Madagascar Declaration: Value of Nature Key to African Development

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, June 26, 2006 (ENS) - Conserving Africa's diverse animals and plants can help ease poverty, fight disease, and improve the quality of life for people, a global environmental conference concluded Saturday. The mating of conservation and economic development to stem the loss of biodiversity was the theme of the five day gathering at the Hilton Hotel conference center.

Enitled "Defying Nature's End: The African Context," the conference was organized by Conservation International, based in Washington, DC. It attracted some 400 delegates, including the highest level government officials in Madagascar.

In his opening address, President Marc Ravalomanana said "anyone who says conservation and development cannot go hand-in-hand is wrong."


Marc Ravalomanana has been President of Madagascar since 2002. (Photo courtesy UN)
The island nation of Madagascar off Africa's southeast coast was chosen to host the gathering of environmental and development leaders because of its unique and threatened biodiversity, including lemurs and other plants and animals found nowhere else. The government's program to triple its protected territory to a total of six million hectares (23,000 square miles) was recognized with the selection of the capital city Antananarivo as the conference location.

Closing the conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Jacques Sylla called a formal declaration adopted by the delegates "a catalyst for making biodiversity conservation a pillar of development policies."

The Madagascar Declaration calls for creating and expanding markets for Africa's natural resources, such as ecotourism and carbon trading.

At the same time, it emphasizes conserving Africa's most important biodiversity by expanding and strengthening protected area networks, and creating sustainable financing mechanisms such as conservation trust funds.

Protecting and restoring key ecological systems linked to freshwater supply and quality, such as upper-water catchments forests and the rivers flowing from them is seen as key to all conservation.

The declaration would ensure that government spending on poverty reduction is based on environmental sustainability, and it includes the business community in seeking solutions to environmental degradation caused by industrial development.


The biologically rich Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve shelters some of Madagascar's unique lemurs. (Photo courtesy Marojejy)
The declaration stresses the importance of providing economic incentives for local communities to sustainably manage their forests and other natural resources.

It prioritizes sustainable agriculture practices and alternatives to fuelwood and charcoal as energy sources to reduce deforestation and the health risks from inhalation of smoke from cooking and heating fires.

"We believe these goals will not be achieved without a radical change in how the environment and biodiversity are addressed in national development plans and in foreign assistance strategies and investments," the declaration states.

"I think you've gotten it just right, and I'm very proud to associate the Millennium Project with the Madagascar Declaration," said Jeffrey Sachs, head of the United Nations Millennium Project. "There will be no escape from hunger, poverty and disease if ecosystem degradation continues at the current rate."

Conservation International President Russell Mittermeier said, "This symposium examined how we can ensure that biodiversity is maintained and becomes an engine for economic development in Africa. Now we must ensure that the Madagascar Declaration becomes the catalyst for immediate and effective action."

Mittermeier was honored at the conference with the formal announcement of a new species of lemur named for him - Mittermeier's mouse lemur, Microcebus mittermeieri.


Mittermeierís mouse lemur, Microcebus mittermeieri, recently discovered on Madagascar and named for Conservation International President Russell Mittermeier. (Photo © Mark Thiessen/National Geographic)
"There is no greater honor than having another species or another form of life named after you," said Mittermeier, the long-serving chairman of the Primate Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. "Other scientific discoveries come and go, but a new species becomes a permanent part of the scientific record, and will be with us forever."

"I am also delighted that this species is found in one of the highest priority areas for conservation in Madagascar, and that its discovery provides yet another justification for protecting the important Anjanaharibe-Sud Reserve," he said.

The tiny primate with pointed ears and round eyes was one of three new mouse lemurs discovered in Madagascar's tropical forest by researchers Mireya Mayor and Edward Louis and their Malagasy colleagues. Their paper describing the three new species was published this month by the "International Journal of Primatology."

Mouse lemurs are the smallest primates in the world, and the newest discoveries join the family of primates that represent Madagascar internationally.

"Finding an entirely new species of lemur living in the wild in the 21st Century shows how little we know about our natural world, and how important it is to protect it," Mayor said. "This tiny creature has become a huge ambassador for all things wild in Madagascar, and that is truly remarkable."


Malagasy girl befriends several lemurs. (Photo courtesy Galen Frysinger)
The conference opened June 20 with announcements of plans for new protected areas and policies to conserve biodiversity in Equatorial Guinea and Liberia.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said in a video message to the symposium that her government would base its development policies on environmental sustainability.

Equatorial Guinea announced it would create a 500,000 hectare (2,000 square mile) national forest and a US$15 million conservation trust fund to protect its biodiversity.

A guide on best mining practices for biodiversity conservation was released at the conference Friday by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM).

"Good Practice Guidance for Mining and Biodiversity," represents a first step by the mining industry to reduce its environmental impact in consultation with the environmental community.

"Demonstrating a commitment to biodiversity conservation is now an essential element of sustainable development for the mining and metals industry," said ICMM Secretary General Paul Mitchell.

"ICMM members are committed to improving their performance in this area and educating stakeholders about the value of biodiversity conservation," he said.

Conservation International (CI) welcomed the mining sector's new guide. Assheton Carter, senior director of CI's Energy and Mining Program in the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, said the guide shows that mining companies are willing to work as partners with environmental groups on protecting biodiversity where they work.

"If we are to meet society's need for raw materials and reach conservation goals," Carter said, "We need new alliances."