Who We are Helping
The Vezo are the semi-nomadic coastal communities of Southern Madagascar and inhabit most of the littoral area of Madagascasr’s West coast from Toliara to Mahajunga. They arrived in the region approximately 2000 years ago along Indian Ocean trade routes from Southeast Asia. They have retained their own language dialect and culture, which is steeped in taboo and magic.
The Vezo are some of the poorest communities in Madagascar, with over 80% of the population in the Toliara region living in desperate poverty. High poverty rates may be largely attributed to the arid climate, resulting in nutrient poor soils and limited access to fresh water. As agricultural practices have limited success, the vast majority of the population seek existence from the sea. The Vezo are specialist marine foragers who are heavily dependent on marine resources for subsistence and for 85% of their economic income. In the Bay of Ranobe, the Vezo target organisms from the barrier reef, the lagoon and its patch reef system, and mangroves. These include reef fishes, mangrove associated fish, sharks, rays, sawfish, dolphins, turtles, shrimp, lobster, mangrove crabs, octopus, squid, cuttlefish, gastropods, sea cucumbers, urchins, seaweed, and seabird eggs.
The principle traditional fishing practice is performed on-foot or from small dugout canoes called ‘lakanas’ in Malagasy, or ‘pirogues’ in French. The style of lakanas differ in sail configuration and the number of outriggers, with regional preferences. On the west coast, fishermen use a single outrigger and a sail (lakana fiara), whereas fishermen on the east coast use a narrower canoe, with two outriggers, and no sail. The presence of a sail allows fishermen to travel greater distances, often no further than 10km from shore.
In addition to Lakanas, the Vezo use a range of other traditional fishing gears:
• hook and line
• gill nets
• beach seines (mainly in the Toliara region)
• traditional spears and clubs
• trawl nets
• spear guns
• and in the past, natural poisons from locally collected roots.
The fishing methods used by the Vezo, namely the use of beach seines and reef gleaning (trampling on the reef flat during times of low tide to collect fish, octopus, crabs, shells, sea cucumbers etc.), have contributed to a pronounced degradation of shallow water reef habitats in the southern region of Madagascar. Collective marine habitat degradation due to resource over-exploitation, population increase and natural events can be clearly seen in the Bay of Ranobe. It has resulted in an increase of fishing effort by the Vezo in order for them to sustain a subsistence lifestyle which has consequently exacerbated the problem, condemning many of the Bay’s marine resources to exhaustion.
You can read about how Reef Doctor is addressing this issue and helping Vezo communities transition to more sustainable livelihoods on Our Work pages.