Family planning support 'essential' for troubled planet, says Attenborough

2 May 2012, London. David Attenborough has said improved access to family planning must be part of long-term conservation efforts to protect our 'troubled planet'.

The distinguished naturalist and broadcaster was responding to the publication of new data from a project which takes an integrated approach to improving public health, gender equality, food security and biodiversity conservation.

The initiative provides reproductive healthcare to a biodiversity-rich area of rural Madagascar where couples were desperate for family planning services. Clinics managed as part of an integrated community conservation and development initiative are now providing access to vital services and education for all women of reproductive age within the region. Local women are now empowered to choose the size and spacing of their family, and thus ensure they can afford to feed them.

Analysis of data collected over three years shows population growth has slowed by one third in some areas, and the proportion of women using contraception has increased four-fold. Calculations show families have been able to prevent more than 355 unwanted pregnancies, and 88 unsafe abortions.

Award-winning marine conservation organisation Blue Ventures started the project four years ago, when more than half of local adolescent women either had children or were pregnant. With an average family size of nearly seven children, parents struggled to adequately feed their children resulting in stunted growth in more than half of children aged under five.

With support from across local communities, Blue Ventures established a network of clinics in the region, providing reproductive healthcare and education to thousands of women.

In a paper published this month in Oryx, the international journal of conservation, Blue Ventures has demonstrated the immediate, practical and long-lasting benefits of recognising the inextricable link between reproductive health and conservation.

Sir David Attenborough has expressed his wholehearted congratulations: "Population growth is clearly one of the main drivers of all our environmental problems. Good family planning support must therefore be an essential part of all long-term solutions."

"It is wonderfully encouraging to see this truth being demonstrated so clearly and successfully. The project is surely a model for everyone working to conserve the natural life-support systems of our troubled planet."

The chair of the environmental charity Population Matters Roger Martin added: "We are delighted at the recognition of a scheme that embodies awareness of the links between growing human numbers and mounting ecological damage."

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Blue Ventures' clinic in Andavadoaka, South West Madagascar

Dr Vik Mohan from Blue Ventures, explained the thinking behind the project. "Last year the world's population hit seven billion, and globally, 250 million women have no access to family planning services. We've seen first-hand the suffering that this causes, and how families struggle to provide for their growing families against a backdrop of dwindling natural resources and environmental degradation."

"It makes perfect sense to integrate family planning services with conservation efforts in the world's more remote and isolated areas, which are often biodiversity hotspots."

"Access to planning services is a fundamental human right. As a result of the improved access we've been able to offer, we see healthier families, empowered women and more resilient communities."

"In addition, communities have the opportunity to reduce the population growth that undermines their ability to protect the fragile environments upon which they depend."

The project, which has since expanded to provide support to over 40 villages in southern Madagascar with support from The MacArthur Foundation, UNFPA and USAID, also demonstrates that women empowered to take control of their family lives, are more likely to become engaged in conservation activities that protect the future of their children.

A PDF of Blue Ventures' paper "Integrating family planning service provision into community-based marine conservation" will be free to download from Cambridge University Press. 

  • More information about Blue Ventures' work on integrating community health projects with biodiversity conservation in Madagascar can be found by clicking here or by contacting Dr Vik Mohan at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

'Editors notes':

Blue Ventures is an award-winning marine conservation organisation dedicated to conservation, education and sustainable development in tropical coastal communities. Through our marine expeditions, volunteers from around the world join us on career breaks, student gap years and internships, working closely with our field research teams, in partnership with local communities. 

Blue Ventures' projects are focused in environmentally and culturally sensitive regions of the world. All project visitors are required to be aware that we are privileged guests in our host countries, towns and villages. We insist that all team members, acting as ambassadors to Blue Ventures, adapt their behaviour to recognise local cultural sensitivities. We have a responsibility to minimise negative impacts on local environments and communities where we work, as well as to provide tangible benefits to our host communities.

To find out more about Blue Ventures Expeditions visit our volunteer pages on our website.