overcome in developing different rearing practices. But it was also useful in a broader sense: In one very memorable presentation, Alan Gardiner spoke to us about his experience working with mopane worm harvesting communities in southern Africa, and emphasised the importance of community participation. Adding value to the environment is one crucial step of any successful conservation project, he said, and then giving local communities ownership of the project is equally necessary. Without these qualities - value and ownership - the project is unlikely to last beyond a few years.
This gave me a great deal to think about regarding our current project in Burkina Faso. How can we ensure that the communities we work with feel that they have ownership over the work that we do? How can our work add value to biodiversity in the region? I've a few ideas, and now, thanks to my time in Madagascar, I'm lucky to have some great contacts to discuss those ideas with!