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.
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.
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.
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.
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