This past spring break, members of the Missouri Botanical Garden Practicum team packed their bags and traveled 30 hours to Antananarivo, Madagascar—the capital city, known as “Tana.”
So, what is going on in Madagascar with two Center for Experiential Learning programs there (yes, there is Madagascar Sustainability Initiative, too)? The world’s fourth-largest island has a fascinating history, geography, and climate. Consequently, the country features tremendous biodiversity; in fact, more than 90 percent of all the plant species in Madagascar are found nowhere else in the world.
Therefore, Madagascar is of particular significance to conservationists and botanists. The Missouri Botanical Garden has been present in Madagascar for more than 30 years. They currently manage 13 ecologically unique sites around the country, collecting data and discovering new plant species each year. In short, the botanical garden has partnered with a CEL team of students to consult on improvements to their work in Madagascar while focusing on the future sustainability of the ongoing effort.
Prior to the trip, the team met with several staff members of the Missouri Botanical Garden, learning about the Garden’s history, goals, and efforts. Afterward, the staff gave them a tour of the research facility, with more than 7 million unique plants catalogued and stored in a botanist’s heaven. With this foundation in place, they were ready to venture to Madagascar to learn more.
The team set out on this trip with a mission in mind: To meet with the Missouri Botanical Garden’s staff in Madagascar and to learn about the operations and the conservation work of the organization at the national and local levels. Here is Laini Cassis’, MBA, ‘19, account of the trip on how they reached their goals during each day:
Diving into the First Day
On our first day in Tana, we met with the botanical garden’s staff members at their headquarters. The following day, we embarked on a full day of driving and sightseeing to one of the garden’s 13 conservation sites: Analalava, which is home to 12 plant species that are not found anywhere else on Earth. This protected forest on the east coast of Madagascar is home to lemurs, tree frogs, and bats—all of which we saw on a guided hike.
While at Analalava, we visited the site’s fishponds and tree nursery, and a local rural community called Fokontany Bongabe. While there, farmers brought us to their community garden, which generates additional income for their families. We learned about important crops such as vanilla and cloves.
The employees at Analalava work closely with surrounding communities like this one to create livelihood alternatives to protect the forest. It was incredible to see such community engagement for environmental action
Our stay at Analalava was rustic, but we had a fantastic time. We were lucky to not face a thunderstorm, or worse: a cyclone! Every meal included tropical fruits such as longans, pineapples, lychees, avocados, and coconuts (without straws). In such a rural place, the night sky revealed the dazzling Milky Way. We also went to the Indian Ocean and took a stroll along the beautiful beach in the nearby town of Foulpointe.
After another day of driving, we returned to Tana. The CEL team delved into our observations and reflections, and then presented to the MBG staff in Tana about our work objectives and project expectations.
On our final day in Madagascar, we did some sightseeing around the capital. We walked downtown, took some thrilling taxi rides, visited the highest point of the city, and toured the botanical garden and zoo. It was an eventful and eye-opening week, but it was time to leave Madagascar with another series of long flights.
Our team’s success and safety in Madagascar was largely thanks to the local Missouri Botanical Garden staff, who provided expert advice and guidance every step of the way—from ordering food to bargaining souvenirs, to handling logistical details.
We are thankful for the assistance that enabled us to focus on our assignment without disruption. Now recovered from jet lag, the team looks forward to crafting our final product and delivering impact to the Missouri Botanical Garden.