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Anjouan deforested, Anjouan to be reforested

Testimony of Mr. Nabouhane Abdallah, 77 years old, Head of Reforestation Committee, on the consequences of deforestation on water resources and land fertility. Published by HaYba FM

“My name is Nabouhane Abdallah, I was born in the Barakani district of Adda in 1944, before the 1950 cyclone. I am the father of 12 children.

The forest in our village was considered as the mother of the Nyumakele region with the presence of several natural resources. Since my childhood, I remember that the forest was very close to the village. There were several species of animals that we do not see today, the Mniyakanga, Ninga des Comores, Kanga. In our fields, we could see the birds’ nests on top of the trees. Because of massive and illegal deforestation, today you have to walk very far into the forest to have the chance to see them.

When the settlers were in the village, we were not allowed to cultivate in the forest under penalty of punishment. The main crops grown by the majority of farmers at the time were rainfed rice and maize. These crops were planted very close to the village. The harvest was always insufficient to feed a family for the whole year.

The 1980s:

It was during the time of President Ahmed Abdallah, in the 1980s, that I saw the big clearings in the forest. People started to intensify the planting of bananas and taros under the big trees despite the fact that there were forest guards. With the increase in population and the lack of jobs apart from agriculture and livestock, the process of clearing, especially with the cutting of the large forest trees, accelerated as time went on. This is also due to the increasing need for wood from the forest for house construction and to fuel the few stills in the neighbouring villages (Ngandzalé, Domoni, Adda, Nyumakele bas). The sale of timber for the manufacture of doors, beds and furniture in the large towns of Anjouan also contributed greatly to deforestation. However, at the time the equipment used was the axe and the hand saw, so the speed at which trees were cut was slow compared to what is happening now with the arrival of electric saws. The sale of wood and the sales circuit were monitored, because I remember that at the time, it was during the nights that the wood was transported to the towns. Corruption is a major contributor to this phenomenon, in the sense that forest guards, local authorities and army officers all turn a blind eye in return for financial benefits or compensation for the trees they cut.

Expansion of agriculture:

I have also noticed that agriculture has also expanded in the last 20 years with the introduction of market gardening in the forest in place of customary crops such as taro and banana. This is justified by many of us by the low yields in the fields near the village due to intensive land use for many years despite support for the adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices from several projects.

As the large forest trees disappeared, cash crops, especially cloves, were introduced and food crops such as sweet potatoes, cassava, potatoes and vegetables were planted. Currently, species such as moiha, mhomba, mvaventré are very rare.

I also wanted to add that in our village there were several water sources in the forest and two main rivers, Shiro and Mtsatsa. These rivers used to flow all year round from the forest to the sea. Today they have become intermittent and depend on the rainy seasons.

An abandoned culture:

There is also something important to note, following the Majunga massacre in 1976, there was the arrival of new religious leaders with radicalised preaching. The population began to abandon the celebration of sacred rites. Hence the destruction of sacred sites which were also forest areas and which provided sacred products used during the rites. Among these rites, there is the famous Dade, an event that is very well known in the village and is celebrated every year to ask the spirits (djinns) for their blessing to give a good agricultural production.

Despite some community initiatives or projects that have been going on for a long time, they do not last. They come up against problems of local mentality (difficulties of community consensus, family relations, political and religious divisions, etc.), hence a general lack of legitimacy of state and local rules by the inhabitants.

I think we have to think about future generations because in 15 years’ time, with the same rate of deforestation, even the little forest that remains may disappear. Therefore, reducing deforestation is more than urgent. The only condition for success is that there is a real will on both sides to protect the trees that people are planting. One of the quick solutions would also be to let the forest regenerate naturally, because I have noticed that in the forest trees grow quickly in the absence of human activity. Finally, the government must think of other alternatives for the thousands of young people without jobs and without hope for a better future

Testimony collected by Mr Misbahou Mohamed, Co-Director of the NGO Dahari