Madagascar’s wildlife and its people face an uncertain future.

Continued losses of wildlife, forests, habitats, and human livelihoods create a spiral of environmental degradation that can only lead to tragedy.

Rural communities have been experiencing significant population growth but have little to no access to economic opportunities. The result has been overexploitation of species, deforestation, and agricultural practices that negatively impact soil and water resources.

These threats have been triggered by several interconnected root causes, including the increased worldwide demand for hardwoods, the need of local communities for immediate income due to lack of food security, a lack of understanding of the role an intact forest has on long-term livelihoods, and a lack of access to the most beneficial and successful farming practices.


Fuelwood and charcoal production

The forests of Madagascar are continuing to be cut at an alarming rate for charcoal production. In eking out a living selling little piles of charcoal for heating and cooking, local people turn to the nearest substantial plant source, which is the trees of both the rainforest and the dry spiny forest, imperiling both these fragile habitats.

Tavy agriculture

The long-standing practice known as tavy involves the burning and felling of trees for use in making charcoal, and persistently scorching the cleared land to maintain rice plantations. Currently, tavy is the most expedient way for many Malagasy to provide for their families, and when simply surviving is a daily struggle, there can be little concern for the long-term consequences. With three out of four people living on less than US$2 a day, people feel that they need to use available, unprotected land before a neighbor does.

Agricultural fires

Fire is a significant concern in Madagascar. Fires set for land-clearing and creating pastureland cause deforestation and pollution, but when poorly managed, they also spread into adjacent wildlands, causing damage to nearby ecosystems.


It is said that you are never far from the sounds of trees being cut down in Madagascar. Cleared, fragmented, and degraded forests are a common feature of the landscape.

Illegal logging for timber is especially a problem in the rainforests of eastern Madagascar. The high value for Malagasy hardwoods—mostly ebony and rosewood, which can sell for $2,000 a ton in international markets—makes illegal logging a significant problem in some protected areas.

As of 2015, only 5% of Madagascar’s primary forest remained. And according to Global Forest Watch, Madagascar lost almost 25% of its total remaining tree cover from 2000 to 2021. Of course, with the disappearance of trees, the wildlife that depends on them also disappears.


One of Madagascar’s increasing environmental problems is erosion and degradation of the soil. Deforestation of Madagascar’s central highlands, plus natural weathering from geologic conditions, has resulted in widespread erosion. For Madagascar, a country that relies on agricultural production for the foundation of its economy, the loss of this soil is especially costly. The soil is also significantly depleted of nutrients, and as a result it is largely red in color, from the iron and minerals that are its remaining components.

The practice of tavy used to convert forest to rice fields contributes to soil degradation. Typically, an acre or two of forest is cut, burned, and then planted with rice. After a year or two of production, the field is left fallow before the process is repeated. However, after two or three such cycles, the soil is exhausted of nutrients, and the land is likely taken over by scrub vegetation or invasive grasses. The farmers then move on to a new area—and the old one is barren. Additionally, on slopes the new vegetation is often insufficient to anchor the soil, causing erosion and landslides.


As daunting as Madagascar’s challenges are, there are increasing reasons for optimism.

There are currently more than 100 protected areas in Madagascar, covering more than 10% of terrestrial landscapes and seascapes.

There are still tracts of protected forest that support wildlife.

There is an up-and-coming generation of active and engaged Malagasy conservationists who want to protect the wildlife.

The beauty and diversity of protected areas are magnets for tourists, which can provide significant economic opportunities.

Sustainable agriculture helps reduce the pressure on nearby forest habitats, so they may thrive and conservation can succeed.