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Deforestation in Madagascar

Causes of Deforestation

Historically, there have been many causes of deforestation in Madagascar, which have all affected the environment to a certain degree. The most prominent of those within the context of colonial rule in Madagascar are Incendiarism and Woodcutting (Jones et al., 2021). Fire has undoubtedly played one of the major, if not the most significant, roles in the loss of Madagascar’s forested areas. Three principal reasons for this phenomenon have been highlighted.

Herding is a widespread practice in rural Madagascar, primarily involving cattle and, to a lesser extent, sheep and sometimes goats. This activity holds economic significance and serves as a means to provide essentials such as protein. Additionally, herding carries symbolic weight, representing social status through the accumulation of capital (Kistler & Spack, 2003). The central highlands of Madagascar witness a considerable amount of herding, with grasslands managed by controlled fires to promote the regrowth of plants consumed by livestock. However, herding is not confined to this region; it takes place in various parts of the country and diverse environmental settings (Gade, 1996). This includes forests, where freely roaming animals graze on grassy open areas and consume tree seedlings.

Another practice involving the use of fire is the shifting above agriculture, better known in Madagascar as Tavy. It involves the felling of a predetermined area of forest, followed by the burning of the cut-down trees (Randrup, 2010). Thereafter, the ashes are mixed with rainfall, which creates a natural fertilizer, and the farmers proceed to plant their crops. This form of subsistence agriculture has been extensively used throughout history yet remains controversial given the damage it does to the environment, notably deforestation and soil erosion.

Lastly, the growth of infrastructure, including roads and highways, as well as urban areas, led to the breakdown and loss of natural habitats. These development projects tend to include draining enormous forest regions, disrupting ecosystems, and section isolation of the wildlife inhabitants. Although vital in fostering economic growth, infrastructure development poses challenges to biodiversity preservation. At the same time, both legal and illegal mining destroyed forests in Madagascar (Crowley et al., 2021). Hence, extracting minerals and precious stones required deforestation, which led to habitat destruction, soil erosion, water pollution, and the broader degradation of ecosystems on the island.

Within the colonial confines, herding and shifting farming were increased, and the economic exploitation attitude of the French colonial state aggravated their outcomes. During this period, the economic activities embraced by the colonial administration included logging as well as agriculture, focusing on exporting plantation cash crops to increase deforestation at a faster rate (Velo & Zafitsara, 2020). The process of interaction between economic activities, ancestral practices, and deforestation leads to the realization that numerous factors have contributed historically towards malpractice in Madagascar.

French Economic Policies

In the period centered between 1895 and 1935, Madagascar was colonized by French nationals; these years formed part of a transitional stage in its political history. Due to these French ecological policies, an initial impact on the island occurred, which predominantly set its future trajectory and affected other preservation methods. The chronological exploration of this era reveals key events: In such a way, the French Colonial Conquest marked Madagascar’s first exploitation of its riches in 1895-186. This conquest served as the platform for subsequent happenings in various economic and ecological settings of this region.

Taking into consideration the fact that all depleted timber, minerals, and agricultural products were stolen in Madagascar from 1897 till this date through a gale in which the French completely plundered burgee. This caused extensive deforestation that was meant to save these precious resources. In the late 19th century to early 20th century, new cash crops such as vanilla and coffee were introduced into East Africa, whereby lots of deforestation was attributed to the adoption of alternative forms of land use (McConnell & Kull, 2014). Alongside cash crop planting, which reached the settling farmsteads, there were more modifications made to natural landscapes. This period was characterized by the challenge of French colonial governance’s economic interests in environmentalism.

The increasing concerns over deforestation, which was a threat to the French colonial administration during the early 20th century, forced it to develop forest management policies that were aimed at controlling tree harvesting. However, the effect on controlling environmental damage was found to be inadequate (Raik, 2007). It had devastating ecological consequences, with a large loss of biodiversity and especially affecting endemic species typical only to Madagascar. The change in the way land was used also disturbed traditional agricultural practices, further aggravating environmental impact (Kistler & Spack, 2003). These ecological policies would reverberate through the years, shaping how conservation initiatives are shaped throughout.

In the early to mid-20th century, French scientists conducted naturalist studies and researched Madagascar’s peculiar flora and fauna. Their work significantly contributed to the development of knowledge about biodiversity islands. Nevertheless, while contributing to the knowledge base of scientific research, these efforts did not provide adequate conservation measures. The emphasis was on theoretical discoveries instead of practical ecological preservation programs. The global economic effects of World War I and II hit Madagascar as a supplier of strategic resources for France during 1945-19. This period caused changes in the use of resources on this island (Weiskopf et al., 2021). The policies of resource extraction and environmental conservation had little advancements in the ecological arena. The needs of international economic and strategic conditions prevailed over sound environmental practices, which led to further threats to Madagascar’s ecosystems. From the geopolitical events and ecological management, it becomes evident that there is an intersecting point that sought to govern the changing dynamics of Madagascar as a country under French colonialism.

The social and cultural reach or impact of French ecological policies in Madagascar from 1895 to 1935 was far-reaching. Intricately connected to the natural resources, local communities thus witnessed marked deteriorations of the usage patterns typical for this land as a result of these events. The shift from traditional agricultural practices and limited accessibility of resource inputs not only affected their sociocultural existence but also disturbed the ecological equilibrium between the human population and the environment. From the late 1935s, there were appearances of a change towards conservationist policies (Jarosz, 1993). In spite of the apparent ecological impact that intensive resource development had, there were early signals for some change in focus. Meanwhile, the complete shift to sustainable strategies was a process that took several subsequent years. This was a key turning point in the history of Madagascar’s environment since echoes of French colonial ecological policies circulated within sociocultural intricacies among local communities and prepared grounds for emerging conservation approaches.

Contemporary Efforts

A complex interplay of historical factors, socioeconomic constraints, and environmental issues guides the present attempts to address deforestation in Madagascar. Although the need for conservation and sustainable practices is acknowledged, a series of persistent problems hinder efficient forest management (Pollini, 2023). The continuing legacy of French colonial policy, in which ecological protection was sacrificed for the purpose of resource extraction, poses a significant barrier. The lingering impacts of these exploitative practices, which include widespread logging and the introduction of cash crops, have had a lasting effect on the environment (Cole & Middleton, 2001). Communities that were previously inseparable from their natural environment continue to grapple with the outcomes of altered land-use practices and modified sociocultural dynamics.

Furthermore, some of the elements fostered by socioeconomic conditions that prevail in modern-day Madagascar include deforestation. Population growth and the increasing demand for agricultural land were also driving forces towards encroachment, which led to further habitat loss. The dependence cycle is born when people are compelled to depend on subsistence farming and its associated limited alternative livelihood options (Peet & Watts, 2004). Poverty often means that marginalized populations cannot afford to change their behavior to be more environmentally responsible or participate in any conservation program. This makes the solution of this problem much more complicated.

Another major challenge is the weak governance and enforcement structures. Although policy interventions have been implemented and protected areas formed, regulation implementation and enforcement are far from uniform. The leading causes of the continuing decline in forested areas can be attributed to limited resources, corruption, and lack of capacity for monitoring and controlling illegal activities. International factors are also significant in determining the current state of affairs (Gottschalk, 2022). Global demand for hardwoods, minerals, and agricultural products from Madagascar drives unsustainable practices due to economic motivations that tend to favor immediate gains over long-term sustainability.


In conclusion, the path deforestation took in Madagascar, from its early days of colonization to the present challenges, urges a more precise understanding of all factors that resulted in environmental deterioration. The long-term effect of these policies is also evident in the sociocultural distortions and altered land use that characterize it now. An intricate heritage characterizes modern initiatives aimed at combating deforestation: We can list the legacy of past exploitation, socioeconomic factors, poor governance capacity, and global economic interests. We can quote the following as factors that sustain environmental depreciation, namely, shifts in farming methods and economic dependence on woodlands even though there is a lack of proper governing or law enforcement. In addition, the conservation process is made harder due to the world’s demand for Madagascar resources. Sustainable development paradigm solutions must target community participation, poverty mitigation, and good governance. Utilizing the lessons learned from past mistakes, an active conservation framework would embody indigenous knowledge and move towards more sustainable practices while incorporating economic development with ecological restoration.


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