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Madagascar, a new deforestation front

Madagascar is one of 24 regions in the world recently identified as "deforestation fronts" according to a report released in early 2021. We would have liked better news for the environment and nature after having suffered the impacts of the pandemic for a whole year. But here is the sad reality we have to face!

These 24 fronts, of which we are a part, concentrate the most deforestation "hot spots"; forests are the most fragmented and future deforestation trends are on the rise. In all, this represents more than 43 million hectares lost between 2004 and 2017, roughly "the equivalent of the area of Morocco" - which, by the way, is only about 15 million hectares smaller than Madagascar. 

This is not the first such report. In 2015, WWF released the Living Forests report which reported 11 deforestation fronts around the world and Madagascar was not included. Indeed, we are a "new front" on the African continent, just like Liberia, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Apart from the methodological considerations - which are far from negligible - underlying the analyses of these two reports for 2015 and 2021, the observation is nevertheless clear and unequivocal: the situation has worsened. The loss of forests for the country is estimated at just under one million hectares between 2004 and 2017, with the forests of the west and east being the most affected. 

But what happened between these two reports?  

The 2021 report mentions, for Madagascar, subsistence agriculture, demand for wood energy and uncontrolled grazing fires as the main causes of past, current and future deforestation.  This tells us nothing new. Rather, it is the causes behind these causes that should be investigated.  Here are a few of them:

Firstly, population growth, which leads to an increase in demand for wood, charcoal and other forest products, as we have gone from 17.8 million inhabitants in 2004 to nearly 27 million in 2020; in addition to this, the increase in urban population - we are approaching 40% in 2021; urban households using charcoal more often than dead wood collected, not to mention small and sometimes large companies that also consume charcoal. 

Secondly, we have increased in number but unfortunately not in purchasing power nor in access to basic services, especially for those living in rural, landlocked areas and who - again and again - have no other alternatives than itinerant agriculture or extensive animal husbandry. Added to this are climatic hazards and their social and economic consequences, especially migration to forest or coastal areas where resources are more easily accessible. 

Finally, a political crisis from 2009 to 2013 and, above all, for the environment sector, a waltz of no less than eleven ministers in ten years (counting the portraits in the Ministry's waiting room) and no long-term framework, or medium-term framework for that matter, to guide and coordinate environmental action and forest management through a clear vision and plan during this period; with the result that the management of natural resources has mainly been carried out by sight-based steering, with no continuity over the last decade. This situation has, moreover, favoured the multiplication of organised trafficking in natural resources since this period and its impact on governance, security and forests. 

The Madagascar Emergence Plan (PEM) does include an environmental chapter, but in reality, where do forests and the communities that protect and depend on them really rank among the many priorities of our governments? 

Deforestation is a complex and multidimensional problem that requires equally elaborate, multidimensional and intersectoral responses. Simple solutions will not be effective. Reforestation is an inescapable part of the solution, but it will not be enough. We still have a long way to go before the vision of "ho rakotra ala i Madagasikara" has a chance to become a reality one day in the future, so let's roll up our sleeves!