Environmental Issues of Madagascar
Western International University
SCI 275 Environmental Science
Environmental Issues of Madagascar
Madagascar is located off the Southeastern tip of Africa. The island is one of the four largest islands in the world with a land area of 226,657 square miles. Geological theory is that the island broke away from the African continent over 150 million years ago, but humans did not inhabited the island until 2000 years ago (wildmadagascar.org, 2007). The isolation over that period has helped develop a unique biodiversity on the island. Its biodiversity is among the richest on the planet, with over 250,000 species across the island. Most of that biodiversity is found in the tropical rainforests that cover most of the Eastern half of the island. What really makes Madagascar’s biodiversity unique is that almost 175,000 (75%) of those species are only found on this island. There are an estimated 12,000 plant species, and almost 8,500 of those are unique to Madagascar, including 1,000 types of orchids. One of the more popular symbols of Madagascar’s unique wildlife is the Lemur. There are over 50 varieties of this primate, and all of them are endemic to Madagascar (wildmadagascar.org, 2007). Unfortunately, Lemurs are on the endangered list as a threatened species. There have been 45 species recorded as extinct on Madagascar, and many more species are on the endangered list. The threatened list includes 57 birds, 51 mammals, and 61 fish species endemic to Madagascar (biodiversityhotspots.org, 2007). The island also has some severe environmental problems that threaten this biodiversity. Madagascar has one of the highest soil erosion numbers recorded in the world at 112 tons per acre annually (wildmadagascar.org, 2007). This is particularly difficult for an island whose number one source of income is agriculture. The severe loss of soil and nutrients has its affect on agriculture, but it also influences the aquatic biodiversity and the quality of drinking water. The soil erosion is the by-product of severe deforestation, which is the result of three major activities. The primary contributor is burn farming, which is a technique used by the local farmers to turn the rainforests into rice fields (Miller, 2005). Rice is the main dietary stable of the local people, and the local population of Madagascar is too poor and hungry to worry about the long-term effects they have on the land. Illegal logging on the island is the second contributor to the deforestation problem, with Rosewood and Ebony being two indigenous hardwoods that bring a good price for loggers (wildmadagascar.org, 2007). The last contributor is the use of the hardwoods for fuel wood and coal. The Malagasy people burn the hardwoods to make coal for heat and for sale along the roadside (Miller, 2005). At the root of all these issues is the general poverty and hunger of the Malagasy people. Any long-term solutions in Madagascar must start with providing assistance to a country where poverty and malnutrition are as large a problem as the environmental issues. I believe that both things can be accomplished by implementing a plan that teaches the locals better utilization of existing farmlands, stops them from destroying more rainforest in search of new farmlands, and puts tighter controls on preservation of existing rainforest and wildlife on Madagascar.
The first two problems that must be solved are the soil erosion and the deforestation. Since soil erosion is the by-product of deforestation, any plan should focus on methods to eliminate deforestation altogether. The starting point should be to improve farming methods for both the industrial and local farmers. The industrial farmers provide a large percentage of the world’s vanilla, but also produce coffee and clove. The local farmers grow mostly rice to support their family’s daily sustenance (care...