A little background on Madagascar


Boy with omby, Ampijeroa.

 Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world - I've read that with an average per capita income of only $300 it lies in the poorest five or ten countries. Its rural people have traditionally made a living by subsistence farming, primarily rice. There is very little in the way of technology and industry in Madagascar today; most people in the country rely on the land for a living.


Rice fields and fires on Nosy Be.


Hauling charcoal by bicycle, Andranofasika.

 The Malagasy people have traditionally exploited their forests in non-sustainable ways - cutting hardwoods for export, cutting wood for charcoal (most rural families even today cook with charcoal, not the more expensive kerosene), and clearing and burning the forest for slash-and-burn agriculture, called tavy.

When the forest is burned to grow rice, it's fertile for several years but eventually must lay fallow for 10-15 years to allow the soil to regenerate. This forces the farmer to clear even more land; this rampant clearing, in combination with other uses of forest resources has left only 9% of Madagascar's original forest cover intact. Because of the composition of Madagascar's red soil, the barren land that's left is subject to severe erosion, creating huge canyons called lavaka. Astronauts from space reported that Madagascar looks like it's bleeding into the sea.

Lavaka, Ampijeroa.

 Today scientists and conservation groups are attempting to help the Malagasy people save what's left of their forests. (Incidently, before we're too quick to condemn the Malagasy, consider the fact that in 200 years settlers in the US reduced the east coast forests to 1-2% of their original size). The key to conservation may be showing people living near national parks and reserves in Madagascar that they can exploit their forests in a sustainable way; there are vazaha (foreigners) around the world who will come to see their unique wildlife. Those ecotourists will pay for guides, entry fees, hotels, food, local handicrafts; if at least some of that revenue goes to the local people, they can buy rice, kerosene, and possibly a higher standard of living. This new approach, pioneered at Ranomafana, is now also being put into action at other parks such as Anakarafantsika.


Backboard with conservation messages, Andranofasika


 Why should we care about Madagascar's forests? Approximately 85% of the plant and animal species found in Madagascar are found nowhere else on earth!


Conservation messages, basketball court, Andranofasika.