Emanuel Grüger spent several weeks in Madagascar for WECONNEX. As part of his bachelor thesis, the student analysed the potential of plants for the NEXUS Madagascar project. In an interview he looks back on his experience in the deep south of Madagascar.
Emanuel, you spent several weeks travelling in the ‘deep south’ of Madagascar. What are your impressions?
It was very hot. Unfortunately, there are not many forests in the region anymore. Around the towns there are no forest at all any more. The local population turned it into cultivated land or processed it into charcoal. The few remaining forests are either sacred or forest reserves. The dead are also buried there. These forests are still primary forests with an impressive biodiversity. We saw many animals: lemurs, turtles, chameleons, lizards, butterflies. That was impressive. In the villages you often smell sewage and sweat… Fish or meat lies in the sun all day long.
What impressed you the most?
What impressed me the most was the zest for life of the population. No matter how little they have, they live in the moment and not in the future like we Europeans. A student asked me why we Europeans meditated. Good question what? Because we are too stressed, because we have too much and are afraid of loss? Or simply to find into the ‘now’?
Furthermore, I was amazed by the consistent faith in God. He decides on the fate of every human being. Many things are not easy for me to understand. But that’s ok, it’s a different life here. For example, the graves are very elaborately designed, almost like palaces. The dead ‘live’ better than the living. And: Almost everyone here is corrupt. In my opinion, this is the biggest obstacle to sustainable development.
What is the goal of your project?
I’m looking for “Non Timber Forest Products” from the forest, i.e. edible plants, fruits, seeds, roots, medicinal plants and so on – actually anything you can process except wood. My question is: What is the potential of these products? What do the forests in which they grow look like? The second step is to clarify the potential to generate sustainable value from these products.
Where do you see the greatest potential for NEMACO?
Moringa is growing in the region. I would try to improve soil fertility with Agro-Forestry. Moringa can also contribute to food security. The plant has other advantages: The powder of the seeds can be used to purify water, the tree grows quickly, provides shade and protects against wind erosion. The seeds, leaves and flowers are edible and provide valuable nutrients.
Were there any negative experiences during the stay?
The issue of poverty, of course, kept me busy. But I find that by simply giving people money, you don’t help them. People have to learn to take responsibility for themselves. In most visited places people knew the problems exactly – and also the solution. But they preferred to wait for the government or an aid organisation to do the work for them. I do not like that attitude.
What tip do you have for people who want to travel the area as tourists?
You have to take your time. Swiss punctuality does not apply here. You have to be flexible, plan changes are normal – whether they fit or not. Your own tent and camping equipment make it easier to spend the night in the wilderness. Adventure is guaranteed in this region!
Source: nexus ch