Deforestation has long been an issue for Madagascar as it is one of the world's top biodiversity conservation priorities because of its high concentration of endemic species and extreme rates of habitat loss (Whitehurst et al. 2009). The Makira Forest is an example of one of the deforestation hot spots located across Madagascar. Located in the northeast of Madagascar, the forests of Makira represent one of the largest remaining contiguous tropical rainforest areas in Madagascar. It is a tremendously valuable site for biodiversity conservation, carbon storage, and other critical ecosystem services. Conservation International, Madagascar government, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are working together to improve the situation of deforestation there. This project intends to reduce deforestation activity across Makira's 350,000 hectares. In addition, there are similar areas of deforestation and conservation actions taking place across Madagascar (e.g. Mantadia Corridor, to the south of Makira) (Conservation International 2009).
Deforestation in Madagascar
Madagascar, comprising 3.2% and 2.8% of plant and vertebrate animal species, respectively, is critical to biodiversity because of its high concentration of endemic species (Myers et al. 2000).
Having impacted approximately 94% of Madagascar's previously forest lands, deforestation here has a profound effect and a long history. Since the arrival of humans 2000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forest. Previous analysis of aerial photographs and remote sensing images (from Landsat) indicates that almost 40% of forest cover disappeared from the 1950s to 2000, accompanied with a reduction of almost 80% in ‘core forest’ (> 1 km from a non-forest edge) (Harper et al. 2007).
The biodiversity level of Makira-system, which connects the Masoala National Park and Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve, is among the highest in the world. The forests of Makira provide an important “genetic corridor” between the two above protected areas and ensure the integrity of the most important ecosystem of Madagascar. According to Conservation International (2009), now “more than 50% of Madagascar’s floral biodiversity can be found in the Greater Makira/Masoala landscape”. But this biodiversity is now in danger considering less than 10% of the original forest cover of the Makira Forest still stands today (Conservation International 2009).
Small-scale agriculture (slash-and-burn agricultural practices) has been a major problem for a long time. Following the old agricultural method of burning down trees and irrigating with rainfall, farmers still cultivate rice on hillsides, with a consequence of more eroded farmlands. To support the ever growing rural population, large numbers of peasants need to seek new lands to cultivate, notably in the forests (Myers 1988, Conservation International 2009).
Enormous forest areas of Madagascar are threatened by flames annually, from uncontrolled wildfires and lands burned for grazing. It’s these fires that burn large portions of forests. Although it is difficult to get precise statistics, the FAO estimates 33,000 hectare of forest and 839,000 hectare of other wooded land was disturbed by fire in 2000 (FAO 2006; Conversation International 2007).
Deforestation (due to unsustainable agriculture practice) could exhaust the soil, increase erosion and contaminate water supplies. Some scholars are working on improving soil fertility following deforestation and conversion in Madagascar (see in T.-G. Vĺgen et al. 2006).
Deforestation hotspots will also contribute to the biodiversity hotspots (Myers et al. 2000). Numerous species have been affected by deforestation, including lizards, small mammals, insects, freshwater organisms, etc. It is difficult to list all detailed statistics, but you can find more from different sources (see Scott et al. 2005, Benstead et al. 2003, Hanski et al. 2007).
Deforestation will reduce the size of carbon sink and hence contribute to climate change. Makira Forest Project is working to preserve the carbon sink and to reduce CO2 emissions through forest protection activity (Conservation International 2009).
Improving agricultural practice is necessary to protect forests.There is a need to train farmers in new ways to produce harvests in the same plot of land instead of cutting forests down to cultivate new fields every few years (Conservation International 2009).
Local communities should better control and manage local natural resources.Projects in Makira are “intended to help facilitate contracts that would transfer more management rights from the government to the local people” (Conservation International 2009). Although some efforts has already been made (e.g. the GELOSE, Gestion Locale Sécurisée, launched on 1996), more efforts are still needed to guarantee a transfer of management rights to local communities (Bertrand 1999, Conservation International 2009).
Poverty is still the big problem and requires support and effort from both domestic and international interests.Different projects (from Conservation International, WCS, World Bank etc.) now have planned to bring new jobs and ecotourism to the area while also offering training in irrigation for lowland rice field (Conservation International 2009).
Careful consideration of regeneration is needed before any further action is takenThe failure to acknowledge regeneration of forest leads to “a linear view of change and misinterpretations of the conditions for sustainable forest management” (Elmqvist et al. 2007:13). There exists “a large, but often neglected, capacity of a dry tropical forest to spontaneously regenerate given a window triggered by declining pressures” (Elmqvist et al. 2007:13). Hence, we need to further understand the dynamics of forest, especially its resilience to different patterns of human use, before we set up to improve situations there. Otherwise, it is simply a waste of our time and money on unnecessary activities, which could be devoted to other important issues (Elmqvist et al. 2007).
Conservation International. Fire Alert System 2007 http://firealerts.conservation.org/ (last accessed 19 October 2009)
Makira Forest Initiative, Madagascar 2009 http://www.conservation.org/learn/climate/forests/Pages/project_makira.aspx (last accessed 19 October 2009)
National Geographic Society. Global Action Atlas - Makira Forest Initiative 2009 http://www.actionatlas.org/content_detail.php?uid=paaE2495E3857370BEF6 (last accessed 19 October 2009)
Wildlife Conservation Society. Madagascar 2009 http://www.wcs.org/where-we-work/africa/madagascar.aspx (last accessed 19 October 2009)
FAO. 2006. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005: Progress towards sustainable forest management. FAP Forestry Paper 147. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome.
Bertrand. A. 1999. La Gestion Contractuelle, Pluraliste et Subsidiaire des Ressources Renouvelables A Madagascar (1994-1998). African Studies Quarterly 3
Whitehurst, A. S., J. O. Sexton, L. Dollar. 2009. Land cover change in western Madagascar’s dry deciduous forests: a comparison of forest changes in and around Kirindy Mite National Park. Fauna & Flora International, Oryx 43(2): 275–283
Harper, G. J., M. K. Steininger, C. J. Tucker, D. Juhn, F. Hawkins. 2007. Fifty years of deforestation and forest fragmentation in Madagascar. Environmental Conservation 34: 325-333
Myers, N. 1988. Threatened Biotas: “Hot Spots” in Tropical Forests. The Environmentalist 8 (3): 187-208
Myers, N., R. A. Mittermeier, C.G. Mittermeier, G. A. B. De Fonseca, J. Kent. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403: 853–858.
Elmqvist, T., M. Pyykönen, M. Tengö, F. Rakotondrasoa, E. Rabakonandrianina, C. Radimilahy. 2007 Patterns of Loss and Regeneration of Tropical Dry Forest in Madagascar: The Social Institutional Context. PLoS ONE 2(5): e402