Setting the Stage: The Politics of Madagascar’s Environmental Efforts

by Richard R. Marcus and Christian Kull


Madagascar is one of the world’s natural wonders. An island, existing in isolation for millenia, eighty percent of the flora and fauna are endemic. Yet this unique and valuable land has proven fragile. The bulk of the country’s rainforests have already been destroyed causing significant erosion and a threat to water sources in arid regions. In response, there have been significant environmental conservation efforts undertaken by the Malagasy government with international funding and technical support. These environmental efforts in Madagascar have moved in the past two decades from a Yellowstone model, through the Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) approach, to more recent initiatives that are at the forefront of environmental innovation. These programs arise out of a long history of environmental efforts. The French colonial government created a forest service nearly a hundred years ago which oversaw forest and fire policy. Protected areas were established in 1927. These first reserves were wholly exclusionary with no local economic benefits, thus the local populations surrounding these protected areas viewed them as foreign and an additional facet of the colonial oppression, exploiting the protected resources whenever possible. The most recent trend in environmental thinking in Madagascar dates back to a catalytic 1985 international conference and the 1988 publication of the National Environmental Action Plan [21].

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Richard R. Marcus is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Florida. He is currently writing his dissertation entitled “Cultivating Democracy on Fragile Grounds: Environmental Institutions and Non-Elite Perceptions of Democracy in Madagascar and Uganda.” Research for this dissertation was conducted from September 1997-December 1998 with the assistance of the National Science Foundation and the University of Florida Center for Africa Studies/United States Agency for International Development. Previous field research lending to this dissertation was conducted in 1994 with the assistance of the University of Florida Center for Africa Studies/Ford Foundation.

Christian Kull is completing a dissertation entitled “Isle of fire: grassland and woodland burning in highland Madagascar” at the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management of the University of California at Berkeley, USA.  He has spent 21 months over the past seven years in Madagascar studying land use change, political ecology, and environmental management.  A graduate of Dartmouth College, Mr. Kull holds masters degrees from both the University of Colorado (geography) and Yale University (forestry and environmental studies).