Earth Day at Mitsinjo

By Emily Schimpfle of Projects Abroad

This past week Projects Abroad and Association Mitsinjo teamed together to celebrate the 46th Anniversary of Earth Day.  We organized 6 different activities for one class of 74 children at the local primary school.  This included tree climbing, crafting, environmental education, sports, games, and a movie.  We also had a big meal with the children at the end of the long day.

So, with 6 volunteers, 5 teachers, and an assortment of other staff we started the day at the school in a parade with the children to Mitsinjo.  Once we arrived at the office and forest reserve, the kids were divided into 6 groups and the festivities began.  While the day didn’t go exactly as planned, we could tell the kids had a blast. It was their first field trip like this ever.  Everyone was able to make a musical instrument with used plastic bottles or bottle caps.  The kids flew down on a small zip line made especially for them with Mitsinjo partners Gasy Climb.  They learned about the importance of picking up trash and drinking clean water.  They were also able to let out some energy through sports and games at the national park.

At the end of the activities while we waited for food the children drew Earth Day related pictures.  To say we were all amazed at how talented they are at drawing is an understatement.  Kids drew things from flowers to lemurs to people.  Once the food was ready to be served everyone created a line waiting for the rice, beans and zebu.  We had bought 24 Kilos of rice thinking it may not be enough but in the end everyone had two servings.  After a full meal and some dancing the day came to an end with a walk back to the school.  While it was an exhausting day for everyone, it is one we will always remember.  

A Brief History of Andasibe

By Rainer Dolch

In both scientific and travel literature the names Périnet, Andasibe and Analamazaotra are often unmindfully used in synonymy.

Analamazaotra

The name Analamazaotra is derived from the forest and the small river that flows close to Association Mitsinjo’s office today. With the expansion of the Merina kingdom towards the coast in the 19th century under King Radama I., a small village existed here that was named Analamazaotra after the river. It served both as a small military post and lodging stop on the major route linking Antananarivo with the coastal cities of Andevoranto and Toamasina (colonial name of Tamatave).

The village of Analamazaotra, which was located near Mitsinjo's office today.

The village of Analamazaotra, which was located near Mitsinjo’s office today.

Travel was difficult and mainly on foot on this small and winding unpaved trail. Only wealthy people of the Merina aristocracy or foreigners used it, usually carried in palanquins (filanjana), whereas goods were transported by zebu (local cattle) pack.

After the end of the Merina monarchy, brought about by the French occupation of Madagascar in 1896, the new colonial rulers immediately aimed at converting the old trail into a workable road and simultaneously building a parallel railway line between Antananarivo and Toamasina.

The railway stretching from Antananarivo to Toamasina. Andasibe was a popular stopover en route.

The railway stretching from Antananarivo to Toamasina. Andasibe was a popular stopover en route.

Périnet

In the early 1900s, the French had established a train station close to Analamazaotra village that was named after the principal engineer of this section, Henri Périnet. From Périnet station, logging camps along the railway were established in order to make way for the rails and to produce wood fuel for the steam engines. The biggest logging camp was established close to Périnet station itself and simply called Andasibe (meaning at the place of the big camp).

La Gare of Périnet

La Gare of Périnet

Thanks to its geographical position along the railway, Andasibe/Périnet attracted migrant workers from various regions of Madagascar and soon developed into a village of its own. After the construction of the fashionable Buffet de la Gare, starting in the late 1930s, the village became a popular lunch stop for the daily trains between Antananarivo and Toamasina.

Starting in the 1940s, exploitation of the nearby graphite mines by companies Louys and Izouard contributed to another influx of workers. Both mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Andasibe

Whereas Périnet was used as the common name of the village, people preferred to use the Malagasy instead of the French name and again called it Andasibe after independence.

Parallel to the decline of the last sawmill (the Complexe Industriel de Bois d’Andasibe or C.I.B.A.) whose ruins can still be seen across the river from village today, tourism began to emerge as a new source of income. Parts of the venerable Analamazaotra Forest Station were set aside as a special reserve in 1970 to protect the Indri, the emblematic lemur of the region.

Villagers, who had formerly used their acquaintance with the forest for the purpose of fishing or hunting, now offered their services to tourists to work as wildlife guides. The Buffet de la Gare, which for a long time was the only hotel of Andasibe, soon faced competition by other hotels springing up. Tourism started to boom after the creation of Mantadia National Park in 1989. At the turn of the millennium, tourism had itself established as a major source of income for Andasibe.

Although tourism continues to be a strong component of the local economy of Andasibe, wealth is not distributed equally among residents.

Although tourism continues to be a strong component of the local economy of Andasibe, wealth is not distributed equally among residents.

Unfortunately, this wealth is not equally distributed among its inhabitants. Many remain woefully poor, subsisting on meager forms of agriculture such as slash-and-burn, charcoal production, logging and gold panning. All these activities are not only detrimental to the environment, but they are ill-suited to help break the vicious cycle of poverty and the degradation of natural resources.

We would like to encourage visitors to take a stroll through the village with this history in mind. Anything you purchase on the local market or spend in any of the small hotelys, will help the local economy. Today, Andasibe Commune has roughly 12,000 inhabitants that are distributed among 6 fokontany.

Top 5 Andasibe Experiences

1) Meet the Indri

Madagascar’s largest lemur, the Indri (Indri indri) is the reason Analamazaotra forest of Andasibe was originally set aside as a reserve more than 40 years ago. Their big black and white furry forms are easily viewed in both Andasibe National Park and Mitsinjo’s Analamazaotra Forest Station.

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In our forest we have two groups habituated to humans, and on lucky mornings it’s possible to get within a meter of wild Indri. It’s a truly intimate experience not to be missed.

2) Take a Dip in the Lac Sacré

A 60 minute drive north of Andasibe is Mantadia National Park. While there are a number of popular “piscine naturelle” in the protected areas around Madagascar, the cascade and pool in Mantadia is just what will want after having hiked the rugged terrain of this less visited and more adventurous part of the Andasibe-Mantadia complex.

A visit to the cascade in Mantadia National Park, a 60 minute drive north of Andasibe.

A visit to the cascade in Mantadia National Park, a 60 minute drive north of Andasibe.

3) Night Hike in Rainforest

While almost all visitors to Andasibe make a morning trek through the forest, many miss out on the numerous nocturnal creatures that are hidden during the day and only emerge after dark.

Mitsinjo offers night hikes through rainforest for nocturnal wildlife viewing. With luck, you’ll have a chance to observe the locally-endemic Goodman’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara). Common encounters also include the Greater Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus major), Leaf-tailed Geckos (Uroplatus sikorae and U. phantasticus), and an impressive sample of Andasibe’s amphibian diversity such as the common tree frogs Boophis viridis and Boophis pyrrhus.

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4) Tour the Village

Don’t miss out on an afternoon stroll through Andasibe village. The town has a population of around 5,000 people, with around 12,000 living in the surrounding Commune. Market is centrally located and busiest on Saturdays. There is even an internet café with WiFi and four computers should you get the urge to send photos to some of your friends back home!

A walk through Andasibe village will introduce you to the people and culture not experienced in the forest.

A walk through Andasibe village will introduce you to the people and culture not experienced in the forest.

5) Plant a Tree

It’s not just about taking the experience away but also giving back. Association Mitsinjo offers a chance for visitors to contribute to conservation in Andasibe by going on our “Reforestation Circuit” which lasts a few hours and tours not only Analamazaotra Forest Station, but also our tree nurseries and recently reforested habitat.

At the end of the circuit, you can also plant your own tree if you like. We hope you can come back and visit when it has grown.

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