Gender perspective of the handicraft sector in Madagascar

The case of the palm species Bismarckia Nobilis Hildebr. & H.Wendl.

This article is written by Mouna Chambon.

Investigating the nexus between gender and biodiversity requires to explore the influence of gender roles on the use, management and conservation of biodiversity. Differences in terms of labour responsibilities, decision-making power, and knowledge have implications on how women and men use and manage the natural resources of their surrounding environment.

Handicrafts making is a life-activity for women of Antrema (© Mouna Chambon)

In a case study from the New Protected Area (NPA) of Antrema, Madagascar, I demonstrate the gendered patterns of the exploitation of the palm species Bismarckia nobilis Hildebr. & H.Wendl. and its consequences in terms of carbon storage capacities of the savanna. I argue that gender-responsive approaches in natural resources management are essential for creating “win-win” solutions for both biodiversity conservation, climate mitigation and human development. These findings are based on a fieldwork that was conducted between February and April 2017 in Madagascar as part of the final year of my Master’s studies at the National Museum of Natural History of Paris.

Bismarckia nobilis is an iconic palm tree that is endemic of Madagascar (© Lise Bertrand)

Madagascar has one of the greatest endemism rate in the world with 90% vascular plants species that are unique to the Great Island (Goodman & Benstead, 2003). However, this rich biodiversity is becoming more and more threatened. The New Protected Area (NPA) of Antrema, which is located in the North-Western region of Madagascar, is particularly remarkable for the presence of crowned Sifakas (Propithecus coronatus Milne-Edwards) that hold a sacred status in the traditional beliefs of the local communities. In the Malagasy mythology, these primates are descendants of the royal family and receive regular offerings. In the NPA, woody savanna is dominated by the palm species Bismarckia nobilis. It is one of the most common palm trees in the north and west of Madagascar.

Series of questionnaires were shared among villages of Antrema in order to draw up statistical data in regard to the uses, practices, and perceptions related to sustainable use of this endemic palm species. The findings showed that B. nobilis is mainly harvested for its leaves by local people in the NPA. They are used for two different functions: roofing and handicrafts activities. Men are exclusively incharge of house building and roofing whereas women are the ones making handicraft activities. This dichotomy reflects deep-rooted gendered patterns of the exploitation of B. nobilis. In fact, the social structure within the NPA is profoundly gendered, as reflected in the labour division. Men are systematically involved in agriculture, fishing and decision-making, whether at the local level (head of village) or national level (NPA project officer). On the other hand, women are relegated to domestic work, children’s education, rice harvesting, shrimp fishing, and handicrafts. This gender dimension of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) has been noted by other researchers in Africa (Konstant et al., 1995; Brown & Lapuyade, 2001).                          

Handicrafts making is a life-activity for women of Antrema (© Mouna Chambon)

Savanna with B. nobilis shows an intermediate carbon storage capacity, lower than pristine forest, which is of utmost importance in terms of carbon sequestration, but much higher than herbaceous savanna. The significance of this type of savannas for carbon sequestration has major implications on climate change mitigation in the region. Yet, a set of factors challenges the sustainability of the use of B. nobilis and requires monitoring of the populations. This includes human population growth and the economic precariousness of the inhabitants, especially women in regard to the handicraft sector. Without taking into account this gender dimension, resource management policies are likely to face several pitfalls and lead to the decline of the palm populations. Furthermore, achieving a gender balance within the directive committee of the protected area is crucially needed in order to ensure that all voices are heard when coming to natural resource management in the context of climate change.

To go further:

Convention on Biological Diversity:

Guidelines for Mainstreaming Gender into National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans:

CBD Factsheet: Biodiversity, Gender and Climate Change:

CBD Factsheet: Gender and Biodiversity  :

Pourchez, L. (2017). Women’s Knowledge: Traditional Medicine and Nature – Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues. Local & Indigenous Knowledge, 1. UNESCO: Paris, 120 pp.


About the author: Mouna Chambon is a Master student in Geopolitics at La Sorbonne University, Paris. As part of her Master course, she conducted a research project on the impact of climate change on women in Vanuatu. This experience aroused her interest in that research area. Subsequently, she joined CliMates and launched the project “Gender and climate change “ in January 2017. She speaks French, English, German and Italian.

For further questions:


Brown, K., & Lapuyade, S. 2001. A livelihood from the forest: gendered visions of social, economic and environmental change in Southern Cameroon.Journal of International Development, 13(08):1131-1149.
Goodman, S. M., & Benstead, J. P.2003. The Natural History of Madagascar.  University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1709 pp.
Konstant ,T.L., Sullivan, S., & Cunningham, A.B.1995. The effects of utilization by people and livestock on Hyphaene Petersiana (Arecaceae)- Basketry Resources in the Palm Savanna of North Central Namibia.Economic Botany, 49(04):345-356


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