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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Forest Recovery Programs in Madagascar

Despite being one of the last habitable land masses on earth to be settled by man, Madagascar has lost more of its forests than most countries; less than 10% of its original forest cover now remains, and much of that is degraded. Political turmoil that erupted earlier this year continues to rumble on and the ensuing lawlessness has created the opportunity for illegal logging syndicates to plunder national parks, most notably Marojejy and Masoala, for valuable hardwoods and wildlife.

This bleak scenario is a far cry from the rule of ousted President Marc Ravalomanana (July 2002 to March 2009) during which protected areas were tripled to cover 10% of the country’s surface. Madagascar has become exemplary in its approaches to conservation of natural assets, this tripling of protected areas being a mainstay of President Ravalomanana’s ambitious five-year Madagascar Action Plan. However since former mayor of Antananarivo Andry Rajoelina took power of the country in what has been widely viewed as a coup d’état, confusion, chaos and lawlessness have reigned and the conservation initiatives previously in place now appear to be in jeopardy.

Association Mitsinjo’s nursery at Station Forestier d’Analamazaotra, opposite ‘Perinet’ – photo: Derek Schuurman
While rampant deforestation continues in some parts of the island, elsewhere inspiring reforestation initiatives are being carried out, which tourists can visit and get involved with. What better way could there be of – quite literally – putting something back into a country than planting an endemic tree in its natural range? Such gratifying experiences, which allow tourists to make meaningful connections with the environment rather than simply being an observer, are offered by forest recovery projects that are being developed in various habitat types throughout Madagascar.

Endemic tree species are being propagated in a growing number of nurseries, funded and managed by NGOs such as Association Mitsinjo and Man And The Environment; far-sighted hotels such as Anjajavy and Le Domaine de Fontenay; organizations which arrange conservation-oriented tours for volunteer workers such as ReefDoctor; and some foreign tour operators specializing in Madagascar, such as Rainbow Tours. The aim of such projects is usually to grow saplings in nurseries and then use them to restore degraded habitats to a more healthy state.

In this article we will review some of the most accessible forest recovery programs in the very different forest types of Madagascar.

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