Deforestation in Madagascar

When you fly across Madagascar, you can clearly see the bare, eroding soil and landslides everywhere: It’s a desolate view. Deforestation on the world’s fourth largest island is the most alarming in the tropical world and has reached catastrophic proportions in the past years. Approximately 95% of Madagascar’s vegetation has been destroyed over the centuries. — This is a story I pitched to and shot for Neue Zürcher Zeitung last year which was recently published.

The deforestation is largely a result of three activities: slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, and the production of fuelwood and charcoal for cooking fires.


The charcoal production and agriculture are both driven by a basic desire by the Malagasy people to survive: According to a World Bank report from 2018, Madagascar is now officially the poorest country in the world with over 77.6% of the population earning less than US$ 1.90 a day. The Malagasy show high levels of malnutrition, and about 80% of the population here depend on agriculture.


It’s also one of the countries most at threat from climate change, being vulnerable to increased frequency and intensity of storms as a result of global warming (too much water in a short time in the north), and with erratic precipitation and increasing periods of drought (not enough water in the south). As a result, there are famines and food scarcities all over, and many people are malnourished.

The land pictured above was cleared by bulldozers and with forest fires to make room for development and charcoal production. Along RN7, Mangily, November 21, 2019

Pierre Jules Rakotomalaza is a botanist and activist who has worked in the reforestation domain in the southwest of Madagascar for various companies and NGOs. Ivato, Antananarivo, November 18, 2019

Reniala Forest Reserve, Mangily. November 19, 2019

A visit to Ambohimahavelona, a small village bordering the Amoron’i Onilahy Forest Reserve. People in villages all over Madagascar live in small huts without electricity or water, and they cook with wood or charcoal. November 20, 2019

Rainfalls are rare in Toliara, the capitol city in the southwest of Madagascar. November 19, 2019

Pieter Vranckx is a reforestation expert originally from Belgium. He is doing research on charcoal substitutions and also came up with extra-long seedling bags to protect plants’ roots from drying out. Toliara, November 20, 2019

The mangrove reforestation project reserve “Honko” in Ambondrolava. Below: Mangrove trees outside the reserve are almost all chopped down. Beravy, November 20, 2019