Story+ Project

Biocultural Sustainability in Madagascar


In this Story+ project, we will tackle diverse issues related to biodiversity conservation, humanitarian development, climate change, and international policies related to Madagascar. By highlighting the agency of local stakeholders in Madagascar, and working together with Malagasy collaborators, we will enable their voices to be heard. The goal is to transform the current narrative that demonizes farmers for their unsustainable practices to an inclusive narrative told by the farmers about their plight and how they are realizing their goals for a sustainable future.

The Story+ project will uncover the colonial and neocolonial roots of outdated narratives about deforestation in Madagascar and shift the framing to the perspective of local stakeholders. We will raise awareness on the challenges farmers face now more than ever due to decreasing crop yields, food insecurity, malnutrition, exploitative policies, and the clear effects of climate change. By attending to the voices of communities that are most marginalized by current conservation policy, the Story+ projects will lead the way towards a new narrative of hope and optimism for Madagascar conservation and development. Disseminating the outcomes of this project through narrative story telling in radio announcements, videos, and other media will allow us to share our project with a public audience, both in the US and in Madagascar.

The team will be based at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, but will integrate with peers in Madagascar virtually to gain deeper insights into the themes of the project. Each student should be prepared to conduct extensive literature review, learn methods to interpret focus group data, and create diverse media of their design, including but not limited to audio/visual media, websites, articles, blog posts, and more.

This team has already secured a graduate project manager so will not be reviewing graduate mentor applications at this time.

Project Sponsor(s): 

James Herrera, Research Scientist, Duke Lemur Center SAVA Conservation

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Bethany Old


Lucinda Law, Susan Lin, Meghna Parameswaran


Our Biocultural Sustainability team had 6 weeks to create a new narrative of conservation that values people for the land in Madagascar. We researched Madagascar more broadly and then narrowed our scope to the Northeast region of SAVA. Themes included land rights, environmental justice, food security, subsistence agriculture, gender disparities in land ownership, vanilla trade and risks, environmental education, conservation policy and community forest management. We asked in our research: who is responsible for conservation? Each stakeholder has a part to play in conservation, but to echo our Duke Lemur Center Malagasy collaborator Evrard Benasoavina, “we are all responsible for conservation.” 

Our outcomes were the following:  

  • Five interviews and collaborative design meetings with Duke Lemur Center and CURSA (SAVA university) students and staff  
  • Two feedback meetings with CURSA collaborators  
  • ArcGIS Story Map: People for the Land in Malagasy and English  
  • Dissemination campaign for Story Map to networks, conservation workers, Madagascar based organizations 
  • Final symposium video trailer

Emilien leads a workshop on vegetable gardening, here demonstrating the design of beds that are amended with locally-made compost to improve soil fertility. Source: Duke Lemur Center.


  • Environment
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Public Policy
  • Human Rights
  • Global Health