In many people’s minds, MIHARI is best known for the forums organised by the network - unique gatherings of fishers and all MIHARI partners. These events leave a lasting impression with those that attend, building a sense of belonging to an LMMA community across Madagascar, that helps reduce the isolation felt by many members of coastal communities. In this blog we talk more about what makes these forums so special and important.
What is a MIHARI forum?
Simply put, a MIHARI forum is a gathering, usually at the coast, of LMMA managers, either from a specific area, or from all around Madagascar. The agenda is set by the participants and is formed around peer-to-peer discussions, as well as interaction between fisher leaders and different stakeholders like government representatives and private sector. Forums are at the core of the network. In fact they came before the network existed! The decision to create an LMMA network was taken at Madagascar’s first LMMA forum in Andavadoaka in 2012. When 18 representatives of the first communities embarking on creating LMMAs got together for the first time, they quickly realised the benefit of sharing their experiences and working together to solve common problems, so decided to form a network that would facilitate these interactions as well as forming a movement and community to represent LMMA interests and promoting the concept to others.
After the first national forum in 2012, MIHARI members in the southwest of Madagascar - where there is a high concentration of LMMAs - also held the first regional forum in 2014. From then, the MIHARI partners have settled on a rhythm for the organisation of these forums. Given the regional forums are logistically easier to organise, and the participants share more of the common context, these are organised every year, while the national forum, which is important for engaging national authorities and building the LMMA movement nationally happen every two years. To date, there have been 10 regional forums split by large portions of the coast into: ‘South’ (covering Atsimo Andrefana, Androy and Anosy regions), ‘Mid-West’ (covering Menabe and Melaky regions), ‘North West’ (DIANA, Sofia and Boeny regions) and ‘North East’ (Analanjirofo and SAVA regions).
Following on from the initial forum in 2012, two further national forums have now been held, in Diego in early 2014, and in Mananara in late 2015, each growing in size as the LMMA movement develops.
The key elements to a MIHARI forum
Peer-to-peer dialogue: The MIHARI network’s main purpose is to make it possible for fishers to discuss their common challenges and solutions together. In most cases in Madagascar, the decision made by a community to embark on setting up an LMMAs can be ascribed to the inspiration and motivation that they got by meeting people just like them who have made progress and seen benefits via an LMMA approach. As the forums bring together so many different communities, we try to ensure there are plenty of opportunities for discussions between these representatives during the course of the event, both in formal and informal contexts.
Dialogue between fisher leaders and authorities: Forums are also an important place for exchange between fishers and government officials. The event brings together these different stakeholders over the course of a few days, and we aim to make sure there are many opportunities for discussions as equals. We all eat together and socialise during the forum, but there are also specific events for LMMA representatives to raise their priority questions and concerns. This opportunity is greatly valued by community leaders, given the isolation they often feel. The debates are always lively with a high level of engagement from all concerned!
Discussion between support organisations: LMMA support partners - on the most part national and international NGOs - are key to making the forum happen, sharing responsibilities for organisation and facilitation of the event. However the forum is also a great opportunity for a range of staff from these organisations to spend time together away from day to day work, and helping everyone stay up to date on developments with programmes and sites, as well as sharing good practice and inspiration in supporting LMMA development.
Field visits: Often the most useful dialogue happens while out of the meeting room and on the ground at a site chosen by the host community of the forum. This visit aims to highlight important activities being led by the LMMA communities in the area, and provoke discussions and sharing of experience. Examples have included income-generating activities such as aquaculture (...), establishment of reserves, ecotourism and mangrove protection and restoration. This is the most appreciated part of the participants and especially the LMMA.
Training: As forums bring together so many LMMA leaders in one place, it is a great opportunity for LMMA support partners to provide training on key topics and provide tools and skills that participants can take back to their home communities. We design the training programme based on the priorities expressed by LMMA leaders and training is mainly delivered by organisations ro trainers specialising on these themes. This year topics included association management and governance, and working with the “Dina” (customary laws ratified in Malagasy law and applied for natural resource management within LMMAs).
Strategic planning: while so many stakeholders are together, MIHARI members will often take the opportunity to discuss important strategic areas together and decide on action plans for the year both for direct LMMA development and for MIHARI network strategy and action plan. As the network matures, this part of the forum will become more important with part of the time dedicated to decision making for the network.
Cross sector networking: Increasingly, we are seeing the value of the MIHARI forums as a place for LMMA leaders to make new connections, often with organisations in different sectors. The last round of forums saw the involvement of representatives of the Madagascar Population-Health-Environment network to highlight the potential benefits for integrating community health work into the management of an LMMA, using sites in the southwest of Madagascar as an example. The MIHARI 2015 national forum has also had the privilege of being assisted by 2 major national and international networks: the Tafo Mihaavo network and the Pacific LMMA network, whom both shared their experiences in terms of networking, structure and strategies.
Group-works on specific topics: LMMA communities have the opportunity to share their experiences and challenges through powerpoint presentations on the first day. Then, the key themes emerging from these presentations are taken up for group-works. The groups are mixed. In each group are represented Authorities, LMMA representatives, NGO. There is no distinction so discussion is rich and allows everyone to break the ice between them before the forum. Each group discusses about the situation, challenges, proposed solutions and the analysis of the responsibles. Until now, the most mentioned challenges are :
- Lack of effective application of “Dina”;
- Lack of income generating alternatives and high dependency of LMMA communities on NGOs and donors;
- Inconsistency between laws and local context;
- Lack of communication between LMMA / NGOs, local authorities, private sector. Lack of education and health infrastructure;
- Difficult access to markets;
- Lack of capacity building for LMMA communities.
Importantly, the MIHARI forums are not only open to communities already implementing LMMAs, but the organisers actively seek out new communities to take part and learn about what makes an LMMA and how to go about setting up good management practices in their communities. In this way, the forums can help spread the LMMA concept around the coast of Madagascar.
Patricia, President of the Federation of fishermen of East Fénérive, representing communities interested in starting out on the LMMA journey told us about her experience at the recent forum in the North East: "The most important aspect for me was sharing experience. I learned things that I had never imagined before for example, that the establishment of temporary marine reserves can bring fisheries benefits, and that communities can take steps to preserve their marine resources. I had also never seen seaweed farming before and realized that this could be an alternative source of income for us."
To wrap up this introduction to the MIHARI forums, we heard from a few participants from recent events.
Mr Adolphe Lehavana, representative of the NGO Missouri Botanic Garden attending the Northeast Regional Forum shared his thoughts about the the next steps on his side after the forum:
"Back at home, we believe we will extend our outreach to other communities to explain what MIHARI is and our role as members. Our local community partners want to see quick progress for sustainable management, but we have a long way to go to develop a “Dina” for marine resources, and develop a management plan and governance structure.I am going to go back to my project ready to start working, especially on setting up the governance structure, before it’s too late. I am very aware now of the need to involve local communities in every step.”
For representatives of the Madagascar government and services, forums provide an opportunity to report verbally to communicate directly with LMMAs and NGOs and integrate LMMA priorities into their work plans. Mr Manantsaina Marolahy, Mayor of Belo Sur Mer, an isolated town on the west coast that hosted the ‘Middle West’ regional forum this year told us:
"We thank MIHARI for choosing us as a host town. It is a privilege to receive so many people and so many officials in our small village. With all that I could see and learn from the forum, I am more motivated to educate my people to have a conservation spirit. I am also ready to reinforce the control of the fishing activities in the municipality in which I operate. "
Finally, the most important, forums bring a lot to LMMA managers, who in turn bring new knowledge and inspiration back to their communities. On return home, most will organise feedback sessions to share the conclusions from the forum.
Members of LMMA communities live in very remote areas and have often had few opportunities for formal education available to them. MIHARI members report that the forum allows them to gain new perspectives and learn new skills. It is also a big boost in motivation for these leaders striving to take control of their natural resource and secure marine resources for generations to come. Not an easy task alone!
Botovao Abraham, a fisherman from Toamasina and President of F3MA association summarised:
“I am already running a fishers association, but I’ve got a lot to learn about LMMAs. During this forum I’ve learned how to set up local Dina and ensure proper administrative recognition. Taking part in MIHARI forums will help me fulfil my role as President better.”