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Wednesday, 24th March 2021

Sharks, insects, and crops: How fighting food insecurity benefits both communities and biodiversity

By Quinn M. Parker

The rural Anosy region is facing unprecedented food insecurity, with harsh drought conditions and the economic effects of COVID-19 felt across many communities (FAO, 2021). In the coastal villages of Sainte Luce and Elodrato, times have become particularly lean. In both Sainte Luce and Elodrato, up to 83% of households rely on lobster fishing as their main source of income (Savage, 2020a). But COVID-19 has caused multiple challenges for these lobster fishers, with national restrictions on transport eliminating many routes to market, and lobster prices fluctuating greatly (Savage, 2020b). On top of this, the National Closed Season for lobster fishing, when lobster fishing is prohibited under national law for three months, is underway. During this time many households lose an essential income stream in what is an already challenging time. In combination with rising food prices and below-average rainfall, it has become crucial to look for ways to address this food insecurity and increase household resilience in times of need.

A large Blotched Fantail Ray caught by local fishers

But to address that, another question needs to be answered - where do households currently turn when lobster fishing is not an option? With limited livelihood opportunities, many households must rely on whatever natural resources are locally available. For some fishers, this means catching elasmobranchs – sharks and rays.

Relatively little is known about the elasmobranch fisheries of Madagascar, with few studies undertaken to determine how extensive the practice is (Fowler et al., 2005). However, there is widespread agreement that catching sharks and rays could have drastic negative effects on the species. The IUCN Red List has reported that globally, 31% of shark and ray species are threatened. Furthermore, there are some sharks and rays caught in the Anosy region, such as the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Critically Endangered) and the Reef Manta Ray (Vulnerable) whose populations are already in steep decline (IUCN Red List, 2021).

However unsustainable, elasmobranch fishing can be a crucial source of income for coastal households. Not only can sharks and rays be consumed for protein, but selling fins for export can also be a reliable source of money (Cripps et al., 2015). When faced with scarcity and economic uncertainty, it can be a necessary choice to turn to the lucrative shark fishery to support your family. Surveys from SEED’s ongoing work in sustainable fisheries management has uncovered that elasmobranch fishing and/or trading is an income source for 34% of households in Elodrato and nearly 60% of households in Sainte Luce (Savage, 2020a). With COVID-19 and the current drought placing an even greater burden on fishers, it is important to understand both how widespread the practice is, and what options may be available to ease reliance on harvesting these threatened species.

Can you spot the sakondry? These insects are found on antaky plants in Sainte Luce.

That is where SEED’s most recent partnership with the Darwin Initiative comes in. Addressing both food insecurity and the effects of COVID-19 on biodiversity, this 3-month rapid-response project began in January in both Sainte Luce and Elodrato. Forty-five households in each community are engaged in the project, with the households in Elodrato receiving training and supplies to cultivate a variety of crops. With the input and guidance of community members, crops were selected for their selling and consumption potential, providing both increased diet diversity and additional income. Mindful of the harsh drought conditions, SEED’s team has been working with participants to prepare land for the crops and are delivering training for their ongoing care and eventual harvest.

For the remaining 45 households in Sainte Luce, the initiative takes a different form: edible insects. Building on work headed by Dr. Cortni Borgerson on the Masoala Peninsula in northeast Madagascar, these edible hopping insects – referred to locally as ‘Sakondry’ – may be key in addressing food insecurity. Insects are rich in protein, providing high-quality nutrients for relatively little input (Belluco et al., 2013). As sakondry are already found and consumed in Sainte Luce, many households showed great enthusiasm towards formally farming and harvesting the bugs.

A group of fishers make their way to the landings beach in Sainte Luce.

Through both sakondry farming and diversified crop farming, it is hoped that fishing households will have more options available to them. By supporting the development of diversified and supplementary livelihoods, this project will increase diet diversity and food security whilst also easing reliance on the unsustainable elasmobranch fishery. By targeting food security in the short-term, long term resilience can be built – both for lobster fishing households, and the natural resources that they rely on.


  • Belluco, S., Losasso, C., Maggioletti, M., Alonzi, C.C., Paoletti, M.G. and Ricci, A., (2013). Edible insects in a food safety and nutritional perspective: a critical review. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 12(3), 296-313. [Accessed 19 February 2021]
  • Cripps, G., Harris, A., Humber, F., Harding, S., and Thomas, T. (2015) A preliminary value chain analysis of shark fisheries in Madagascar. Indian Ocean Commission. [Accessed 19 February 2021]
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO] (2021). The Republic of Madagascar – Drought curbs 2021 production prospects, heightening the risk of a sharp deterioration in food insecurity. Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture. [Accessed 21 February 2021]
  • Fowler, S.L., Cavanagh, R.D., Camhi, M., Burgess, G.H., Cailliet, G.M., Fordham, S.V., Simpfendorfer, C.A. and Musick, J.A. (comp. and ed.). (2005). Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras: The Status of the Chondrichthyan Fishes. Status Survey. IUCN/ SSC Shark Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. x + 461 pp.
  • IUCN Red List. (2021) Chondrichthyes. [Accessed 21 February 2021]
  • Savage, J. (2020a). A Baseline Socioeconomic Assessment of Lobster Fishing Communities in Southeast Madagascar. A report for Darwin Project 25-016. SEED Madagascar
  • Savage, Jessica. (2020b.) The Socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 on small-scale fishing communities in Southeast Madagascar. Report for Project Oratsimba. SEED Madagascar.