Displaced farmers live in poverty in the city with no work, food, future.
In Madagascar, your family may have lived on its land for centuries but unless you have a legal title to that land, a Canadian mining company or a rich Malagasy can buy that property and chase you off it.
Many farmers have already been awakened by the sound of bulldozers clearing their property for mining, roads or simply vacation homes for the rich.
Now landless, these farmers and their families end up living in makeshift homes in the slums of the capital city of Antananarivo.
A group of seven members and volunteers with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace from Alberta and Manitoba recently learned about this harsh reality while touring this island country off the coast of East Africa.
The group, which included three CCODP members from Edmonton, spent 18 days in Madagascar visiting partner organizations that help defenceless Malagasy understand their rights and improve their living conditions. Every year Development and Peace organizes solidarity tours to educate its members and expose them to what its partners do.
Hosting the group's May 28-June 14 visit was CDA or Conseil de Developpement d'Andohatapenaka, a Catholic social agency located in the slums of the capital. Among other things, CDA offers medical assistance for slum dwellers, vocational education for boys and girls, prenatal education and a micro-credit program for small business.
A Catholic social service agency provides metal work training for men forced off their land.
At the CDA compound, students also have access to metal, wood and sewing workshops, and receive arts and crafts instruction. Their artwork is sold in the market.
The CCODP solidarity tourists spent several days living at the CDA compound and visiting its different projects.
"One of the things my interpreter told me was that children mark your value, particularly as a woman," noted tour participant Pat Acheson. "The more children you have, the more value that it is attributed to you. And it certainly seemed to be true because children are everywhere."
Acheson learned almost two-thirds of the population are youth and children.
Tour participant Sara Michel, CCODP animator for Alberta-Mackenzie, described the Malagasy as family-oriented and peaceful. "There is a phrase that says that they turn their tongue around seven times before they say something."
Madagascar has no known history of violence but with globalization and the discovery of mineral resources and oil, "people are worried that these internal influences will actually start fuelling a fire for conflict."
The mainstay of Madagascar's economy is agriculture, with an emphasis on vanilla, rice, sugarcane, cloves and fishing. Despite the richness of the land, the country is plagued by poverty. A huge political and economic crisis that hit Madagascar in 2009 continues to impact the poorest of the poor.
Poor health and chronic malnutrition are common. Funding for education is scarce and only about 35 per cent of the country's more than 22 million inhabitants have access to health services.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Martin Blanchard, Pat Acheson and Sarah Michel witnessed Madagascar peasants' struggle.
"Also factored into the poverty is the fact they know they are a neglected country," Michel explained. "There was a cyclone in Madagascar in March 2012 that was totally devastating. And yet nobody even noticed; it wasn't even in the media. It's been made worse by the fact that nobody is there helping."
Compounding Madagascar's social plights is its environmental problems. Madagascar features some of the world's most unique flora and fauna, being home to 90 per cent of all known lemur species. At the same time, deforestation has wiped out most of the island's original forests and has put the lemurs at risk.
The CCODP visitors went to a wildlife park to see lemurs displaced from their original territories by mining activity.
Madagascar entered onto the radar screen of multinational companies only recently. Now, several mining companies are exploiting the island's rich deposits of cobalt and nickel.
"You establish a mine and the people that have lived on the land for three or four generations, but don't have the papers (to prove it) tend to be displaced and sent elsewhere," noted tour participant Martin Blanchet, a CCODP volunteer from St. Thomas D'Aquin Parish.
Dyna Tec, a mining company 40 per cent Canadian owned, built a 200-km pipeline to carry minerals from Moramanga to the port city of Toamasine, where the minerals are refined.
"This company took over the land and displaced people and wildlife; they totally disregarded the entire ecology of the place," noted Michel.
"The building of the pipeline, which they placed under a roadway, has caused erosion throughout the whole area," added Acheson. "The forests are gone in that strip of land all the way to the ocean."
At the end of the pipeline is Dyna Tec's refinery in Toamasine, which in addition to polluting the city's air has also led to sexual tourism.
Fortunately, the bishops of Madagascar decided to intervene, creating an organization called Project Taratra, which advocates for the people and represents their interests.
Taratra also lobbies for transparency at the government's level and at the mine's level. CCODP covers 50 per cent of the cost of this project. "To see the work that's being done there gave such pride," Michel said.
CCODP also funds a project that supports peasants' rights. "The major issue with the farming communities is that the land is not officially theirs so they've got a project where the farmer can register his land under his name and get a title for it," explained Blanchet.
That's important, he said, because mining companies as well as local and foreign speculators are buying as much land as they can now to capitalize later.
"They look at the map and see there is no ownership there and they buy that land. They pay peanuts and the land can be theirs," he said.
"People need to be made aware as to what their rights are because these are secret contracts that happen between the politicians and the multinationals. All of a sudden people just see bulldozers and they are moved off their lands."
Michel said peasants generally don't understand why they have to have title to land they have held for generations. "Why would I title my land when it is my land," they say. "Everybody knows it is my land."
What they don't understand is that now they are playing by the rules of the international community, Michel said. "If you don't have a title over it, you are going to be chased off."
Peasants that lose their land "end up in the cities with no food, no homes, no employment and no future."
In Madagascar, CCODP also funds projects such as water wells and civic education programs that teach people how to vote.