Madagascar has to contend with significant ecological problems that not only affect the country itself, but also take on global proportions due to the uniqueness of its flora and fauna.
It can be assumed that Madagascar was once almost completely forested. Today, through the use of wood, the extraction of charcoal and the creation of huge agricultural plantations, only a fraction of the original vegetation is left: in 1950, the primary forest covered 25% of the surface of Madagascar, today it is only about 10%. With progressive overexploitation of nature, in a few decades the forests, including their unique flora and fauna, will almost completely disappear and Madagascar will be a deserted, treeless landscape torn by erosion furrows. Particularly in the dry and therefore fragile ecosystem of the south, slash and burn (Malagasy “tavy”) and the construction of sisal plantations has already become deserted. The precious woods present in the tropical rainforest were and are partly legally and partly illegally felled, with large areas being cleared in order to get to individual trees – especially rosewood (trees of the genus Dalbergia) and ebony. The complex of the culturally important wet rice areas of the highlands devours enormous amounts of water. The zebu cattle, which are almost equal in number to the population of Madagascar, also need huge pastures. These are also burned regularly to encourage the growth of nutrient-rich new grass (French: “feu de brousse”). But these savanna fires destroy the fauna in the ground and are for increased risk of erosion responsible if there is heavy rain on the areas without vegetation. It created deep gullies (lavaka). Due to the lack of vegetation cover, the already limited fertile soils are turned into rock-hard laterite that can hardly be used for agriculture. 75% of the primary forest in the east has been destroyed. Today’s forest areas in the east are dominated by secondary forest (savoka) with its fast-growing trees, bamboo groves, lianas and ravenala (the traveler’s tree). In particular, the frequent occurrence of the Ravenala is a consequence and a sign of the destruction of the forest, just as the dense bamboo forests indicate a degeneration of the ground cover. The deforestation of the Malagasy forests also calls prominent warnings to the scene, such as Pope Francis in 2019, who during a visit urgently warns of the destruction of the tropical rainforests in Madagascar.
According to areacodesexplorer, Madagascar has numerous protected areas, divided into national parks (Parcs nationaux PN), integral protected areas (Réserves naturelles intégrales RNI) and special reserves (Réserves Spéciales RS), which together take up around 3% of the country’s area. The aim is to expand it to around 10%. Environmental protection is anchored in the constitution, but violations of environmental regulations or illegal activities can only be implemented selectively due to the land area and difficult access to many regions. In addition, government agencies sometimes seem to be involved in illegal activities themselves. Political instability and corruption thus favor the overexploitation of nature and the animal trade by smugglers on a large scale. Despite efforts on the part of WWF, GIZ or UNESCO, many animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. These include, above all, reptiles – geckos, chameleons and turtles, and a large proportion of the lemurs endemic to Madagascar. But the coral reef and many plant species are also affected. In addition, non-native species threaten various endemic animals such as the Asiatic black-spotted toad, which is poisonous.
The protected areas are administered by the Madagascar National Parks Society – formerly the Association Nationale pour la Gestion des Aires Protégées ANGAP. The guidelines in the parks are based on the concept of ecological tourism. The income from visitors to the protected areas is an important source of income for Madagascar.
Like many African countries, Madagascar is also affected by climate change, which has a negative impact on agriculture in particular. Strengthened by the El Nino, periods of drought in the otherwise fragile, arid south of the country are an ecological catastrophe. Here one can speak of desertification. The people must be given targeted help through adapted project strategies. Attempts are also being made to counter climate change in various areas through research and adapted strategies. Climate change is also increasing the frequency and severity of cyclones in the Indian Ocean, whose precipitation – when it hits deforested and erosion-damaged regions in Madagascar – leads to heavy flooding and other geomorphological mass movements such as landslides in the mountains. The global climate risk index shows Madagascar as one of the hardest hit countries in Africa. In the EPI (Environmental Performance Index), Madagascar ranks 174th out of 180 countries, a value that shows how threatening the situation is for the ecology of the unique island.
State protective measures
Due to the great environmental damage caused by worrying soil erosion, deforestation or destruction of tropical forests and the high endangerment of native animal and plant species, the Malagasy government must take measures to protect the environment in order to protect future resources and to preserve Madagascar’s unique biodiversity. The NEAP (National Environmental Action Plan) program started in 1991 is a step in this direction. In principle, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Tourism (MEEFT) is responsible for environmental matters. Environmental protection is part of the Malagasy constitution. ONE (Office National pour l´Environnement), founded in 1990 as an administrative structure, has the task and aim of establishing conventions on biodiversity to implement. A distinction must be made between different programs, such as the MECIE (Mise En Compatibilité des Investissements avec l’Environnement) set up in 1995, the PGE (Plan de Gestion Environnementale) or the EES (Evaluation Environnementales Stratégiques). They are part of the government’s environmental plan (PNAE = Plan d´Action Environnementale), which was drawn up in 1991. In the first phase (1991-1996) all environmental activities were summarized in a plan before starting in 1997 to implement them in the various regions of Madagascar. It was primarily about ecological with socio-economic interests in order to be able to protect the environment at the same time in the future without neglecting the needs of people (reforestation activities, promotion of ecotourism, development of value chains for forest products, restriction of slash and burn, promotion of forestry activities within the agricultural subsistence economy, erosion control measures etc.). In the course of the current global climate debate, the Malagasy state is trying to take protective measures. National protection efforts are supported by international cooperation with Belgium, Switzerland, France, Japan and Germany. Various organizations across the region have recognized Madagascar’s environmental problems and developed programs and measures to protect biodiversity and contain environmental risks. These include: USAID, the World Bank, UNDP, GEF, the African Development Bank, UNESCO and CIRAD. But there are also regional associations. Madagascar has responded to the natural risks influenced by climate change, such as the accumulation and amplification of cyclones, extended periods of drought and floods with an action plan. It remains to be seen whether and to what extent the country can implement the strategies of adaptation in the future.
The ambitious development plan for Madagascar (Madagascar Action Plan) developed by President Ravalomanana in 2006 to implement the Millennium Development Goals also provided for the island’s environmental and resource protection. Among other things, it stipulates the expansion of the protected forest areas by 6 million hectares (so-called Durban Vision). A major challenge, however, was the management of these areas, their protection and control. The state transferred many tasks to the local communities, which, however, could not do justice to the task. Obtaining the necessary financial resources was also problematic. In addition, the poor governance, corruption and neglect of large sections of the population are still responsible for insufficient implementation of environmental protection guidelines.