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Paradise in danger: the deforestation of Madagascar

Since the beginning of the 20th century, half of the world’s forests have disappeared. The deforestation of Madagascar is one of the most worrying examples of the disappearance of tropical rainforests, and for a good reason: this island is a cradle of unique biodiversity. However, tens of thousands of hectors of forest are destroyed every year, and today, only 10 to 13 percent of the original Malagasy forest remains.

Madagascar: The Garden of Eden

madagascar-deforestation

Madagascar is the fourth biggest island in the world and has one of the most incredible ecosystems on the planet. From the highest peaks, which reach an altitude of 800 metres, huge tropical forests running alongside the dry savannah can be seen, however this will soon be transformed into vast plains scattered by huge lakes. Arriving at the coast, fine sandy beaches stretch as far as the eye can see, and in the turquoise waters the coral reefs and the aquatic jungle teeming with life coalesce.

The incredible diversity of ecosystems present on the island has allowed for the development of an innumerable amount of different species of animals and plants. In fact, 90% of flora and 80% of fauna are endemic to the island, or in other words, these species DO NOT EXIST ANYWHERE ELSE. For example, of the hundreds of species of medicinal plants, there are many species of baobabs, as well as almost all of the lemur species of the planet, half of chameleons, hundreds of amphibians and the huge diversity of aquatic fauna that it is still undiscovered.

Plant

Mammal

Bird

Reptile

Amphibian

Fish

Number of species

12 000

160

283

363

238

165

Globally Threatened Species (CR, EN, VU)

280

45

35

20

55

73

Endemic

96 %

88 %

51 %

90 %

99 %

96 %

The causes of Deforestation

deforestation-madagascar

Of the 20 million hectares of forest on the island in 1885, the FAO estimate that only 12 million remain today. Every year between 200, 000 and 300,000 hectares go up in smoke. Currently, the deforestation of the island is reaching catastrophic proportions.

Paradoxically, even though Madagascar has an incomparable richness in terms of biodiversity, it is also one of the poorest countries in the world. To survive, the Malagasy people are using the forest in a destructive and unsustainable way.

  • The main cause of deforestation in Madagascar is called ‘tavy’, and stands for the slash and burn agriculture practised on this island. This farming technique consists of partially clearing a plot of the forest before burning it.

This “pioneering” agriculture is developing rapidly at the expense of the forest due to the influence of many factors: the pressure of a growing population, a saturation of the most fertile land devoted to intense crop farming, and a loosening of state control on clearing the forests.

déforestation-madagascar

The problem is that this technique is completely unsustainable! After 5 or 6 years of use, the plot of land is no longer profitable as the soil has become impoverished. The farmer therefore finds himself having to abandon the land in the search of a new clearing.

  • Charcoal, the main source of energy in Madagascar, is also a source of deforestation. In fact, it takes 10kg of wood to produce 1kg of carbon. To give you an idea, in 2012 110,000 hectares of forest were razed to produce carbon!

  • Finally, let’s mention the illegal rosewood trade. This valuable timber is now highly valued by the Chinese nouveaux riches, amongst others. Thus, these trees are being plundered at an unprecedented rate, irremediably disturbing the balance of the ecosystems.

The consequences of deforestation in Madagascar

One of the main consequences of deforestation is soil erosion. Given that the tree roots which usually help sustain the earth have been removed, the soil gives way in windy and rainy conditions, causing an enormous loss of arable land which was already in short supply.

However, soil erosion also leads to a build-up of sediments in the rivers, which reduce and disturb aquatic ecosystems

  • Another direct consequence of deforestation is the increase of greenhouse gases. Plants store and transform carbon monoxide into oxygen. In addition to the tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by machines, thousands of tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere when trees are burnt.

  • Finally, unsurprisingly, many animal and plant species are disappearing. Among the most threatened species are lemurs, as these little primates live EXCLUSIVELY in Madagascar.

deforestation-madagascar

  • If deforestation continues at this pace, researchers guess that lemurs will become extinct within the next twenty years. In terms of plants, according to a study carried out by the Mikea forest, deforestation will also lead to the disappearance of 75% of the original vegetal species.

Solutions ?

Even though this analysis may be alarming, there are some possible solutions:

  • Supporting the local population with management of the forests

  • Teaching farming methods which are more profitable and sustainable

  • Raising awareness of environmental problems

I therefore invite you to discover Madagascar’s Holistic Forest Conservation programmeHolistic Forest Conservation Program” (in French)

Camille Handrich, rédactrice EVI.

camille-handrich

I think that the only way to save our planet is to arouse consciousness.

It’s us, still so little on the Earth, who can maintain her alive. We have to fight, inform people, act on it ! Everyone can do something on its own scale to build the world of tomorrow.

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