Madagascar: The Case of a Lost Paradise
English 204 Final Paper
Maria El Hajj
Madagascar, better known as the eighth continent of the world, is one of the most precious landmasses on earth. Lying in the Indian Ocean, it detached from the African mainland 165 million years ago and developed into magnificent uniqueness through its wide range of biodiversity, large areas of forested lands, and its rare animals such as the Lemurs. In the 17th century, Madagascar started admitting the French presence and the latter settled in and took over the land by the end of the 19th century. Official French colonialism was established in 1896 after a series of treaties that increased the French authority, while the Merina royal family was sent into exile in Algeria ("Why is Madagascar so poor?"). Colonialism, in the simplest words, is a system that claims authority on another foreign country and conquests its government. Nevertheless, in the case of Madagascar, not only did the French colonialism abolish the splendor of Mother Nature, but also is responsible for degrading Madagascar on social and economical bases. Isolated from the African mainland for over sixty million years, the island of Madagascar is renowned for its tropical forests which support numerous endemic plants and animal species. However, Madagascar’s once prominent woods are degrading and are exhibiting the issue of deforestation. This issue is rooted in the detrimental policies of the French colonial state. From the annex of colonialism, the colonial government treated the forests as an exploitable resource merely to profit from and to increase the colony’s economical benefits. As Claudia Randrup mentions in her thesis, logging and agricultural concessions implemented by the French turned natural resources directly into economic commodities especially when French entrepreneurs permitted the clearing of a significant amount of forests. French concessionaires granted land, on behalf of the colonial government, consequently to promote the colony’s economic viability, increase the profits from timber, and benefit from the exportation of Malagasy hardwood. Not only did the French exploit the good timber, but also they used the less valuable timber as construction material for railroads for example. Adding to that, the colony practiced resource appropriation since it believed that the Malagasy natural resources should serve as means for industrialization and development -the French were aiming at civilizing the Malagasy nation. Attempts at regulating the concession by the forest service failed for several reasons: shortages in Labor, lack of will, illegal cut down of trees were overlooked, and the fines that were charged for violation of the permits were far lower than the actual damages. These lead to the destruction of 70% of the forest between 1895 and 1925 (“WRM”). Claudia Randrup also mentions that the locals based their living on the forests. For forest habitants, forests played a significant role in various activities such as apiculture and charcoal production. For farmers, forested lands came as a second option for arable lands. For the Malagasy rebels against the colonial state, forests provided arboreal shelter from the French armed forces. Forests provided resources for survival, materials for construction, and opportunities for income as well. Since forests also provide raw materials such as timber, fuel wood, food, etc., when these needs are controlled suitably, the forests would not be endangered. But, when they are invalidly abused, forests are going to ultimately vanish and the Malagasy nation is going to suffer. The Malagasy nation ultimately did suffer from loss of forest resources as the French exploited the forests leading to deforestation and cash cropping, demolished habitats, made the forests inaccessible, changed the landscape because of the excessive mining and extraction, and shifted cultivation to coffee to export it as Kamil...
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