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Rosewood logs
A stockpile of illegally harvested rosewood logs
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Madagascar is one of the world’s highest priority countries for biodiversity conservation due to its exceptional species richness, high number of unique plant and animal species, and the magnitude of threats facing these ecologically, culturally, and economically valuable resources. There are more unique species of plants and animals living in Madagascar than on the entire African continent and more than eighty percent of its species can be found nowhere else on Earth.  Because of this exceptional uniqueness of species the loss of one hectare of forest in this country can have a larger effect on biodiversity than forest loss anywhere else on Earth, making Madagascar arguably the highest biodiversity priority on the planet.


Widespread and abject poverty, exacerbated by high birthrates and unsustainable land management practices, is the ultimate driver of the array of threats facing Madagascar’s rich biodiversity. Extreme poverty inhibits human growth opportunities and severely limits economic development.  Rapid population growth is increasing demand for land and natural resources while environmental degradation, largely stemming from slash-and-burn agriculture, fuelwood collection, and unsustainable harvesting of wildlife, is destroying biodiversity resources and rendering many areas less productive for other uses.  Illicit logging, illegal fishing practices, and unsustainable harvesting of threatened plants and animals for unlawful trade further intensify the grinding poverty facing the country and jeopardize the relevance and effectiveness of Madagascar’s government institutions.  Without effective governance to protect natural resources from misuse, local populations increasingly disregard environmentally sound livelihood practices that have lasting long-term benefits, in order to meet immediate basic survival needs and prevent outsiders from appropriating their natural resources with impunity.   As a result increasing numbers of Malagasy are trapped in poverty and are at high risk for becoming still poorer as natural resource stocks are permanently depleted.

In addition to these concerns predicted climate change impacts also threaten the wellbeing of both the country’s biodiversity and its people.  Given its geographic location, Madagascar is regularly subject to powerful cyclones that damage ecosystems and infrastructure, particularly on the coasts, and climate change is predicted to increase both their number and severity.  In addition, rainfall patterns in some areas of the country will intensify leading to increased flooding and erosion, while rainfall in the south will lessen and become more unpredictable.  The prolonged drought in the south has already caused extensive hardship for people living there and the long-term toll on the region’s biological resources has yet to be fully assessed.  Increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are leading to rising sea temperatures and ocean acidity levels, which threaten coral ecosystems and other marine habitats.  Finally, sea level rise around Madagascar, which has the longest coastline of any country in Africa, will subject communities and habitats to increased damage from cyclonic and flooding events and will force many people permanently from their homes.

New Environmental Project

USAID Madagascar is launching a new environment project, the Conservation and Communities Project (CCP), in 2017 to support the protection of Madagascar’s natural capital, a fundamental component of the country’s sustainable development.  The project will accomplish this through improved conservation of the country’s unique biodiversity, promotion of resilient livelihoods to provide alternatives to unsustainable natural resource management practices, and concrete actions to secure effective local management and ownership of natural resources.

For the achievement of these results CCP encompasses two primary activities. The first activity named Hay Tao, meaning “know how” in Malagasy, will assist development partners, including the Ministry of Environment, Ecology, and Forests (MEEF) and the Ministry of Marine Resources and Fisheries (MRHP), to enhance the enabling conditions and policy frameworks supporting improved management of biodiversity resources, enhanced natural resource tenure security, and effective civil society engagement. The second activity will be a site based conservation effort named Mikajy, which means “taking good care of” in Malagasy, that will work to reduce threats to targeted protected areas and High Biodiversity Value (HBV) ecosystems through improved management, increased economic opportunities, better access to social services, and support for natural resource tenure and property rights.

Recent Results

The “Preserving Madagascar’s Natural Resources” (SCAPES) project came to a conclusion in September 2016.  Activities were focused on addressing the trafficking of precious woods and reptiles from Madagascar’s Northeastern humid forests as well as training key actors to monitor, raise awareness of, and combat timber and wildlife trafficking at the landscape regional and national levels. This process engaged diverse members of society, from community-based organizations to timber traders, journalists, rangers, law enforcement authorities, courts, and government Ministries.

Through the work of this activity, training was provided on enhanced identification of timber and reptile species; development of legal frameworks to improve management and reduce illegal wildlife trafficking; and skill development for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and investigative journalists in improved reporting on illegal practices. As a result of USAID’s support under SCAPES a new National Coalition for Environmental Advocacy and three regional-level CSO coalitions (LAMPOGNO, COCAZ, TMTI) are now better able to identify, monitor and denounce wildlife crimes; community rangers and protected area staff are better trained in the use of law enforcement monitoring techniques using SMART conservation software that enables better trade monitoring and protected area monitoring techniques to be adopted nationwide; and the Ministry of Environment, Ecology, and Forests and its development partners successfully prepared and adopted a Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) for valuable timber species of the Dahlbergia and Diospyros genera.