Madagascar is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, an island that broke away from mainland Africa 159 million years ago, and thus evolved separately. 80% of its plants and animals are unique to the island. Unfortunately the same conditions that delivered such environmental richness are a contributor to ongoing poverty. Madagascar is geographically isolated, and on the margins of the global economy.
Since 2001, Madagascar has lost a fifth of its remaining rainforests. They have been lost to farming, slash and burn agriculture, or trees cut for charcoal. There’s a vicious circle at work. People do not have access to reliable energy or cooking fuels, and use charcoal and wood. The loss of trees makes flooding and drought more likely, which in turn entrenches poverty. Madagascar is already one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, and that spiral of deprivation and environmental destruction is very hard to pull out of.
As part of the solution, the government has promised to prioritise reforestation. This year the country celebrates 60 years of independence, and the occasion is being marked by a goal to plant 60 million trees during this planting season.
The campaign kicked off a couple of weeks ago, with 200,000 trees planted across 500 acres of deforested hillside, led by president Andry Rajoelina and the environment minister and founder of Madagascar’s green party, Alexandre Georget.
There have been a few mass tree planting campaigns recently. India set a record for planting 50 million trees in a single day back in 2016, then beat in 2019. As I reported last summer, Ethiopia claimed to have planted 350 million trees in a day, as part of a campaign to plant 4 billion trees.
This is all very well, but big tree plantings face a higher risk of doing it fast and sloppy to get the record. Turkey planted 11 million trees last year, and reports suggest that 95% of them subsequently died. In some ways I would rather hear of less ambitious single day targets and more about nurseries, training to care for trees, and local networks for nurturing and protecting the trees as they mature. But then those wouldn’t make international headlines, would they?
We know from the examples of Ethiopia or Costa Rica that reforestation is possible. I very much hope that Madagascar’s current campaign is a turning point, and that the creeping loss of tree cover will be reversed in the coming decades.
If you want to support reforestation in Madagascar, check out Eden Reforestation Projects. They are the biggest tree planter in the country, always work in partnership with local people, and are run in-country by an old friend of the family called Jamie Shattenberg.