An image of the country's flag.

Madagascar‘s unique wildlife and biodiversity resources have attracted both increasing numbers of tourists and significant donor investments over the last three decades. The Government of Madagascar committed itself in 1988 to a new focus on environmental management and, in 2003, to the goal of tripling protected areas from 1.6 million hectares to 6 million hectares by 2012. A new park management system was introduced in 2006. In addition to protecting Madagascar‘s ecosystems and biodiversity, the new system enabled local communities to benefit from conservation activities through revenue sharing and requirements that local guides be employed.

Agriculture, however, dominates the overall use of the island‘s land and water resources and provides the livelihoods for more than 60% of Madagascar‘s population of 20 million. The country is unique among African nations in having more than 40% of its cropland under irrigated rice production. Rainfed agriculture, including livestock production, is also important; cattle reportedly serve as a key source of wealth for a majority of farm households, though the importance of cattle is diminishing due, in part, to a lack of adequate pastureland. Average productivity in the agricultural sector is low, access to quality land is a challenge, and rural poverty rates are relatively high.

In 2005, the US government‘s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) negotiated one of its first Compacts with Madagascar, identifying improvement of land administration and tenure security as one of three key areas of action. A coup d’état in March 2009 led to suspension of the MCC Compact as well as other donor support. Contributing to the change of government was an agreement made in November 2008 by the then-president with Daewoo, a South Korean company, to lease 1.3 million hectares of land, equivalent to half of Madagascar‘s arable land area. Not only did the area reportedly committed for the lease include a biodiverse forested region targeted for conversion to palm oil, the deal would also have converted rain fed lands used for livestock grazing into maize production. This arrangement, along with other issues, fueled the violent protests that led to the coup.

Madagascar has yet to hold elections following the coup d’état, and many donors have not re-engaged with Madagascar or have limited their funding to humanitarian interventions. This period of suspension has placed Madagascar in a difficult position, with little non-humanitarian aid being provided and a great loss of momentum on economic and environmental reforms. Reports of illegal logging activity indicate that the political crisis and lack of enforcement of conservation policies have opened the door to irreversible resource loss.


US Government intervention and support to Madagascar in the areas of property rights and resource governance cannot resume until elections occur and a constitutional government is once again in place. In the interim, the best course of action for the USG and other donors is, through relationships with partner non-governmental organizations, to monitor park/forest management and conservation efforts and encourage these partner organizations to work with communities for local sustainable management and maintenance of resources.


Madagascar has a diversity of terrain dominated by a central mountainous plateau encircled by a band of lowlands. The country has substantial freshwater resources, and almost a quarter of the land is forested. Most of the population is rural and engaged in cropping and livestock-rearing; cattle graze on over half of the island‘s land. River valleys and marshes support irrigated rice cultivation. Most farmers are owner-operators with about 1 hectare of land devoted to crops. Tenancy is common in most areas, and almost half of tenancies are sharecropping arrangements. Almost all urban residents live in informal settlements with limited services.

Madagascar‘s forests contain animals and plants that are found nowhere else on earth. The island‘s forests are threatened by the high demand for agricultural and grazing land, illegal logging, charcoal production, and mining. Madagascar‘s mineral sector has received increasing amounts of investment, and the sector is expected to grow despite the political instability. Significant onshore and offshore oil reserves are being explored in the western region with production scheduled to begin in 2018. The country is in the process of being validated under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Madagascar‘s progress in managing its wealth of biodiversity and unique natural resources, and addressing the tenure-related issues that constrained agricultural success, was halted with a coup d’état that took place in March 2009. Contributing to the violent protests that led to the coup was public outrage at the government‘s grant or lease of large tracts of agricultural land to Daewoo of South Korea. This caused predictable resentment among the rural population, especially the 70% living below the national poverty line and relying on agricultural resources for their livelihoods. The coup, however, caused all donors to suspend support to the government.

Prior to the 2009 coup, the Government of Madagascar committed to the restoration and preservation of the country‘s biodiversity and forest resources, pledging to triple protected areas from 1.7 million hectares to 6 million hectares by 2012. The extensive National Environmental Action Plan, launched in 1991 was in its third and final phase when the government was overthrown. In 2005, Madagascar launched its National Land Program. The program included an effort to merge the country‘s formal and customary land tenure systems by recognizing and formalizing customary (usually individualized) land rights.

The Madagascar Action Plan (MAP), slated for implementation from 2007–2012 to manage economic and environmental policies for the country, was suspended for lack of support. The MAP focused on eight commitments: responsible governance; connected infrastructure; educational transformation; rural development and a green revolution; health, family planning and the fight against HIV/AIDS; high economic growth; respect for the environment; and national solidarity. It remains unclear whether the government will maintain these policies.

Prior to the suspension, donors and international and local NGOs supported a range of environmental and biodiversity projects throughout Madagascar. Management and regulation of forestry resources, as well as the expansion of protected areas, restricted rights of customary users to land and natural resources.Interventions were designed to strike a balance between dictating local land-use and resource exploitation and establishing effective community-based natural resource management programs.

Published / Updated: December 2010