Formerly an independent kingdom, Madagascar became a French colony in 1886, but regained its independence in 1960. During 1992-93, free presidential and National Assembly elections were held, ending 17 years of single-party rule. Madagascar’s forests are a shimmering, seething mass of a trillion stems and dripping leaves and slithering, jumping, quirky beasts out of nature’s bag of tricks. Cut off from the African mainland for millions of years, Madagascar’s teeming forests are a naturalist’s wet dream; they’ve preserved oddities and developed specializations found nowhere else on earth, and you can get among them in a spectacular collection of accessible national parks. But any nation that turns to North Korea for aid has got to be a basket case. Madagascar’s Marxist generals as well as its chameleons are fresh out of the Age of Dinosaurs. The generals haven’t got it right – part of the population regularly suffers malnutrition owing to bad seasons and archaic economic orthodoxies at home and abroad. Since human settlement, the forests have been whittled down to a mere 15% of their former extent, scores of species are on the brink of extinction and the topsoil is barreling down into the Indian Ocean like. The countryside alternates between astounding untouched forests and breathtaking human-induced destruction on a scale almost unmatched anywhere. Madagascar’s physical geography is not conducive of the current global trends and needs for economic production. They are severely behind the World as a whole in economic growth and restructuring to fit new world markets. Most of Madagascar lies in tropical or subtropical environment; the soil structure in these sorts of regions is not able to sustain long-term cultivation. The topsoil is good for agriculture for a few years, but after much longer it becomes burnt out, or depleted, and then it needs to rest for a period of time until it can yield a decent crop again. This is because of the way this soil obtains nutrients and the type of nutrients generally located there. Considering the island’s physical composition, it will be hard for the poor African nation to catch-up to the new world averages.
Madagascar is located 250 miles off the eastern coast of Africa, just south of the equator. This island nation contains no Principal’ lakes, oceans, seas, rivers or islands; however it does have one Principal’ mountain- Maromokotro- that is located on the island’s central plateau. The island is over 1000 miles (1580 km) long and 350 miles (570 km) wide. Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world – after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. It is about the size of Spain and Portugal combined, or slightly less than twice the size of Arizona. It lies in the Indian Ocean, separated from Mozambique on the African mainland by the 400km (248mi) Mozambique Channel. Unlike its volcanic neighbors – Mauritius, Reunion, Rodrigues and the Comoros – Madagascar was formed by continental drift rather than volcanic eruption, it tore off the African mainland around 165 million years ago. A narrow coastal strip in the east is where most of the rainforest grows; the central plateau in the high altitudes is cool; and there are plains and low-lying plateaus to the west.
Madagascar is a continent in miniature, with vastly different habitats such as rain forests, river valleys, coastal plains, grasslands, caverns, and deserts. Like many islands Madagascar also is home to a huge number of endemic species. The international conservation community has singled it out as one of the ecologically richest countries on the planet; Madagascar and the nearby Comoros have nearly one-quarter of all the flowering plants in Africa. It also has 90% of the known species of lemurs, and half the world’s chameleons are found there. Add baobab trees, unique cacti and aloes from the dry areas, and you start to build up a picture of an incredibly rich ecology. When humans arrived, they brought rice and slash-and-burn techniques to clear the way, and today the situation is grim, with barely 15% of the original forest cover remaining.
There are three main eco-regions in Madagascar, which create a broad variance in the natural vegetation. These three regions lie in the Humid-Tropical zone, the first of which is the Savanna Altitudinal zone. This zone, in the middle of the island holds grass and other herbaceous plants. In the next zone, Savanna province, broadleaf deciduous trees, grass and other herbaceous plants can be found here along the West coast. The Eastern coast, the Rainforest Altitudinal zone, has broadleaf evergreen trees. A small portion at the Southern tip falls into the Tropical Sub-Tropical desert province and broadleaf deciduous shrub form can be found in this area. Recently, Madagascar has suffered a severe loss of forest cover. The forest cover was approximately 58,325 square miles in 1995 and had a change rate of negative 4.1% from 1990 to 1995, compared to a change rate of negative 1.8% in Chile (a country similar in size and geography) over the same time period.
Apart from its southern tip, Madagascar lies wholly within the tropics. The hauts plateaux, that run nearly the length of the island and form its backbone, are cool enough to grow apples and stone fruit, and even vineyards above 800m (2896ft). Snow is not uncommon in winter at the highest altitudes. Trade winds prevail from the east and the monsoons come from the northwest. With its tropical mid-latitude, most of the rain hits the east coast and the far north, but in the rain shadow southwest of the highlands it remains almost perpetually dry. From January to March, the east coast, the far north and sometimes the far south are subject to occasionally devastating cyclones. Madagascar has a very diverse physical geography; unfortunately, due to its relatively small size and environmental make-up, it is not supportive of any major world economic activities.
Madagascar is a country largely underdeveloped and under realized in its economic dealings. The island nation has outstanding potential for economic growth, however, there seems to be no vision within the country.
Table 1: Economic activities; a closer look.
Composition by SectorPercent of GDP
(CIA World Factbook, 1998.)
The Economy of Madagascar is dependent upon commerce in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. Madagascar has commercial forest regions of tropical and subtropical hardwoods along the east coast. Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is the mainstay of the economy, contributing more than 70% to export earnings. For the most part Madagascar is isolated from any industrialized nations, but is within 32km of mainland Africa. This, and the small size of the nation, causes it not to be significant in world trade. Industry features textile manufacturing and the processing of agricultural products. This includes meat processing, soap, breweries, tanneries, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly plant, paper, petroleum, and tourism. Growth has been held back by political unrest and a decline in world coffee demand.
Table 2: Trade; Exports vs. Imports.
PartnersFrance (40%), US, Germany, Japan, UKFrance (39%), Hong Kong, Japan, China, Singapore
CommoditiesCoffee, vanilla, cloves, shellfish, sugar, petroleum productsIntermediate manufactures, capital goods, petroleum, consumer goods, food
Revenues/Expenditures$600 million (USD)$881 million (USD)
(CIA World Factbook, 1998.)
Madagascar’s main export commodities include coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (tapioca), beans, bananas, peanuts; livestock products; while imports include minerals, pharmaceuticals, plastic products, raw materials, chemical products, cocoa beans and products, construction equipment, consumer goods, fuel and crude oil. The major agricultural regions in Madagascar are nomadic herding, plantation agriculture, rudimental sedentary cultivation, intensive rice dominant subsistence tillage, and shifting cultivation. Madagascar still has a large subsistence economy, with some shifting cultivation in the middle region and a large nomadic herding population in the southwest. Due to underdeveloped agricultural processes in this country, they are not affected by the Green Revolution.
Table 3: Energy; An Electrical perspective.
Electricity – production750 million kWh (1998)
Electricity – production by sourcefossil fuel: 33.33% hydro: 66.67% nuclear: 0% other: 0% (1998)
Electricity – consumption698 million kWh (1998)
Electricity – exports0 kWh (1998)
Electricity – imports0 kWh (1998)
(CIA world fact book, 1998.)
Madagascar does not import or export any electrical energy; they are entirely self sufficient in this way. The Madagascar oil industry is an important sector in the economy of the country. The upstream oil industry is under-explored although exploration results to date have shown promising reserves of commercially exploitable heavy oil. There is an oil refinery at the city of Tamatave. Madagascar’s mining industry is another key sub-sector in the country’s economy and one that offers considerable potential for development.
Formidable obstacles still stand in the way of Madagascar’s realizing its considerable growth potential; the extent of government reforms, outside financial aid, and foreign investment will be key determinants. Growth should be in the 5% range in 2000-01. Madagascar’s restructuring continues, and has been rewarded with substantial IPC relief. The mood is fairly upbeat after the devastation that was caused by flooding in 1999 and 2000, and it is expected that the government will be able to use the debt relief to accelerate social and infrastructure spending. Reliance on commodity prices is cause for concern. The people of Madagascar suffer from chronic malnutrition and the country’s education and health facilities are severely under funded. The key elements of the economy are agriculture, fishing and forestry, which bring in about a third of GDP and contribute substantially to the export earnings of the country. Industry in Madagascar is limited to textile manufacturing and agricultural products processing. Policies implemented after the late 1980s have followed a more pragmatic approach; price distortions were eliminated, energy prices increased, commodity subsidies eliminated and the exchange rate was floated. The Malagasy government, under the guidance of the World Bank, has made liberalization and privatization its key goals for economic reform. Bank restructuring and privatization have resulted in a stronger financial sector. The economy’s response to these reforms has been positive. A 3.6% growth and inflation of 5% were prevalent in 1997. Other areas have not, however, shown much growth, and further structural reforms will be necessary to boost the economy. The extent to which the Malagasy government implements reforms and the amount of foreign investment and financial aid that the country receives will determine whether the country reaches its growth potential.
1. Hudson, John C. Goode’s World Atlas. Randy McNally ; Company, 2000.
2. Fellman, Jerome D., Arthur Getis, Judith Getis. Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activity. New York. McGraw-Hill, 2001.
3. Central Intelligence Agency: World Factbook, 1998.