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Madagascar Communities Restore Baobab Forests with AI



  May 15, 2024

Madagascar Communities Restore Baobab Forests with AI


 
Importance of Baobab Trees in Madagascar

Baobab trees, indigenous to Madagascar, play a crucial role in the ecosystem and cultural heritage. They support rural communities by providing fruit that is sold for food and cosmetic products. Baobabs, some of the oldest living trees, face severe threats from deforestation due to slash-and-burn agriculture and climate change.

Threats to Baobab Forests

- Deforestation: Annually, 4,000 hectares of baobab forest are destroyed, mainly for agricultural purposes.

- Loss of Seed Dispersers: Extinction of large-bodied animals like giant lemurs and tortoises, which once dispersed baobab seeds, has hindered natural seed spread.

- Climate Change: Irregular weather patterns and increased dryness have negatively impacted baobab growth and survival.


 Conservation Efforts

 The ARO Baobab Project

In 2020, the Assessment-Research-Outreach (ARO) Baobab Project was launched by Malagasy and international researchers. This project combines scientific research with community engagement to restore baobab forests.

- Community Engagement: Local communities are involved in sustainable harvesting and replanting efforts. A trade contract ensures sustainable fruit harvesting, leaving enough for seed generation.

- Seed Dispersal Research: Studies found that while some animals like giant tortoises and small rodents can disperse baobab seeds, their efforts alone are insufficient for forest restoration.

- Nurseries and Replanting: Two nurseries were established in western Madagascar to grow baobab and indigenous tree seedlings. In February 2023, over 50,000 seedlings were transplanted with a 70% survival rate despite dry conditions.

Use of Artificial Intelligence

Partnering with EOS Data Analytics, the project uses AI to monitor forest health. Satellite footage and algorithms assess the health of replanted seedlings, showing significant improvements since transplantation.

 Role of Women in Conservation

Women are central to the conservation efforts, leading nursery operations and planting activities. New initiatives aim to establish a women’s association to maintain nurseries and generate income through the cultivation of indigenous plants.

Future Goals

The ARO Baobab Project aims to restore the entire habitat of baobabs, including the animals and plants essential for their reproduction. Through community involvement and technological support, the project strives to revive Madagascar's ancient baobab forests and ensure their sustainability for future generations.



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