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Building a Movement to Represent Madagascar’s Small-Scale Fishing Communities

November 6, 2018 40 Years, 40 Stories
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Vatosoa Rakotondrazafy
MIHARI Network Coordinator

Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, has a large coastal population heavily dependent on wild fisheries for income and subsistence. A significant proportion of these fishing communities in the country, one of the world's poorest, are extremely isolated and lack basic infrastructure, having limited access to healthcare or alternative livelihoods to fishing. This, combined with declining fish stocks and growing competition with industrial fishing vessels in nearshore waters, makes small-scale fishers highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks.

Traditionally, Madagascar’s coastal fisheries have been open access and largely unmanaged, leaving them vulnerable to overexploitation. But the last 15 years have seen a growing movement of communities taking steps to manage their local fisheries, often in partnership with environmental NGOs, government bodies, and other institutions. Since the establishment of the island’s first locally managed marine area Velondriake, in the country’s remote southwest in 2006, this new model has spread from village to village and by 2012, 18 locally managed marine areas, or LMMAs, had been established.


Founded in 2012, the MIHARI Network represents the voices of Madagascar’s small-scale fishers and promotes the equitable and sustainable management of marine resources through LMMAs. In 2014, MacArthur awarded a grant of $150,000 to one of the founding members of MIHARI, Blue Ventures, to develop a coordination team for the network, and support its professionalization and growth, working closely with core network partners. This support has enabled MIHARI to transform into a large and influential civil society movement.

The participants in the island’s first LMMA forum in 2012 decided to create the MIHARI Network to respond to a growing need for information sharing and collaboration between community-based LMMA leaders. Initially, its main purpose was to facilitate learning exchanges between communities, allowing them to showcase successes and discuss challenges. However, communities quickly realized that MIHARI could offer so much more – it had the potential to become a mouthpiece for the voices of Madagascar’s 500,000 small-scale fishers.

When I began my role as MIHARI coordinator in 2015, I was the network’s first member of staff. Before that, it had been managed by a loose committee of network members. We began to professionalize and develop the network into a stronger and more coherent entity that could represent fishers at a national level.

At first, it was an uphill struggle. As a young woman from the capital city of Antananarivo, almost as far from the coast as you can get in this island nation, it took time to gain the trust of the fishing communities I was working hard to represent. Village meetings could be very quiet and awkward. We’ve since provided LMMA leaders with leadership and management training and numerous opportunities to present their views before politicians and decision- makers around the country, and they now express themselves with confidence.
The fourth national MIHARI forum in 2017 was a pivotal event not only for the network, but for the island’s fishing communities. Never before had so many Malagasy fishers – more than 170 in total – come together to unite around a common cause: presenting three motions to the Government of Madagascar requesting the creation of an exclusive fishing zone for small-scale fishers (EFZ), strengthened fishers’ rights, and better governance of the island’s coastal fisheries. The Minister of Fisheries has recently declared his support towards establishing an EFZ that would help secure traditional fishing grounds in the long-term.


MIHARI representative speaking to national authorities

Now, just four years after we began, MIHARI has ten staff members and four regional hubs around the country. We’ve established a governance structure for the network that puts community leaders at its heart, decided on five-year strategic priorities with input from all our members, and we’ve put in place a members’ charter. MIHARI is stronger than ever, and will continue to develop into the robust, collaborative and inclusive network that Madagascar’s fishers need in their journey towards local marine management.

MIHARI’s growth could not have come at a better time: 2018 has seen a surge in the number of commercial licenses being granted to domestic and international fishing companies, increasing tensions between industrial fisheries and the country’s small-scale sector. Before MIHARI it would have been very difficult for isolated fishing communities to raise their concerns, but now, united and empowered through the network, communities can mobilize and challenge emerging threats to their livelihoods.

Our ultimate vision is for MIHARI to be managed by fishers, for fishers. Coastal communities are already strongly represented within the network, but we will continue to train LMMA leaders in the skills they’ll need to take the helm and steer MIHARI towards a resilient and independent future.


Since 2013, MacArthur has provided three grants totaling $520,000 to Blue Ventures to support the MIHARI national learning network through the Foundation’s Conservation and Development program.