A social contract with the ancestors – Culture and ecosystem services in Southern Madagascar

Journal Article

Abstract: We investigate the role of culture in sustaining essential ecosystem services in the arid and erratic climate of an agropastoral landscape in southern Madagascar. Our fieldwork and interviews in Ambovombe subprefecture in Androy addressed land use, agropastoralism, livelihood, institutions and their moral basis. Our analysis points to the interdependence of cultural practices and ecosystem services: sacred forests, crop pollination, subsistence farming, cattle economy and societal transition and purification rituals. We posit a social-ancestral contract that works as a moral attractor structuring and sustaining the agropastoral ecosystem services system. The contract between living and nonliving clan members underpins the cultural practices and rituals that regulate the vulnerable agropastoral system. We conclude that the well-being values of the inhabitants of the south of Madagascar depend upon moralities that lend legitimacy and stability to the management of the social–ecological processes that precondition ecosystem services production. Neither ecosystem nor culture delivers ecosystem services to society. Ecosystem services are generated by an interdependent social–ecological system in which knowledge, practice, and beliefs coevolve: culture is a key factor in their generation and persistence. The study suggests these are significant interdependences to consider in dynamic analyses of ecosystem service production.

Citation: Von Heland, J., and C. Folke 2014. A social contract with the ancestors – Culture and ecosystem services in Southern Madagascar. Global Environmental Change 24:251-264.

Keywords: Social-ecological resilience, Cultural ecosystem services, Social attractor, Moral order, Southern Madagascar, Drought, Agropastoralism, Mixed methods