Network News: Integrating community-based family planning and marine conservation in Madagascar

January 30, 2017

SOURCE: Blue Ventures

This month we feature our fellow Population & Sustainability Network member, Blue Ventures, a renowned Marine conservation organisation. Blue Ventures has been integrating community-based family planning and other health services with locally led marine resource management efforts and alternative coastal livelihood initiatives along the western coast of Madagascar for the past decade. This holistic approach is often referred to as "PHE" because of the way that it reflects the connections between people, their health and the environment.

In resource-dependent and under-served settings, challenges such as poor community health, unmet family planning needs, food insecurity, resource depletion and environmental degradation often interact and compound each other in increasingly negative ways. PHE is a joined-up approach designed to stop and reverse these vicious cycles by kick-starting a series of positive chain reactions: enabling couples to plan and better provide for their families, improving their food security, and equipping them with the skills they need to manage their resources sustainably.

In the first site where Blue Ventures developed its PHE programme with health partners including Marie Stopes Madagascar, the proportion of women using contraception has increased more than fivefold since 2007 and recent elections of the committee governing the locally managed marine area in the region saw female representation increasing from 13% to 38% of general assembly members. The community health component of Blue Ventures' PHE programme is known locally as "Safidy", meaning "the freedom to choose" or "choice", reflecting the organisation's commitment to upholding reproductive rights and enabling all individuals to make free and fully informed family planning choices.

Blue Ventures' distinctive style of working emerged through conversations with local communities, which challenged the organisation to appreciate the ways in which human and ecosystem health are intertwined. Their unconventional journey in conservation began through listening. They learned that people in Madagascar’s first locally managed marine area thought that fish stocks would collapse without improved access to family planning. They also saw that, as a field-based organisation working with these isolated communities, they were ideally positioned to address this critical unmet need with health partners in the region.

Today, Blue Ventures' PHE programmes reach more than 25,000 people along Madagascar's western coast and the organisation plays a leading facilitatory role in Madagascar's national PHE network. This network was established in 2014 to facilitate and support the creation and development of PHE partnerships among health and environmental organisations working in some of the island's most biodiverse and under-served zones. This platform is enabling Blue Ventures to share its PHE experiences and learning with numerous like-minded organisations while uniting Madagascar's health and environmental sectors to achieve and sustain meaningful changes for people, their health and the environment.