Yesterday evening I came back from the 5-day 'Mission conjointe' to investigate reports on bushfire and slash-and-burn. I had nothing to do with the mission as such (I was the driver) but it was interesting to follow the proceedings from our basecamp, the research station, and the team reported to me (as the AEECL representative) every time they came back from the field. I did not join the team in the field though, just dropped them of at the nearest possible place and then they proceeded on foot.
The team consisted of seven people: the Antsohihy District Chief (as the Analalava District Chief was not available), two Regional Director representatives for the Forestry and Environment Ministry, two police officers, and the two Area Heads for Madagascar National Parks (MNP).
The person responsible for causing the bushfire nearest to the forest has not been identified, though it is believed it was caused by cattle keepers from Ankingabe. There was no time left to further investigate this, and it has not yet been decided how to address this situation. The fire has been extinguished and no harm done to the forest.
On the way to the research station and really not far from the forest (to the eastern side of the forest(, the grass on large plots is completely scorched but the undergrowth and trees are largely intact. Often the dirtroad seemed to have halted the fire, but this was definitely not always the case. It made me wonder whether the existing fire breaks are wide enough, because this was just the grass burning and already it crossed a barren area in many places. The investigation however did not focus on this burnt area.
Meanwhile, it had been established that many plots within the protected area to the west and north-west of Ankarafa have been burnt for rice cultivation. In some cases this was done during the Lemur Festival as the rangers were in Antafiabe at the time. Most of these plots are near Marovato, one plot is just near the future campsite.
Some farmers were caught in the act or were seen near the burning site by the rangers, or could be identified because they had fenced off the plot before actually burning it. Therefore it was easy to identify some of the culprits. The team spent a day-and-a-half investigating burnt plots and possible actors in Marovato and Ampasipitily.
In Ampasipitily the investigations coincided with funeral preparations, two boys had drowned the day before. Investigations were therefore limited or at least slowed down as some people possibly involved in the slash-and-burn were involved in the funeral preparations.
In total 7 men were taken to Antsohihy for further questioning, while another 3 men (that could not be found or taken in immediately) have been summoned to report to the gendarmerie in Antsohihy. Most of these are from Marovato, one is from the hamlet just near the future campsite. Some of these men have already confessed to being responsible for burning one or more plots.
I have been invited to see the District Chief in a couple of days for an update, and I will also see the MNP team over the next couple of days for more details.