its people are dependent upon natural resources for survival. Unfortunately, this has lead to a great loss of biodiversity and habitat in Madagascar through deforestation¹.
Causes of Deforestation in Madagascar
- “Tavy” or Slash-and-Burn Agriculture
This technique involves the cutting down of forest land, burning it, and then cultivating rice for one or two years. The farmer then cultivates another patch in the same fashion, letting the first one rest for four to six years before it is cultivated again. After the same patch of land is cultivated two or three times using this method, the soil has become so depleted that it becomes unproductive and is then abandoned. This is particularly damaging to slopes, as there are insufficient vegetation roots left to hold the soil in place and this leads to erosion and landslides¹.
In the past, these agricultural patches were left fallow for about 20 years, allowing the forest to regenerate and supported the rebuilding of the soil. This system worked well until the human population grew on Madagascar to the point that the these agricultural cycles have been shortened, and soil nutrients have become depleted throughout much of the country².
- Timber Logging
Due to the high value of Malagasy hardwoods such as ebony and rosewood, logging occurs throughout Madagascar, even in protected areas¹.
- Fuelwood and Charcoal
The Spiny Forests of Madagascar are quickly being deforested to produce charcoal as people seek to earn money by selling charcoal along roadsides¹.
With fewer trees to hold the soil in place on Madagascar, much of the topsoil on the island is eroding into rivers and streams. This widespread soil erosion will make the production of crops from depleted soils increasingly difficult in the future¹.
As deforestation in Madagascar continues, there is less natural habitat for native species like lemurs to survive in. It is estimated that a mere 10 percent of Madagascar’s original forests still remain today².
Madagascar Forest Conservation Solutions
In order for forest conservation to be successful in Madagascar, such efforts must take poverty alleviation into account for the nation’s people, in addition to protecting ecosystems and wildlife. Coordination between government, poverty-reduction organizations and natural resource managers will help to ensure that both the needs of people and conservation goals are met³.
- Agricultural Solutions
The use of ecological farming techniques, such as the use of permaculture “savoka” gardens, can help to create very productive growing systems that build soil and regenerate the land. Savoka gardens involve the use of trees and other perennial plants to rebuild the soil, and to produce food crops and other products that can be sold to generate an income. When such systems are located next to secondary and old-growth forests, native species can survive and thrive³.
The culture of tavy-style agriculture is so strong that it has been difficult to convince farmers to grow other types of crops. In order to encourage the widespread use of savoka gardens in Madagascar, rice cultivation may need to become integrated into those systems. Market systems must also be created that promote access for these farmers so that they may be able to sell their products³.
The sale of sustainable forest products can also produce an income for the people of Madagascar without destroying the land that they depend on. For instance, many plants found only in rainforests hold important medicinal values, including many that have been found to have anticancer properties³.
If ecotourism is properly managed, such an industry can be a significant source of income for the people of Madagascar and can help to protect habitat. Park entrance fees, wildlife guides, souvenirs, park rangers, and hotels, restaurants and lodges are just a few possible ecotourism opportunities to generate income for local communities³.
- Government Action
In the 1980s, the government of Madagascar created a National Environmental Action Plan to help preserve the remaining environment in Madagascar. The plan included actions to halt environmental destruction, poverty reduction, the creation of biodiversity in parks and reserves, and develop plans to sustainably manage natural resources and ecotourism².
The nation has now established 6,809 km2 of protected areas, as well as the creation of a National Association for Protected Area Management to oversee ecotourism in the nation’s national parks².
Although more work needs to be done to preserve the natural resources and habitat of Madagascar, the nation has a good start to ensuring that the natural resources of Madagascar will be sustainably managed for the future and for its people.