Protecting ‘A Global Good’
August 06, 2008
No place on earth is richer in biodiversity. Few places are poorer financially. How to help Madagascar raise its living standards without squandering its ecological treasures is an everyday question for these alumni.
by Dan Sadowsky
In the Indian Ocean, off the southeastern coast of Africa, lies an island roughly the size of France, teeming with life-forms that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.
Creatures with names like the giant jumping rat, the sucker-footed bat, and the tear-drinking moth. Birds unlike any other–hundreds of them–like the big-headed cuckoo-roller and blue-beaked helmet vanga. Orchids like the white-flowered Angraecum sesquipedale, the rarest of the island’s 900 unique varieties. And yes, lemurs, those cute and furry tree-leaping primates with their own reality TV show on Animal Planet.
This is Madagascar. Roughly 2,000 years ago, humans made their way from Indonesia and Africa to settle the island. Today, many live in poverty and struggle to survive by converting forest into farmland, mining natural resources, or illegally selling wildlife as food or exotic pets overseas.
This, too, is Madagascar. In this land of great biological diversity–and great challenge–three Lewis & Clark alumni work to help the Malagasy people preserve their global treasure.
The Veteran Aid Worker
In February 1982, 27-year-old Lisa Gaylord B.A. ‘76, fresh from her Peace Corps assignment in Senegal, arrived in Madagascar to barren grocery shelves and farmers uprooting forests to counter rice shortages. A cloistered, Soviet-style regime governed an increasingly impoverished country. Few Americans knew about the country outside of a handful of seasoned diplomats and ardent biologists; Gaylord’s then-employer, Catholic Relief Services, was the only global humanitarian agency operating there. And, perhaps most significantly, environmental protection was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Despite the social turmoil she encountered, the country’s stunning natural beauty stood out. She saw jaw-dropping sites like the pristine northeast coast–where a spectacular primary forest extends to the shore and is now part of the country’s largest national park–but she observed “no environmental consciousness at all.”
Today, more than a quarter-century later, Madagascar is at the center of global efforts to preserve the planet’s biodiversity. Its government, led by former businessman Marc Ravalomanana, has pledged that Madagascar will “become a ‘green island’ again”–and at the same time lift incomes in a country where three of four rural families live on less than $1 per person per day. The United States is one of many foreign benefactors–including the European Union, the World Bank, and a host of U.N. agencies–who’ve committed money and manpower to Madagascar’s efforts.
Gaylord joined the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1990 just as American dollars–and influence–began to flow freely to the island. Today, as the U.S. government’s longest-tenured representative there, she leads the third phase of a five-year, $40-million “Biodiversity Conservation Program” for Madagascar. How would she explain her job to the average American taxpayer? “We’re protecting a global good.”
Gaylord’s parents were early examples of the environmental and globalist values she now espouses. They spent summers in a pristine section of the Adirondacks–not far from their apple orchard in upstate New York–and encouraged their daughter to explore the world beyond their small town by spending her senior year of high school in France.
Gaylord applied to the University of Oregon’s Forestry School but chose Lewis & Clark for its interdisciplinary international affairs curriculum. “Environmental science degrees didn’t exist in 1972. So I thought I had to make a choice: international affairs or domestic work tied to the environment,” she says.
Yet in Madagascar she has championed integrating environmental protection and economic development through the idea of “linking conservation and improved eco-agricultural practices within regional landscapes.” USAID finances programs that encourage communities to set aside land for reforestation, soil restoration, and parks; that strive to improve farming yields; and that promote livelihoods that aren’t dependent on chopping down trees, such as raising honeybees or producing wild silk.
Other donor agencies have largely followed suit. “Lisa’s been the central figure in how the environmental program has evolved” over the last 15 years, says Frank Hawkins, who lived in Madagascar for two decades and most recently directed programs for Conservation International. “She’s very good at bringing people in and making them part of the process.”
After 26 years in Madagascar, she can’t fathom leaving. She’s married to a Malagasy–a retired police general who recently won a seat in the National Assembly–with whom she’s raised three daughters, one of whom will be a senior at Lewis & Clark this fall. “I can’t think of a better place to bring up my kids. It’s a very warm and welcoming country,” Gaylord says. “I love it.”
The Peace Corps Volunteer
Christi Turner B.A. ‘04 doesn’t have to venture far from home to see one of Madagascar’s most stunning natural wonders. A short bike ride from her village near the island’s northern tip stands a forest of stone–a forest of towering limestone massifs, to be exact.
The stone sentries, known as tsingy, headline the attractions of lemur-filled Ankarana National Park, said to have the highest density of primates of any forest in the world. Turner hopes the lemurs and the limestone draw backpacking tourists to a locally managed camp she’s helping build just outside the park’s southern boundary.
The 25-year-old Peace Corps volunteer has spent the last three years living in the nearby village of Antsaravibe, population 15,000. She describes it as an unelectrified “rural commune,” 12 miles from the nearest paved road. She cooks meals on a mud stove outside a home of cement floors and palm-leafed walls; water comes from a well 20 yards away.
Most Peace Corps volunteers have wide latitude to choose the work they do. Turner has disseminated malaria and HIV/AIDS information, formed student associations in middle schools, and helped establish a community-run radio station in a place lacking modern communications. More recently, she’s turned her attention to ecotourism. She’s helping prepare tent sites and blaze cave trails for a backpackers’ camp as part of a historic first–the region’s first management-rights transfer from the federal forestry service to a village association for the purpose of locally managed ecotourism.
“Community-based natural-resource management is absolutely essential to protecting the region,” says Turner, who grew up in Rhode Island. “Ecotourism here in the Ankarana region is getting more and more attention from international investors and private-tour outfits–potentially not the best solution if we want to create a sense of ownership and responsibility or environmental protection among the local population.”
Establishing the camp, she says, requires the kind of creative initiative for which Lewis & Clark trained her. She spent sophomore year in the Dominican Republic, chaired the International Affairs Symposium, and led Alternative Spring Break programs to help low-income families.
“At Lewis & Clark, I was encouraged to be enterprising and felt empowered to create projects,” she says. “Here I’ve been able to take those skills and run with them.”
With her time in the Peace Corps winding down, Turner is discussing a job to manage social-development projects for one of Madagascar’s largest tourist agencies. She’s also considered launching her own nonprofit to help rural communities undertake projects that both protect the environment and create a sustainable income source.
Whatever her next job is, it isn’t likely to take her far from the exquisite scenery she now enjoys. “When it’s five o’clock, and the sun is going down and reflecting off the face of the limestone, and the lemurs come hopping out of their sleeping places and down to get water … it’s just absolutely beautiful. It’s amazing.”
The U.S. Ambassador
Niels Marquardt B.A. ‘75 is a relatively recent transplant to Madagascar, having been sworn in as U.S. ambassador last August. Gaylord says he has been universally well-received for his pragmatism and engaging style. The two were classmates at Lewis & Clark (Marquardt graduated in three years, Gaylord in four).
“It’s been really great to reconnect with Niels,” Gaylord says. “And it’s been interesting, because USAID and the embassy are very different–we approach development from different ways–but Niels and I think very much alike.” Conservation International’s Hawkins calls the duo “a dream partnership from our perspective.”
Indeed, Marquardt has a reputation for pushing environmental stewardship, according to Hawkins. In his last post, as ambassador to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, Marquardt “provided a bridge” between Conservation International and Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo that resulted in 37 percent of the country’s territory becoming protected national forest–one of the highest percentages of protected lands of any country in the world.
Similarly, in Cameroon, home to rain forests, savannahs, 13,000-foot peaks, and a profusion of wildlife, Marquardt invited government ministers and journalists on overnight hikes to show them places he thought were worth protecting.
In Madagascar, conservation is an easier sell. But he’s still pushing ideas such as a carbon-trading market, and he publicizes his visits to national parks. “My goal is to reinforce the idea that there is something very special here,” he explains. “Ambassadors quite often use their visibility and access to promote ideas.”
In addition to promoting conservation, he says he’d like to lure enough private U.S. investment in areas such as tourism, agribusiness, and energy to open an American Chamber of Commerce in the Malagasy capital.
“Our overall policy for Africa is to try to make it freer, safer, and better,” says Marquardt. “Madagascar is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, so it’s hard to tell those living here that they can’t develop their resources. But how you do it is the question. I think we have a lot to say and a lot to offer on that.”
Marquardt says he’s had an affinity for nature since growing up in San Diego, but he traces his interest in a career abroad to Lewis & Clark. Taking three German courses his first semester put him on track to spend sophomore year at the University of Munich. During that year, he traveled through Europe and to Morocco.
After college, Marquardt served in the Peace Corps in Rwanda, earned his M.B.A. at the Thunderbird School of Global Management outside Phoenix, and shipped off to Bangkok as a newly minted foreign-service officer.
Since then, he’s served as a State Department economic officer in Germany, France, Thailand (twice), and the Republic of Congo. In 2001, he led a massive Foreign Service recruitment drive that more than quadrupled the number of hires over a three-year period.
Being an ambassador is considered the pinnacle of foreign service, a position Marquardt calls “thrilling,” “engrossing,” and “quite intense.” It comes with almost unmatched access to government officials and the heavy responsibility for the safety of all resident Americans and taxpayer-funded programs.
His tenure is likely to be short: the average ambassadorship for nonpolitical appointees is three years. But he’s enjoying it while it lasts. “It’s hard to point to another country in Africa where so much is changing for the better.”
Story Update: In August, Lisa Gaylord will leave USAID to direct the Madagascar country program of the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society. In that role, she’ll continue to integrate conservation with sustainable development as part of the society’s Living Landscapes program, which recognizes that people and wildlife share the same environments.
Gaylord’s new post also gives her the chance to build on what she considers her biggest accomplishment: successfully pushing for an expansion of Madagascar’s protected areas. “The number of acres under protection started off at 1 million, now it’s 3.5 million, and it’s scheduled to go to 6 million by 2012,” she says. “In my new job, I’ll be more involved in the day-to-day work to solidify those gains.”
In other words, she’ll continue to protect Madagascar’s global good.
Dan Sadowsky is a freelance writer in Portland.