4. Local conventions for coastal resource management


Local management of marine resources requires communities to be able to make and enforce their own rules for how marine resources are to be used. In many regions, local community by-laws (conventions) are used for this purpose. In Madagascar, these by-laws are called Dina and are strongly routed in the Malagasy culture. This handbook will focus on the Dina of Madagascar as a case-study for how community by-laws can be used marine resource management. As a result, much of the content is specific to Madagascar. It is hoped that in later handbooks, this section can include more information from the wider Western Indian Ocean region.

In Madagascar, Dina are an important part of the traditional justice system at the village level. Traditionally Dina relate to sacred places, taboo (fady) and prohibited practices regulating the interaction of community members. In recent times, the government has incorporated the Dina into the official legal system and has been encouraging communities to create Dina regarding the management of natural resources. Dina are now imbued with the full power of the Malagasy legal system, whether they relate to sacred areas, taboo, or natural resource management.

History of the Dina

Crucial to the development and progress of the Malagasy nation is the development of an effective natural resource management system. In pre-colonial times, tribal leaders and village elders were responsible for natural resource management. In those times, forest clearing, especially with fire, was regulated by religious customs and village elders which proscribed the places, times, and methods of clearing.

In colonial times, responsibility for natural resources moved from village and tribal structures to the colonial government. The government created a number of parks, while also building roads, ports, and railroads in order to extract natural resources. An elaborate permit system was created for the Malagasy who were restricted from clearing forests with fire. Traditional management systems were weakened and lost.

After independence, natural resource management stayed in the hands of the central government in Antananarivo. While colonial management had been moderately effective at best, the new Malagasy government, lacking financial resources, and the political will to enforce tough management practices, was highly ineffective in enforcing management laws or promoting sustainable resource management. During the rule of both colonial and early independent governments, much of the forests were cleared, savannas degraded with frequent fire, and marine resources overexploited to the point of fishery collapse, especially near the major population centres.

After years of unsuccessful top-down management, the government has tried a new approach since the 1996 GELOSE law (96-025: Gestion Locale Securise “Secure, Local Management”). Natural resource management has started to be decentralised to regions, communes and the fokontany (villages). The central government still plays an important oversight role in the management of natural resources, however much power has been delegated to villages, communes, and grassroots community organisations. Given the many challenges of natural resource law enforcement in such a large and underdeveloped country with chronic lack of government financing, grassroots management is being accepted as the only viable alternative to central management. At the heart of this new management system is the traditional Dina, the only functioning legal system in existence for large parts of Madagascar’s countryside. The new philosophy is that, given legal and social authority to manage resources, combined with some technical and educational support, communities will willingly choose sustainable management of their resources.

Additional laws in 1999 (Decree 99–952) and 2002 (PSDMCZ) allowed for the grouping of several local Dina into one regional Dina be (large Dina) and reinforced the use of Dina for natural resource management so that it now forms the basis for all community managed areas in, and buffering, national parks in Madagascar.

The Power of the Dina

Currently, any Dina agreed upon by the community has a degree of legal standing if challenged in the courts. Dina formalised on paper and submitted to the courts for ratification have more authority, being equivalent in strength to regional decrees.

Communities are empowered to enforce their Dina in public (fokonolona) meetings. Fines decided upon by the communities in these meetings are legally binding. If an offending party refuses to pay the fine, the community may pass the case to the Mayor who can attempt to force payment or pass the case to the court system. Either the community or the Mayor can contact the court directly to report non-compliance with a Dina. Once in the court system, the judge will hear the case and may add additional fines to the rule breaker based on any other associated crimes committed (national legislation).

In general, however, very few Dina cases go to court. The first reason is that these laws should be community-generated so that the stigma of breaking the community trust should be a major deterrent. Secondly, when someone is caught, they should be shamed by the community reaction (village meeting) to their crime and have sufficient motivation to pay in order to save face in front of the community. Finally, given the legal support of the Dina by local government and the courts, it would be foolish for a rule breaker to allow his case to be forwarded to the Mayor or the court who will likely be less conciliatory in deciding on punishments.

When Dina are truly collaboratively developed and universally accepted, rule breaking should be a rare event. Even for migrants or outsiders, an angry community demanding payment for a transgression is a formidable sight that should induce submission. After communities have gained more experience with enforcement of resource management Dina, it becomes progressively easier for them to follow through with enforcement. With each successful experience of enforcing the Dina, communities gain courage and become more strict in carrying out enforcement in the future.

However, for many communities, traditional knowledge of the Dina is confined only to rules regulating sacred places and social interactions but not to resource management using new Dina. The idea of creating Dina is foreign to many communities who see Dina as traditional rules that were never created but have always existed. Many people believe that only spirits, God and the ancestors have the power to create Dina, not the fokonolona. Even in communities that have already created management Dina and agree with their importance, rarely are they accepted with the same respect as traditional Dina.

In response to this problem, it is necessary to educate communities about resource management Dina and their legal authority while also searching for ways to integrate these Dina into the traditional religious belief systems. To do this, it is important to view the conservation Dina in parallel with traditional Dina in order to build acceptance and encourage enforcement. While communities need no outside assistance to enforce traditional Dina, they often get lost when attempting to enforce new, resource management Dina.

Communities need to build on the same social and religious structures that give traditional Dina strength when enforcing resource management Dina. Conservation Dina should be enforced, as much as possible in the same ways as traditional Dina, using the same meeting places, involving the same people (especially elders), while invoking much of the same language (sins against communities, need for visible repentance) and should require similar types of payments. Instead of cash fines, which resemble government fines, communities should set sacrificial fines of animals in addition to cash fines. These fines follow more closely the traditional system and are more likely to be demanded and paid by community members. The running of the meetings should also follow tradition with elders speaking first and then opening up the meeting to all participants. NGO’s, if present, should take a secondary or advisory role and not facilitate the meetings if possible.

The only real difference between the traditional and the new, resource management Dina is that the power of traditional Dina is founded in religious belief and fear, whereas the conservation Dina are backed by a desire for social harmony and, as a last resort, the courts.


Resource management Dina, when understood by communities as a tool that empowers them to manage their resources while strengthening traditional social systems, are generally embraced enthusiastically. The creation of these Dina can occur surprisingly quickly as much consensus usually already exist with regard to who should have access to resources and how much. The enforcement of these Dina is more often the issue, however communities can best be supported in their enforcement efforts through the promotion of the resource management Dina as a parallel and nearly identical system as traditional Dina. By making explicit traditional Dina enforcement systems and then comparing these to the new conservation Dina, one can help communities to gain a clearer vision of how these new Dina should work.

Instructions for presentation of the comic

The attached comic is a presentation to be used with communities to explain the main similarities and differences between the traditional and conservation Dina. The presentation should be given to communities before they begin deliberating the creation of conservation Dina. It should be used to prompt a discussion of how local Dina were created and how they are enforced so that similar systems can be used for conservation Dina.

It should also be used in cases where communities are having trouble enforcing a conservation Dina. The comic in this case should be used to prompt a discussion of how the community is not following the traditional enforcement method and what barriers are preventing that from happening.

Comic – Rambola, Raota, and the Dina

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 18, 2013 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    Lamentations,méchant partie off interrompre au-dessus volont

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