Deforestation in Madagascar

by Jacky Duruisseau

Why deforest ?

Madagascar is unlike many African countries whose inhabitants congregate in large cities. In Madagascar, rural life is very important. Small villages dot the entire countryside. Only national parks, high mountains, and deep forests escape human occupation.

In this country, women have, on average, five (5) children. Pressures brought about by population growth are thus very important.

  • Families , typically having no financial income whatsoever, must be fed. The primary source of nutrition for these tribespersons is rice. In the ‘countryside’, there is no alternative to the clearing and creation of “fields” for rice cultivation. And the only means to accomplish this : burn the forest. (Please note this is “mountain rice”, whose cultivation does not involve any flooding of fields, no rice paddies.)
  • The food must be cooked : Natural gas is both unavailable and far too expensive. And electricity has yet to become available in rural areas. And once available, electric power is, again, far too costly for people having no economic income whatsoever. Thus, it is necessary to make charcoal from the wood of felled trees, where the wood cannot otherwise be used in the construction of homes.
  • The family must have shelter, therefore houses must be built. These are of wood for the most part. Thus, more trees must come down. Saw boards and saw beams!

Les parcelles déboisées sont soumises à l’érosion des eaux de ruissellement très forte en saison des pluies ; la couche, peu épaisse, de terre arable est emportée très rapidement ; de ce fait, les parcelles deviennent vite inutilisables pour la culture ; on brûle donc à côté.

As already stated, rural families have little, or no, income. Some grow cloves, vanilla, or pineapple to make a little money, used to buy other necessary foodstuffs. Thus, they must clear land to make farms.

Another problem!

Very worrying, and already denounced by European Media: The traffic in rose wood (and in palissander) The political elite are implicated in this trade, as they resell these precious woods to a very avaricious China.

In fact, corruption reigns at all levels in the country. Payments of bribes close eyes to the traffic of wood, and to the creation of farmsteads in national parks (Masoala).

When uncorrupted Park Rangers come upon injured and barren land, the deforestation is arrested. But the injury remains ! In a few years, there will emerge an almost impenetrable secondary growth.

The state of things, some examples:

In 2001, in Vodiriana, a small village on the Voloina river, which opens out into the Bay of Antongil, at the west of the bay (in the north east of Madagascar) we would come out of the village and enter into the Makira forest: an immense mountainous plateau covered with primary forest not yet completely explorered. In 2013, 12 years later, we had to walk for two hours, through burned areas, rice fields, and cultivated lands before reaching forested land. All the land bordering the bay was deforested. On leaving Maroantsetra by plane, one gazed upon numerous columns of smoke.

We had the opportunity to fly over the ‘almost island’ of Masoala (at the border of which is the same Bay of Antongil, during that same year in the month of April. The outer boundary normally located outside Masoala Park was deforested to a width of approximately two (2) km. This overfly showed that even in the Park, where normally no farm of the forest is allowed, there are ‘holes’ in the forest, perfectly visible on Google Earth!

Between Maroantsetra and Ambanizana, (a village situated on the Bay of Antongil, halfway between Maroantsetra and Masoala Cape), we explored, in 2013, one of the two Ambilosy rivers, the small one called: Ambilosykely.

We found there an incredible site, right beside the stream. A huge bolder, and five (5Begonia species in an area of only 200 m². We returned this year. Unable to locate the path that led to this spot, we inquired of the Ambilosy villagers, “Where is it?” Their response, ‘There isn’t any path that running beside the stream. How bizarre !? Making one more attempt, we took a higher path then descended towards the stream. We relocated the site. A rice field to the right. A large tree toppled, and reduced to planks, to the left, right beside the great boulder ! The locals were not too worried that we could see this disaster ! The five begonias are still there, but for how long ? They are now in full sun with insufficient humidity. In perhaps six months, or perhaps one year, not a single begonia will remain growing here.


There is clearly a need for a political initiative for change, in support of rural people and populations.

NGO (No Governmental Organizations) have proposed several alternative solutions intended to permit rural farmers to cultivate for several years areas of deforestation and further benefit from “green” (renewable) products and resources. I lack further details regarding these proposals.

Situation catastrophique donc, non seulement pour les bégonias, mais pour tout ce que cela représente de perte pour nous tous.