Social Marketing Campaign Reaches Vezo Fishermen in Madagascar

A campaign to improve compliance with a ban on destructive fishing methods sought to raise awareness and change behaviour. CEC member Dr. Alasdair Harris reports on a joint effort of the marine conservation NGO Blue Ventures with social marketing experts Rare Conservation. 

The sails show the Vezo Aho logo and the message “Don’t beach seine, spear fish”. More than 150 sails have been painted, serving as moving billboards about destructive fishing methods along Madagascar's southwest coast.

Destructive fishing amongst traditional Vezo fisherman along Madagascar's southwest coast is a growing threat to the sustainability of the marine ecosystem upon which these semi-nomadic seafaring people depend. In the Velondriake locally managed marine area (LMMA), the first and largest LMMA in the Indian Ocean region, three types of destructive fishing have been banned by local communities; poison fishing, beach seine fishing, and use of mining picks to break or overturn coral for sea cucumber and octopus extraction. These bans, formalized in customary local laws (Dina), took effect in 2006, yet have until recently have been considered largely ineffective as a result of poor enforcement by communities.

Vezo Aho (‘I am Vezo’)

In 2009, a social marketing campaign was launched within Velondriake to improve local awareness and enforcement of the Dina and bring about behaviour change to improve compliance with local resource management and access regulations.

The campaign, entitled Vezo Aho (literally ‘I am Vezo’), focused on celebrating Vezo identity and self-perception as pro-active guardians of the marine and coastal environment, who utilise it using traditional knowledge, seamanship, and acquired skill, rather than through destructive, non-selective, low-skill destructive fishing techniques.

Implemented by marine conservation NGO Blue Ventures in collaboration with social marketing experts Rare Conservation, the campaign employs multiple communication tools to relay information about the dangers of destructive fishing and the value of safeguarding the health of the marine and coastal ecosystems.

Building on the traditional migratory sailing nature of the Vezo, sails on the local pirogues (dugout canoes) have been painted with conservation messages to act as moving billboards – to both raise awareness and demonstrate solidarity with the campaign. Over 150 sails have been emblazoned with messages such as “don’t poison fish, dive fish” and “don’t beach seine, line fish”.

Velondriake’s geographically isolated communities – many of whom live on remote islands up to two days’ sail from other villages within the LMMA - rely on local radio for the majority of news and information sharing. The Vezo Aho campaign has recorded short sequences from local fishers and community members discussing why the sea – and its conservation - is so critical to Vezo livelihoods and local biodiversity for radio broadcast. In addition, songs about destructive fishing techniques and conservation have been written by local artists and are now played regularly on the local radio.

Using a group of local actors, the campaign has produced educational plays about destructive fishing and conservation strategies. The theatre group travels around the Velondriake area performing, and in doing so continuing to reinforce the campaign’s messages.

Campaign Manager, Gildas Andriamalala comments, “The aims of the social marketing campaign were ambitious, and so a number of techniques have been used to try to meet these. Indications of the success of the campaign so far are inspiring, with over 4000 community members attending the campaign festivals, and we’ll continue to monitor the socioeconomic and ecological outcomes long after the campaign itself finishes.”

As the year-long campaign draws to an end, three major festivals across Velondriake have served to celebrate successes and reinforce the campaign’s messages. The festivals included educational activities to test community knowledge of destructive fishing practices and alternative livelihoods, and further raise awareness of the campaign’s messages.

Through these diverse forms of communication, the ‘Vezo aho’ social marketing campaign has reached a large audience, and as a result has had an increased impact on social behaviors. A key to the campaign’s success has been focusing on creative and culturally appropriate forms of information dissemination. Surveys carried out throughout Velondriake in recent weeks have showed widespread exposure to campaign messages and marked changes in knowledge and attitudes toward the Dina, as indicated by a marked increase in reported Dina infractions as destructive fishing has become less common.

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