23 August 2013

Madagascar: Political Crisis, Population Growth Threaten Biodiversity

The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot with 80 per cent of its animal species unique to the country. But the political upheaval brought on by a coup in 2009 is having knock-on environmental effects.

The Andasibe Mantadia forest is a lush rain forest some three hours away from the capital Antananarivo.

It's a protected area known for its waterfalls and wildlife and it's home to the world's largest species of lemur, the Indri Indri.

The park is a tourist magnet but Madagascar's rapidly growing population is putting more pressure on the forest.

It is under threat due to a rise in slash-and-burn agriculture, where people burn down large areas, often rich in flora and fauna, to clear land to plant crops.

"It's a practise used by the surrounding community of the park to survive," Oly Raoliharivao Andriamandimbisoa, Director of Andasibe-Mantadia national park. "Currently, the demographic weight is on the rise. There are not enough parks agents to ease the pressure on the park."

Local residents have been asked to participate in the protecting the park. They have formed local park committees (CLPs) to help protect the forest.

"I joined the CLP because this forest used to be very big and because of human activity, it shrank," says CLP member Laurent Gabriel. "So I wanted to protect the forest for future generations so they can enjoy the beauty of this place that they might not discover otherwise."

Slash-and-burn agriculture is not the only threat to the island's natural resources. The ongoing political turmoil and increased poverty led to an upsurge in the logging of hardwoods and illegal mining.

The NGO Madagascar National Parks deals with around 50 protected areas across Madagascar.

Several of them are affected by rosewood trade in the north-east of the island.

"The problem got worse since the beginning of the [political] crisis," says deputy managing director Herijaona Randriamanantenasoa. "We are not talking about dozens of people cutting wood in the forest but actually hundreds or even thousands of people. Insecurity prevails in these areas."

The export of hardwoods is illegal here but the interim government has failed to enforce the law.

"There is a weakness in law enforcement because of corruption and because of the power of this illegal network of traffickers," says Andry Andriamanga Ralamboson, the national coordinator of environmentalist coalition Vohary Gasy.

Economic consequences are big. Only two per cent of hardwood trade income goes to local woodcutters, according to Vohary Gasy, while exporters are take a large cut of the financial flow.

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