Problems of Madagascar

Mada is great, but it's no paradise, for both the Malagasy and the vazaha.

Environment

The good news is that the environmental devastation might not be quite so bad as you imagined or heard. Personally, I'd been expecting bald hills scared by erosion channels, and rivers full of mud. It wasn't like that (although I wasn't travelling in either the burning or the rainy season).

The hills were just about always covered in some sort of vegetation, and while the rivers were muddy, they weren't mud pools.

The bad news is that most of that covering was either totally degraded native forest or a monoculture of aggressive introduced species like the eucalyptus.

Eucalypts are the Triffids of Madagascar

As in other parts of the world where it has been imported then gone wild, the eucalyptus has become a noxious pest in Madagascar, sterilising large swaths of land. They may make Australians feel at home, but it's easy to come away with the conviction that in 50 to 100 years time Madagascar will be covered coast to coast by these fast-growing trees. Their only saving grace, and the reason why they were first introduced, is that they provide the Malagasy with a ready source of fuel and therefore help spare those remaining native forests from further clearing.

Where the eucalyptus won't go or hasn't penetrated, other introduced species can choke the landscape. In the drier west the culprit is the prickly pear cactus. This pest could be eradicated by the cochineal beetle but, because it has become a staple food source, is allowed to spread.

Rolling green hills, but no cultivation

In other areas like the eastern foothills, along with the exotic intruders, native Malagasy plants like the travellers' palm have come to dominate the landscape. Here the forests have been cleared for fuel then just left to be covered by whatever remained, the repeating slopes apparently considered as unsuitable for intensive cultivation. Grassy hills roll into the distance, deforested and now producing little or nothing. It seems like such a waste - another lost opportunity in this island of dreamers.

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