We believe that the more you get out into the world, the better place it'll be — but that means a type of travel that's mindful of the fact that making an impact shouldn't mean leaving a footprint. Here, how you can contribute to the reforestation of Madagascar.
South central Madagascar is a dry and desolate place, a desert environment stretching hundreds of kilometres with only one paved road. As you drive the one stretch road crossing this wide open plain a rock formation slowly beings to surface in the distance. Growing ever closer a silhouetted wall emerges and the impressive landscape of Isalo National Park takes shape.
The small town hosting all services for Isalo National Park is called Ranohira. This is where almost all visitors stop to freshen up and prepare for their trekking adventures in the park. It is also home to the Soa Zara association.
Soa Zara in the local Malagasy dialect translates to a "good division of what is available." Their core values are based on a distribution of resources where wildlife, humans, and nature live in balanced harmony.
Sadly, Madagascar has a certain reputation for habitat loss and landscape degradation. The country has developed more than 80% of its natural forests into farmlands and urban centres, while primary forests have been cut and systematically reduced in order to provide firewood, building materials and fuel the production of charcoal.
The act of deforestation pushes the Malagasy wildlife into the only areas left for them to go: national parks and protected forests that are themselves few and far between. In order to attract wildlife back to their natural environments, these environments need to be essentially recreated. This is where Soa Zara comes in.
Less than 50 years ago, there were still patches of primary forest surrounding the base of Isalo National Park. Today, all of those trees have been cut, leaving a barren landscape leading into the deep gorges and rocky cliffs. Soa Zara is working to change this reality by creating a natural forest outside of the park. With a small plot of community-run land, the association is actively planting trees and offering visitors the chance to do good for the future of the planet.
Soa Zara is building this natural forest in order to provide energy resources for the local population, offer sanctuary to lemur species, and redevelop the badly damaged top soil.
The development comes back to the idea of a "good division of what is available" and providing a sustainable solution to their current deforestation and habitat loss problem. Currently in the region surrounding Isalo National Park over 160,000 trees are being cut per year. The desert environment cannot sustain this level of degradation. Soa Zara wants to plant 80,000 trees annually to be specifically harvested by locals for industry, and also 30,000 specific trees for the natural reforestation project on the same land.
Over time, the organization this reforestation project will lead to the establishment of a centre for education and rehabilitation, lemur and soil rehabilitation specially. Regarding lemur rehabilitation, there are currently a few different centres in Madagascar, but nothing close to Isalo National Park. Soa Zara hopes to change this by creating and offering a localized natural sanctuary for abused lemur species through the reforestation initiative. Regarding the soil rehabilitation, planting trees and building a natural forest should help restrengthen the top soil and bring back stability that has been lost due to deforestation.
The association also hopes to build a small education and interpretive centre on site, to attracting visitors from all over the world to come and study or assist with the natural forest and lemur rehabilitation project as it develops.
Sao Zara is in touch with international zoos and travel company partners to help with sponsoring trees and the act of planting. Currently, when G Adventures travellers visit Isalo National, park they have the opportunity to plant trees themselves.
When travellers arrive, the only thing left to do is unwrap small trees, place them in a pre-dug hole and cover them with some fresh dirt. Sounds simple, but trust me, it is incredibly rewarding; you really get a sense of doing a small thing, but the right thing.
Soa Zara is planting mostly natural fruit trees, such as ruta (a Malagasy plum tree), mango trees, guava, and pear trees. All the seeds are sourced from within Madagascar; nothing is imported.
Soa Zara’s goal is to plant 130,000 trees per a year. The vision is to create a natural forest and bear witness to its growth, seeing the actual difference being made to the environment and something that really creates an impact on the local climate situation, wildlife, and community.
Want to visit Madagascar — and check out the great work being done by Soa Zara? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to Madagascar here.