Course:CONS200/2023/Community-based management in Madagascar Forests

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Introduction to Forest Management in Madagascar

The country of Madagascar is an island off the coast of East Africa and home to many forest ecosystems. It is one of the most biologically rich areas on earth, with approximately 80% of its flora and fauna endemic to the island[1]. While Madagascar may be rich with plant species, it has historically suffered economically due to poor land management practices and political turmoil. At the start of the 20th century, the country's forests underwent drastic fragmentation due to increased agricultural activity[2]. Forests were slash-burned to make space for cattle breeding, gold mining, and wood production[3]. The government sponsored the development of rice fields in the savannah and encouraged citizens to move to the forest outskirts, where they continued to slash and burn and overuse the land's natural resources[3]. There was little to no sustainable agriculture because Madagascar has a short growing season and poor soil, making it extremely difficult to maintain and profit off of[4]. Unfortunately, the constant change of political hands reaped negative effects on the country’s land management practices[2]. Yet in 2002, President Marc Ravalomanana came into power and made efforts to solve the country’s social, economic, and environmental issues by shifting the country towards a decentralization of power[2]. He gave new jobs and responsibilities to regional and community leaders, with the idea that local communities would be better suited at managing their land than national officials[2]. While there were certainly improvements towards land management practices, many communities suffered from the shift because the transition of power was too swift and dumped too much responsibility onto the backs of the people[2].

Poor Land Management and Roots in Political Instability

Baobab trees in Madagascar.

The most evident issue associated with land management in Madagascar is entrenched in extreme shifts of management power to local and regional leaders. Following years of unsustainable deforestation and land use change largely resulting from constant shifts in political power, President Marc Ravalomanana was elected in 2002[5]. Ravalomanana has since heavily promoted community-based management and a transition in power to local leaders[5]. This pattern of increased local authority also translated to natural resource management, with national government jurisdiction in this sector significantly decreasing[3]. The excessive responsibility placed on community leaders has resulted in poor land management, especially in forests in the western regions of the country[1]. Forest conservation emerged as a problem in many of these communities due to the fact that the majority rely on forests for primary uses such as timber extraction for infrastructure and agriculture[4].

The political push for forest conservation through decentralization ideals has been greatly implemented in Madagascar over the past 10 years within small communities. However, research done by Indiana University highlights that because each community required different resources and extractives from Madagascar forests, it was difficult to implement nation-wide management plans[5]. Another challenge associated with forest management is measuring the biodiversity of each forest. Despite a narrow range of environmental conditions, each forest ranges from exhibiting indigenous fauna to exotic plantation species[4]. This requires various methods of governance and management methods for each forest type, making it difficult to monitor each area and measuring the dynamics of each forest[4]. These various management methods also directly correlate to how each forest area is categorized under the state. Of the approximate 13,260,000 million ha of forest on the island of Madagascar, the state only controls 6,241,931 ha, and is divided up as follows: 175,361 ha devoted to National Parks, 371,393 to Special Reserves, 569,542 to Integral Reserves, 4,023,446 to Classified Forests, 57,294 to Forest Stations and 1,044,895 ha to Restoration and Reforestation areas[4]. The most important factor to note is that the state controls less than half of Madagascar's forests, with more than 50% of control given to community leaders as a mode of decentralization of power[4]. This raises the question of how to approach and assist these communities, since deforestation and fragmentation continue to pose a threat in locally controlled forests. President Ravalomanana's promotion of community-based management is an effective political objective, but has effectively handed 6 million ha of forest to scattered underdeveloped communities with no instruction.

Understanding why these communities have often failed at succeeding in forest conservation at a local level is important to developing solutions. Since many of these communities are rural, they often rely heavily on agriculture for economic growth and resources[2]. Following the implementation of community-based management by President Ravalomanana, evidence reveals that agriculture continues to be the driving factor in the high rates of deforestation[3]. Thus, the main issue with decentralized management is the disconnection between communities and the centralized government.

History of Community-Based Land Management and Decentralization of Power in Madagascar

While the Malagasy government had subjected its people to decades of political instability, environmental advocates had been making consistent efforts to promote community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) practices since the early 1990s[5]. Their goal was to preserve the country's valuable ecosystem while supporting local livelihoods. In the early 1980's, Madagascar collaborated with the World Bank to create a National Environmental Action Plan which would be carried out in three sections, each lasting five years[5]. There were two main environmental policies installed across local communities to begin CBNRM practices. The first was Gestion Locale Sécurisée (GELOSE), the first law on co-management of natural resources[5]. GELOSE contractually bound the state forest authority, the municipality, and a voluntary association of locals among a community[5]. The second, put in place in 2001, was Gestion Contractualisée des Forêts (GCF)[5]. GCF made it simpler to transfer forest management rights to local user groups. By 2007, over 450 GELOSE and GCF contracts had been signed among local communities across Madagascar[5]. Each community that adopted GELOSE and GCF contracts worked towards one goal: to maintain a livelihood off of its natural resources in a sustainable manner. This included being able to mitigate environmental stressors such as dry periods, cyclones, or fluctuations in resource abundance, as well as political stressors such as coups[3]. The contracts followed a specific structure to prepare locals to manage their own land, where the state grants the local community a three year contract to demonstrate environmental management practices with a conservation focus[3]. If the community succeeded over the three years, they could continue managing the land for ten years before being reevaluated by the state[3]. To ensure the community's success, an NGO was also assigned to assist the locals in defining the management site and create sustainable farming systems[3].

Unfortunately, the majority of Madagascar's CBNRM populations experienced difficulty maintaining their livelihoods due to flaws in GELOSE and GCF contracts. This is because there was a disparity between the state's transfer of power to CBNRM communities and the amount of monetary support the communities received[5]. The central government only allocated ten percent of expenditure to decentralized communities, which was not enough to support CBNRM practices such as sustainable farming systems[5]. Simultaneously, the CMNRM communities were expected to contribute portions of their revenue to the central government[5]. These policies created a fiscal gap between the local populations and the central government. Additionally, the state failed to perform proper assessments on the communities after the three year period and often did not offer solutions to the issues the communities faced such as drought management and poor soil conditions[5].

Future Solutions

Although the premise of CBNRM proves useful for small-scale resource management, the implementation and sustainability of management proves difficult in local communities, as CBNRM ultimately relies on funding from the state[5]. This has resulted in many small-scale community issues going overlooked and left unresolved when aid is requested. Although decentralized forest management allows for more context-specific forest management solutions, a more layered approach to forest management must be taken to manage forests. Community forest users, forest agency staff, and NGO personnel identified specific needs they rely on the forest for: forest users identify nature-related needs, whereas forest agency staff and NGO personnel value economic profitability and large-scale conservation, as well as promotion of biodiversity[5]. Thus, new methods must not only promote local profitability, but resource longevity nationally and increased biodiversity.

To balance the needs of all parties, it is crucial to provide more economic growth opportunities in non-destructive, and biodiversity-promotive ways. One way of doing so may be to explore non-extractive methods for generating economic benefits from forests, such as tourism, direct payments for conservation, or carbon sequestration projects[3]. Although current GCF economic ideals are currently limited to land-management practices, increasing non-extractive methods for generating economic benefits from forests would not threaten community management systems and forest-user conservation ideals, nor the centralized government. Rather, increasing economic benefits would prove to be an opportunity for production potential and profitability of local ecosystems, which is desperately needed to increase the livelihoods of local community members[3]. Non-extractive methods for generating economic benefits should be promoted throughout different forest types to not only profit non-destructively off of forest usage, but promote resource longevity, local forest usage equality, and biodiversity.

Additionally, while GELOSE and GCF contracts currently pose an obstacle to forest management in communities throughout Madagascar, they can be improved if the centralized government dedicates a larger portion of their expenditure to decentralized communities. Increasing the budget for CBNRM communities would decrease the fiscal gap and help local communities become more productive at managing their forests. Although forest-users provide context-based forest management solutions through CBNRM methods, CBNRM cannot yield sustainable results without the proper support of the central government. Therefore, it is crucial for the centralized government to modify GCF to provide profitability and remain accountable for small-scale and large-scale forest management.


Forest land management in Madagascar has historically been unsustainable due to industry and unstable government. The incredible biodiversity of the island is at risk due to habitat fragmentation, deforestation, and because management responsibilities have been allocated to people without the resources to do it[2]. Currently, less than half of forests are managed by the government, and over half are managed by rural community leaders[4]. Although President Marc Ravalomanana made important steps in emphasizing ecological sustainability, he did not give local communities enough resources to do so. Challenges with management include: lack of resources allotted to communities, difficulty defining community structures and boundaries, and complex, diverse ecosystems with specific management needs[6]. Forest health is inextricably linked to social and economic health[1]. Many communities depend on the forest resources for their livelihood, however rural communities also depend on the land for agriculture, which is one of the main causes of deforestation[2].

The current partnership between NGO’s and the Madagasy government used the GELOSE GCF programs to allocate funds to local communities to sustainably manage the forest’s natural resources[5]. Unfortunately, the funds allocated were often not enough, and communities struggled to manage their land, resulting in it ultimately being repossessed by the government[1].

In order for CBNRM to thrive, a GCF must be revised and the centralized government must increase their budget to support CBNRM communities. In addition, exploring cultural ecosystem services, and other non-extractive uses for land can help preserve biodiversity and maximize economic gain.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Toillier, A., Lardon, S., & Herve, D. (2008). An environmental governance support tool: Community-based Forest Management Contracts (Madagascar). International Journal of Sustainable Development, 11(2/3/4), 187.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Marcus, Richard (2007). "Where Community-Based Water Resource Management has Gone Too Far: Poverty and Disempowerment in Southern Madagascar". Conservation & Society. 5: 202–231 – via JSTOR.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Cullman, G. (2015). Community Forest Management as Virtualism in Northeastern Madagascar. Human Ecology, 43(1), 29–41.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Fritz - Vietta, Nadine; Röttger, Christiane; Stoll-Kleemann, Susanne (December 2009). "Community - based management in two biosphere reserves in Madagascar – distinctions and similarities: What can be learned from different approaches ?". Madagascar Conservation & Development. 4 – via African Journals Online.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 McConnell, W. J., & Sweeney, S. P. (2005). Challenges of Forest Governance in Madagascar. The Geographical Journal, 171(3), 223–238.
  6. Raik, D. B., & Decker, D. J. (2007). A multisector framework for assessing community-based forest management: Lessons from Madagascar. Ecology and Society, 12(1).
Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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