Madagascar is the 4th biggest island in the world but it is also one of the poorest countries.
People's day to day survival is dependent upon natural resources. Many Malagasy never have an opportunity to study for professional careers. Rather they have to live off the land that surrounds them, making use of whatever resources they can find. However their poverty has impacted on their country causing the loss of much of the island's endemic biodiversity.
The main cause of deforestation is the widespread clearance of vegetation which is burned for agriculture, fire wood, and charcoal production.
Madagascar's forests are continuing to be cut, often illegally, leaving only a red trail that runs down the rivers into the sea. The amount of rain that pours and spills onto the land causes mass flooding, which then leads to soil erosion and the loss of topsoil. The land becomes barren and bare, unfit for even the locals to use for agriculture. The increased sediments that are washed into the water as it flows downstream cause danger to marine life . Many species are losing their habitat, and are dying. This has a knock- on effect for the farmers and fishermen who lose there source of income.
Every year fires are set for land-clearing and pasture and spread into adjacent wild lands, causing damage to the island's unique ecosystems.
With its rivers running blood red and staining the surrounding Indian Ocean it has been said that it looks like Madagascar is bleeding to death.
Soil erosion - Deforestation of Madagascar's central forest and natural vegetation has resulted in widespread soil erosion.
For Madagascar, a country that relies on agricultural production for the foundation of its economy, the loss of this soil is especially costly.
Madagascar's living resources have been over exploited; native species have been aggressively hunted and collected by people desperately seeking to provide for their families. While it has been illegal to kill or keep lemurs as pets they are hunted in areas where they are not protected, other carnivores are widely hunted as a source of protein.
Reptiles and amphibians are collected for the international pet trade. Chameleons, geckos, snakes, and tortoises are the most targeted.
The waters around Madagascar serve as a rich fishery and are an important source of income for villagers. Unfortunately, fishing is poorly regulated. Foreign fishing boats arrive on artisanal fishing areas and cause huge damage to the locals and the marine fauna. Sharks, sea cucumbers, and lobster are being harvested at increasingly unsustainable rates.
We cannot turn back the clock on what has happened to Madagascar so the concern now should be how to slow this ecological decline and how to best utilise lands already degraded such that they can support productive activities today and for future generations. Without improving the well-being of the average Malagasy, we cannot expect Madagascar's wild lands to persist as fully functional systems and continue to cater to the needs of their people.
Creating an area as a park does not meet the immediate needs of local people. It does not reduce hunger or negate the requirements for shelter and other necessities.
Conservation in Madagascar must address the needs of local people, and efforts must focus on reducing poverty, improving economic development as well as protecting wildlife and ecosystems. Conservation cannot come at the expense of local people rather they must be included in the solutions. In order to seek ways to resolve the environmental problems of Madagascar, whether it be through agro- forestry, ecotourism etc. the ultimate fate of its ecosystems rests in the hands of local people. It is necessary to realise parks and reserves will not persist, let alone be successful, unless local communities are persuaded that it is in their material interest to preserve them.
Agriculture - A better approach to addressing the needs of poor Malagasy farmers may be improving and intensifying currently existing agricultural projects and promoting alternative cultivation techniques.
Sustainable forest products - Improved forms of agriculture are among several means that can provide tangible returns to rural Malagasy living in and around forests. Sustainable development through harvesting of the forests' renewable products has the potential for generating income for local people without destroying their resource base.
Masoala—The Eye of the Forest. A New Strategy for Rainforest Conservation in Madagascar.
More than 290 plant species on the Masoala peninsula alone are used by local people as fuel, as wood for construction, for medicinal purposes, carving, and other purposes. Such forest products have a great deal of potential in both local and international markets. Rainforest plants have already provided tangible evidence of their potential to address all sorts of medical problems, from childhood leukaemia to hangovers. Seventy percent of the plants identified by the U.S. National Cancer Institute as having anti-carcinogenic characteristics are found only in the tropical rainforest. Rainforest plants have been estimated to be responsible for 25 percent of the drugs used by Western medicine.
Vanilla has long been a lucrative, but eco-friendly crop for many farmers in north-eastern Madagascar since it grows best under the shade of canopy trees; a new variety of vanilla has been introduced recently as part of an EU-funded economic support program which is sun-tolerant and therefore better suited as a plantation crop. This new form may drive small producers out of business and contribute further to deforestation.
The key to making sustainable forests products an economic reality for local Malagasy is access to markets.
Ecotourism may be the best hope for Madagascar to improve the standard of living for its people. Most visitors when they come to Madagascar visit protected areas when they come to the country.
Responsibly managed ecotourism can give substantial amounts of revenue and employ large numbers of local people without causing significant environmental damage. Ecotourists pay to see a country's natural beauty thus it gives local people a direct incentive to conserve the environment around them. Ecotourism can help assign value to an ecosystem, and most ecotourists are willing to pay directly for preservation in the form of park entrance fees and the hiring of local guides.
Sales of handicrafts and wildlife guides, park rangers, staff who work in hotels, restaurants, and lodges help the local community as a whole. Hopefully it will encourage children in the community and offer them better opportunities in the future.
To be sustainable, ecotourism requires careful planning and strict guidelines; short-term development can doom ecosystems and communities just as does unsustainable logging. Too many people, inadequate facilities, and poor park management can spell the end for the "eco" in ecotourism. Ecotourism, when carried out in a sustainable fashion, can benefit local people, the economy, and the environment. Ecotourism should not be restricted to legally protected areas, but also be promoted in natural areas that lack protection. The presence of tourists, when properly managed, can protect an area from certain over-exploitive activities.