Empowering fisherwomen in Madagascar and the Philippines

Fishing is important in Madagascar. More than 2 million people live in the island’s coastal communities and fishing comprises 7% of the country’s economy. Much important marine life lives in mangroves, vegetation that grows along the coast.

Faced with overfishing, the effects of climate change, and even cyclone damage, fisherwomen like Victorine Tafara, of Madagascar’s Belo sur Mer village, work to promote sustainable fishing practices and protect biodiversity vital to their community. U.S.-backed programs support their efforts.

The women plant seedlings to restore cyclone-damaged mangroves. As crab and sea cucumber populations decline, Tafara and others have switched to sustainable seaweed production — selling algae for export to European markets.

Woman tending to dried algae in front of thatched structure (Nicky Rakotondrazafy/Pact/USAID)
Tafara and other fisherwomen have shifted to selling algae, seen drying above, as marine life has dwindled as a result of overfishing and climate change. (Nicky Rakotondrazafy/Pact/USAID)

Tafara formed the association of “distinguished fisherwomen,” or Ampela mpanjono miavaka in Malagasy, after attending leadership training in 2020 through Hay Tao, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partner organization that promotes community stewardship of Madagascar’s natural resources.

Hay Tao, or “know how,” in Malagasy, has trained more than 750 people on community-based natural resource management practices, including 30 women during the FisherWomen Leadership Program Tafara attended.

“The training helped me to gather and motivate many women,” says Tafara, a 59-year-old mother of five, whose association has grown to 67 members. “I often tell them that we must not be shy. We must make our voices heard during community meetings. We must dare to speak.”

2 boats moored on beach (USAID)
Despite its crystal blue appearance, the Mozambique Channel, west of Madagascar, suffers from overfishing and the effects of climate change on water temperatures. (USAID)

In the Philippines, USAID supports the women of the Tagbanua tribe, who work to protect marine resources and ensure a sustainable food source for future generations. The Philippines loses up to $1.3 billion annually, or roughy 40% of the country’s fishing economy, to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Climate change also impacts the Philippines, as worsening storms destroy marine life and the jobs of those who depend on it.

5 women standing on beach (Emil Meron/USAID)
USAID helped establish the Calauit Women-Managed Area, training Maricar Libarra (center) and other Tagbanua women in environmental protection and entrepreneurship. (Emil Meron/USAID)

“Fishing is our main source of livelihood,” said Maricar Libarra, who harvests cachipay oysters. “In the past, our fish catch was abundant. Today, the number of fish we catch is getting smaller and smaller, making it harder to earn income.”

USAID helped establish the Calauit Women-Managed Area, training Libarra and other Tagbanua women on natural resource management, entrepreneurship and environmental protection. It is one of nine areas USAID helped form across the Philippines and the first managed by Indigenous women.

The women conduct coastal cleanups to protect marine life and guard against illegal fishing operations by monitoring fishing vessels and drafting local regulations that preclude unsustainable practices.

3 women preparing seafood on beach (Emil Meron/USAID)
Members of the Calauit Women-Managed Area prepare freshly caught seafood for lunch. (Emil Meron/USAID)

Thanks to this partnership, Libarra and other members of her tribe have witnessed a reduction in illegal fishing in the area and helped stabilize the cachipay oyster population around Calauit Island. Better management also has allowed oysters in the island’s surrounding waters to increase in size.

“USAID has had a huge impact on our community,” Libarra said. “When they entered the picture, they helped with our livelihood, community, and women’s empowerment.”

Information for this story on fishing communities in Madagascar and the Philippines previously appeared on USAID’s Medium.