Limitations of Global Conservation Efforts to Save
Flora and Fauna on the Island of Madagascar
By Martin Harezga
February 4, 2007


The success of the conservation efforts in a local context is usually primarily dependent on legal support and financial assistance. Recent experience however suggests that other factors may be just as important. Of particular importance is the management approach taken by the conservation authority. While the financial and regulatory incentives are sufficient in establishing protected areas, they maybe unsuccessful in protecting and maintaining them from local socioeconomic pressures. Madagascar as a case study clearly demonstrates this.

Deforestation in Madagascar. Photo by R. Butler
Global efforts to protect Madagascar's flora and fauna have been successful in the establishment of many protected areas and highly evolved conservation laws with little tangible results on the island's species. In the absence of socioeconomic support and the lack of an integrated approach from global community however, Madagascar's population continues to degrade its natural environment mainly as a result of widespread poverty. The island's political system and economy have a lack of stability and will ultimately contribute to the extirpation and extinction of many of the island's species despite global efforts to save them.

Madagascar's Conservation History

Global conservation efforts in Madagascar started in the 1980s when the World Bank and other donor agencies such as USAID recognized the island's rich biodiversity and the threats that it faced (Gezon, 1997). Subsequently in 1983 USAID opened its first Madagascar office, and by the late 1980s World Bank became a leading donor institution (Gezon, 1997). Between 1980 and 1990, global support for the island's flora and fauna began to take shape. Initial efforts led by the World Bank recognized the importance of the island's ecosystems and incorporated a conservation component into the structural adjustment program offered to the government (Gezon, 1997). In 1988 the focus shifted to biodiversity protection and quickly received support from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Missouri Botanical Gardens and Duke University (U.S. Mission). Subsequently in 1990 the World Bank in concert with USAID launched a multi year environmental protection plan aimed at mitigating many threats to the island's ecosystems (Gezon, 1997). This program is still being implemented.

Madagascar's Conservation Efforts

Forest clearing in Madagascar
Starting in the 1980s, conservation efforts led by the World Bank were successful in introducing several conservation measures and projects. In 1984, Malagasy government in coordination with the World Bank, drafted a National Strategy for the Conservation and Development and introduced conservation management into the national development paradigm (Gezon, 1997). Subsequently in 1985 it organized an International Conference on Conservation and Sustainable Development which eventually led to the establishment of the National Environment Action Plan (NEAP) in 1987. NEAP was a long term conceptual framework developed to carry out national conservation goals. The plan was broken into three 5-year phases and was meant to address environmental issues by linking economic and conservation factors. It resulted in significant legal and structural adjustments and the establishment of several governmental institutions responsible for the protection of the environment (Gezon, 1997).

The First stage of NEAP, which began in 1990, was characterized by the creation of Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs) and the Malgasy National Parks Association. ICDPs became the primary conservation tool in the first stage of the plan. They offered alternative income generating activities for the local population in exchange for their support of conservation measures. In the initial stages of NEAP, ICD programs were deemed very successful and many international donor agencies began funding such projects (Marcus, 2001). Environmental organizations felt that ICDPs effectively integrated local economic and conservation needs. In addition to institutional and financial reforms, conservation measures on the island included the establishment of national parks. Ranomafana national park was created 1991 and in 1991 Masoala national park was established (Gezon, 1997). In 1992 the Malagasy government further recognized the needs of the environment and entrenched environmental conservation in the national constitution.


Deforestation in Madagascar.
Madagascar lost an average of 37,000 hectares per year between 2000 and 2005 according to the U.N. This represents a 42 percent drop since the 1990s. The rate of primary forest loss fell by almost 45 percent since the close of the 1990s.

Since the beginning of the 1980s Madagascar received significant financial and structural assistance. Led by the World Bank, global environmental organizations worked intensively to prevent the extinction of flora and fauna on the island and established many conservation areas. Despite these efforts, the overall results have been less then stellar. Conservation laws are not enforced and highly structured environmental institutions do not cooperate with each other (Gezon, 1997). While the establishment of the National Environment Action Plan was heralded as a great success in the early 1990s, evidence shows that this success was superficial. The plan and its institutional framework lacked enforcement, and Malagasy government had no means to implement the regulations it introduced (Sarrasin, 2006). Most recent research indicates that ICDPs which were favored by many conservation agencies also had mixed results (Marcus, 2001). Marcus (2001) indicates that villagers in proximity to the park feel that they do not benefit enough financially from the park and frequently complain that they did not receive enough "gifts" from the conservation authorities. His research shows that local population perceives parks as foreign and villagers have no sense of ownership (Marcus, 2001). Madagascar's general population rates conservation as secondary to economic needs, and park limits are mostly obeyed out of fear (Gezon, 1997). Structural reforms introduced in the 1980s by the World Bank also failed to improve economic conditions on the island. Majority of the population remains impoverished and according to data from the year 2000, Madagascar ranked 141st out of 174 countries on the human development index (Marcus, 2001). In a broad context, legal and structural reforms on the island had little tangible success.

Role of the Socioeconomic Factors in the Failure of Conservation Efforts

The failure of the global conservation efforts on Madagascar can be largely attributed to socioeconomic factors. Although the country received significant financial support starting in the early 1980s, this financial aid did not improve the economic conditions of the general population. Structural programs introduced by the World Bank failed to achieve the desired goals, and trade liberalization in the early 1990s further deteriorated Madagascar's economy. In recent years (mid 1990s) the inflation on the island averaged 21%, and the ability of the average family to feed itself has declined (Gezon, 1997). Poor socioeconomic conditions created a situation where the local population is in direct conflict with the conservation needs (Ferraro, 2002). A vast majority of the population derives some form of income or means of subsistence from the island's natural ecosystem and most extractive practices are unsustainable. Growing population further increases pressure on the natural resources such as freshwater, forests and mangroves and threatens their integrity (Rasofolo, 1997). Political and economic instability in the early 1980s also played a role. Critics suggest that compliance of the previous radical socialist government with global demands for reforms was a result of increasing economic difficulties and financial dependence on donor institutions (Gezon, 1997). It is possible that conservation and economic reforms failed because the Malagasy government was not genuinely interested in them.

Final Thoughts

Through concentrated efforts of global environmental organizations, Madagascar's environmental laws were strengthened and several environmental institutions were established since the 1980s. Malagasy government recognized the value of its ecosystems and entrenched environmental conservation in its constitution. Despite these measures a large proportion of the island's flora and fauna is still threatened, and in a wider context global conservation efforts have failed. After more than 20 years of structural adjustments Madagascar's population remains impoverished, and directly contributes to the environmental degradation. Although Madagascar's conservation policy makers accurately recognized the need to present economic alternatives to the local population in the high impact zones, they largely excluded the population in low-impact zones. In many instances the scope of development was too narrow to increase the socioeconomic well-being of the larger population. As a result the general population feels detached from the protected areas, and conservation becomes secondary to economic needs. Although many changes are necessary to reduce the pressure on the island's flora and fauna, none is more important than an increase of the economic alternatives for the population. Madagascar's environmental problems are directly linked to its economy and successful conservation requires addressing that issue.

  • Duffy, R. (2005). Global Environmental Governance and the Challenge of Shadow States: The Impact of Illicit Sapphire Mining in Madagascar. Development and Change, 36, 825-843.
  • Ferraro, P. J. (2002). The local costs of establishing protected areas in low income nations: Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. Ecological Economics, 43, 261-275.
  • Gezon, L. (1997). Institutional Structure and the Effectiveness of Integrated Conservation and Development Projects: Case Study from Madagascar. Human Organization, 56, 462-470
  • Marcus, R. R. (2001). Seeing the forest for the trees: Integrated Conservation and Development Projects and Local Perceptions of Conservation in Madagascar. Human Ecology, 29, 381-397.
  • Rasofolo, M. V. (1997). Use of mangroves by traditional fishermen in Madagascar. Mangroves and Salt Marshes, 1, 243-253.
  • Sarrasin, B. (2006). The mining industry and the regulatory framework in Madagascar: Some regulatory and environmental issues. Journal of Cleaner Production, 14, 388-396.
  • USAID/Madagascar History. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2006 from
Martin Harezga is an activist and environmental educator out of Ontario, Canada


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