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Participatory 3D modelling in Madagascar: a major first

The case of Avaratrambolo, narrated by the project's facilitators

March 25, 2015
  • Southern Africa

The narration of the local co-facilitators was first published on 25 March 2015 and updated on 19 May 2015 with an opinion piece by an observer invited by CTA from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A process to be replicated in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Written by Dominique Bikaba, Strong Roots Congo 

Participatory three-dimensional modelling (P3DM) has already shown considerable potential in a number of countries with regard to the mobilisation of communities in the context of bottom-up planning and management of natural resources. In Madagascar, the very first P3DM exercise took place in February 2015, in the Avaratrambolo water catchment area.

The exercise was conducted in a rural farming area some 35 km from the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo. The population of this region, situated in the northern part of the island, makes a living almost exclusively from rice farming, with weak purchasing power and poor access to the markets. The rural landscape is dominated by paddy fields, small forest plantations and a small remnant of natural forest. The catchment represents the source of a number of important river courses.

The P3DM exercise took place within the framework of a project aimed at promoting agriculture and water management called "Let's move towards change", Ndao Hivoatra in the Madagascan language. This project, which involves several local, national and international, has gained special significance for local communities.The rural development project is being implemented in three villages and is funded by the World Bank through the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and is run by Artelia Madagascar with technical support provided by Farming and Technology for Africa (FTA), as well as scientific support provided by the National Centre of Applied Research for Rural Development (FOFIFA). The P3DM exercise represents a punctual component of the overall project, and has been supported technically and financially by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).

Ambohitrolomahitsy Google Maps copy

As in many parts of Africa, property issues are very sensitive in Madagascar. This explains why, in recent years local communities have ben reluctant in participating in a number of rural development projects. The P3DM exercise in Avaratrambolo made a significant contribution to removing concerns related to potential land grabbing. As with earlier projects in the area, the Ndao hivoatra project was thought by rural communities to be a trick to take over ancestral land for the benefit of multinationals that pose as promoters of rural development in remote areas of Africa. In spite of the numerous awareness-raising meetings which preceded the P3DM exercise communities perceived the forthcoming mapping process as a means for identifying areas which could be taken away. This had to radically change during the P3DM process...

The first phase of the exercise involved the construction of the blank 3D model. This phase was preceded by a workshop involving local facilitators and international facilitators from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as representatives of the institutions involved in the Ndao hivoatra project, to plan the process, identify preliminary equipment, logistics and define how best to engage the communities in participating. It was during this workshop that all those involved gained an understanding of the overall scope of the forthcoming mapping exercise.

The first visit by facilitators to the village of Ambohitrakely took place under a torrential downpour over a severely eroded and hardly accessible dirt road. This first activity was intended to guide schoolchildren trace and cut out cardboard layers for the construction of the 3D model. The children's work on the model sparked the curiosity of their parents. Gradually, adults including residents of nearby villages became involved in the construction of the model.

IMG 5180 Small

On 13 February 2015 the completed 3D model was officially displayed in the village of Ambohitrakely. In addition to representatives from the project implementing agencies, national ministries, researchers and other stakeholders, the event brought together a large and festive crowd including local, religious and traditional authorities and the local population which initially appeared reluctant to participate in the Ndao Hivoatra project due to the sensitivity of the land tenure issue. The positive messages and the enthusiasm shown by the participants were a clear indicator of the behavioural change occurred. The model-making process proved to have plaid a reconciliatory role with regard to the project. Active participation of the local communities in the construction of the model and, in particular, in their driving role in defining the content of the map legend and populating the model with geo-referenced data, noticeably increased their confidence and feeling of ownership and control of the process. Residents now feel that the 3D model belongs to them as a tool to guide the implementation of the Ndao Hivoatra project.

P3DM proved to be a powerful process for land and forest planning, management and development. The success of this exercise in Madagascar points to the usefulness and the opportunity for replicating the process elsewhere in Africa. For example, the exercise could be run in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the process of governance and management of community forests continues to progress. The publication of Decree No. 14/018 dated 2 August 2014 sets the modalities for allocating forest concessions to local communities in the DRC. Concerned local communities and Indigenous Peoples would benefit from P3DM to identify their ancestral territories and effectively plan and implement both conservation and sustainable development projects. The creation and operationalisation of the community forests and the recognition of indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs) in the DRC is a process that requires not only the passing of pertinent legislation, but also, and in particular, a commitment on the part of a range of stakeholders. Without obtaining full support from technical, scientific and financial stakeholders, the good will of the DRC government may be in vain.

Notes from the author: The success of this first P3DM process in Madagascar can be credited also to the qualities and skills of the lead facilitator Mr Barthélemy Boika, who demonstrated his talents as an educator and community motivator. My thanks also go to CTA for its technical inputs and for supporting my participation in the exercise.

Watch the interview with Mr. Dominique Bikaba, director of Strong Roots Congo. CTA invited Dominique to participate in the exercise, to expose him to the P3DM practice in view of further replication in the Congo Basin (the video is only available in French).

Commentaires de Dominique Bikaba sur sa participation à un exercice de MP3D à Madagascar from CTA on Vimeo.


A major first in Madagascar

Written by Christian Andrianarison Sitraka and Sarobidy Hasimbola Razanajatovo Tsilavo

Located 35 km from the capital Antananarivo, Avaratrambolo water catchment, which has three fokontany (a traditional Madagascan village or a group of villages): Avaratrambolo, Ampahitrizina and Ambohitrakely, is in the rural commune of Ambohitrolomahitsy. It covers an area of more than 13 km². The agro-climatic and socio-economic characteristics of the water catchment are typical of the central region of Madagascar, which is characterised by high plateaux.

Avatrambolo village square

To stimulate community participation, the project management team opted for a new, more participatory approach that had been tested in other countries – participatory 3D modelling (P3DM) – a first for Madagascar. The P3DM exercise took place from 3 to 13 February 2015, with the active participation of residents of the three fokontany, project staff, local co-facilitators, various non-governmental organisations (NGO) and two experienced facilitators from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The latter were supported by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). The exercise comprised three distinct phases: construction of the model, development of the map legend and development of the model using data based on mental recollections of the residents. The model covers a total land area of 2,304 ha; it is on a scale of 1:3,000 (1 cm on the model corresponding to 30 m on the ground) and measures 1.6 m on each side.

The first phase required precise work: i.e. each action that was taken demanded the greatest attention to detail. This manual work was the responsibility of 20 volunteer students from the public primary school in Avaratrambolo and the Ampahitrizina general secondary school under the guidance of the facilitators from DRC, local co-facilitators, project staff and NGO representatives. It was completed in just two days thanks to the enthusiasm of the pupils and the motivation of the facilitators. Avatrambolo community and mapThe second phase centred on the elaboration of the map legend and how to visualise legend items on the model. This phase was completed in one day through close collaboration between representatives of the three fokontany and external stakeholders. The final phase involved the population of the 3D model, a task that required detailed knowledge of the local agro-ecological environment. This phase involved the active participation of the local population; men, women, young people, elders and leaders were all involved in the task. In other words, it demonstrated the effectiveness of the participatory approach as most of the community came together to identify and depict the land and its characteristics on the map according to the previously defined legend; this was completed without the intervention of experts and facilitators.

During the process, the local community mumbled doubts as to whether the map could have any use for them. Once the 3D map was completed, their first observation was that their rice fields covered only a small part of the area, which left them a much larger area available for farming. The second observation gave rise to problems related to land tenure, an issue which is high on the national agenda. Certain participants were persuaded that, thanks to this tool, this issue would be addressed by a discussion around the model with land agents. The third was in relation to the water network; project staff noted that the area is rich in water, and that the efficient management of this resource was essential, which is one of the project's objectives. Once completed, the 3D model was unveiled to the general public, including children to adults and even those who were not local to the area. 

In conclusion, this first P3DM exercise has been a success, as project implementers have been receiving requests for its replication since its presentation. It demonstrates the essence of the participatory approach, as during all of the phases the active participation of different groups of the local communities, with no concern for social status, circumstances or gender was visible. In other words, the discrimination barrier was removed. We can therefore be confident that this exercise will not stop here. It is only the first in a series of such operations, as this participatory tool has demonstrated its power and richness at all levels of rural society.


Watch the interview with one of the experts, Mr. Serge Lala Rakotoson, during the project's implementation (only available in French).

Est qu'on arrivera à faire pareil? Serge Rakotoson réfléchit sur les défis et les résultats surprenants d'un exercice MP3D from CTA on Vimeo.