Madagascar – The link Between Biodiversity and Poverty

About Madagascar

Located in the Indian Ocean, East of Mozambique and with an area approximately three quarters the size of New South Wales, Madagascar is the fourth largest Island in the world. The country has an estimated population of over 22 million and according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 69% of the island’s inhabitants live below the poverty threshold,  with the majority (85%) living in rural areas.

The island of Madagascar and some of its Indian Ocean neighbors. © Conservation International

The island of Madagascar and some of its Indian Ocean neighbors. © Conservation International

Biodiversity in Madagascar

The geographical isolation of the island means that over time, many species have evolved uniquely and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. According to Conservation International, Madagascar along with some of the smaller islands in the Western Indian Ocean is the tenth most important biological hotspot out of 25 worldwide. The number of species and their endemism for the region is summarized below.

table

Table 1 – Diversity and endemism in Madagascar and Western Indian Ocean Islands
(Conservation International)

Left - Black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata).Photo R. Quatre. Top left – Smallest chameleon (Brookesia micra) Photo digitaljournal.com. Bottom right – Baobab trees. (Photo mydestination.com).

Left – Black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata).Photo R. Quatre. Top left – Smallest chameleon (Brookesia micra) Photo digitaljournal.com. Bottom right – Baobab trees. (Photo mydestination.com).

Threats to Biodiversity in Madagascar

The major threats to Biodiversity in Madagascar include deforestation/habitat destruction, agricultural fires, erosion and soil degradation, over-exploitation of living resources and invasive species. A process known as ‘tavy’ or slash and burn agriculture is practiced where forests are cleared and farmed for a few years before being left for a few years before the process is repeated. This often results in erosion of the land and also the establishment of invasive plants. Some animals are hunted for food with some species such as the elephant bird driven to extinction since the 18th century. Other species such as reptiles and amphibians are collected for the international pet trade.

A child in a forest burnt for agriculture. Photo WWF

Biodiversity and Poverty challenges

With almost three quarters of Madagascar’s population living in poverty and with most of them (85%) living in rural areas, most people survive by either subsistence farming or directly exploiting the remaining natural forests and other natural resources. As a result these activities negatively impact biodiversity in the country. Although there are quite a number of programmes to preserve biodiversity and reduce poverty, threats to biodiversity are still very high. Being in a political crisis since 2009, issues such as political stability, high levels of corruption, economic growth and welfare of the population definitely become priorities over the conservation of biodiversity.

Visiting group of inhabitants relocated by from a national park for the creation of wildlife corridors. Photo R.Quatre

Madagascar illustrates the broader issues for biodiversity loss in developing countries where unfortunately most hotspots are located. In these regions, issues such as poverty and economic growth automatically precede environmental conservation and the challenge now is how to use interdisciplinary approaches to generate tangible solutions towards poverty alleviation whilst simultaneously safeguarding the biodiversity of our planet for future generations.

Rodney Quatre, Student, Australian National University

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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4 Responses to Madagascar – The link Between Biodiversity and Poverty

  1. Kien says:

    Thanks very much Rodney for sharing! I like it a lot and it was really useful for me to quickly learn about the country. What a small island but have many unique species. Poverty and political instability will be huge obstacles to do anything for biodiversity. I find it in many ways similar to the situation in Vietnam. We are slightly bigger in land size but poverty remains high and its hard to do anything about conserving biodiversity or urging for biodiversity conservation. I really wish that in the years to come when the environmental awareness is much higher and income level of the people may be more affordable, then it may be easier to act upon this. Hoping very much also that once you gain more skills and (passion) and knowledge from ANU, you will be able to contribute something to the countrys biodiversity strategy and initiatives.

  2. Rodney, as with Kien’s comment, it is nice to get a perspective from the other side of the world – and this is truly one of the most wonderful aspects of being involved with this course. And may I ask who that woman is hanging on your shoulder?

  3. Miri says:

    Thanks Rodney, great to think about biodiversity from another angle! Such a shame it’s so under threat with the high rates of endemism.

  4. Rodney says:

    Hi Everyone,
    Thanks for your comments. Yes, it is indeed good to have perspectives from all corners of the world. This gives us an overview of the challenges that we as conservationists face across the globe and to also appreciate the fact that we are all contributing our part be it big or small to try and make a difference. Phil, the young lady is a very close friend of mine working with in coastal management back home and is also an active environmentalist. 🙂

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