Course:FRST270/Wiki Projects/The threats posed by a Rio Tinto mine for Madagascar forest communities

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The Threats Posed by a Rio Tinto Mine for Madagascar Forest Communities

In 2008, QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), the Madagascar division of the mining corporation Rio Tinto opened a project in Fort Dauphin located in the south eastern region of the country. Although the company officials have promised that the development would only bring benefits for the country and its people highly contradicting evidence is prominent. The development has led to the suffering of local communities who depend on the land now occupied by QMM. This paper will discuss the involvement of QMM in Madagascar. It will provide a description as well as a brief history of the area and project. With the previous information this paper will explore tenure arrangements along with affected and interested stakeholders. Finally the impacts of this involvement will be examined and several supplementary topics will be covered. Data collected for this case study is taken from both locals and their journalist representatives as well as from QMM in order to approach this report from the most objective perspective possible.

Topographical Map of the Location of Fort Dauphin


Background of the Local Malagasy People

Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island. It is a richly biodiverse yet economically impoverished country. It is usually seen as one of Africa’s poorest countries, with approximately 86% of its population being mainly dependent on agriculture [1]. Over 75% of Malagasy people live on less than $2.00 USD a day. In 2015 the official minimum wage in Madagascar was 125,000.00 Ariary or $42.00 USD per month [2].The Anosy region which contains Fort Dauphin, is situated in the mountains of the south east corner of Madagascar. Its population is half a million inhabitants. Communities in the Fort Dauphin area have been displaced from their lands to allow for various developments of QMM’s mine. These include the construction of a port, quarry, roads as well as housing for mine workers. Others have been restricted from accessing their traditional fishing sites as well as from entering areas now designated as conservation zones [1]. The locals have always grown their staple food manioc, around the forest but are no longer allowed to and must grow in the sand dunes which are not productive for cultivation [2]. A cash compensation process has supposedly been applied for those affected by displacement, but there are ongoing disputes about the level of compensation being delivered. Most consider it insufficient and many locals without legal land title have reported being overlooked by the company completely.

Background of Rio Tinto’s Project

This project started in December 2008. It is a $940 million mining operation which involves the extraction of the minerals ilmenite and zircon which are found on the shoreline of Fort Dauphin. QMM intends to extract ilmenite and zircon from heavy mineral sands in three sites over an area of about 6,000 hectares along the coast during the next 40 years [3]. Approximately 1097 hectares have been reserved as conservation zones with restricted access by QMM and the local Forest Service. This employs a system that restricts access to the forest by locals and non-company members [1]. The Fort Dauphin deposit contains an estimated 70 million tonnes of ilmenite which is 10% of the world market. Raw material mined by QMM is transported to Rio Tinto’s Fer et Titane processing plant in Canada. The processed material is sold world-wide to pigment producers. The pigment is used in paint, plastic, paper and dye as a white finish.

The mining process includes the following:

  1. Removing the vegetation cover and storing the layer of top soil where applicable
  2. Extracting the sand, up to 20 metres deep, with a floating dredge
  3. Mechanically separating the heavy minerals (five per cent) using spirals, and returning the silica (95 per cent) into the dredging pond for subsequent rehabilitation [3].

The 95% of material will contain Monazite, a radioactive substance. A representative of the Comité Communal de Développement (CCD) Ampasy explained that 7.5 tonnes of monazite per year would be returned to the ground. This radioactivity might lead to future difficulties in pregnancy, increases in miscarriage, impotence, and child illness [4]. QMM began exploring the Anosy region in the late 1980s. In 1998, a legal and financial plan was created between QMM and the Government of Madagascar. The plan concluded that QMM is owned 80% by Rio Tinto and 20% by the Madagascar government [3]. QMM claims that in 1980 it started preliminary social and environmental studies. However these studies, according to sources other than Rio Tinto and its affiliates, were initiatives to slowly allow the locals to get accustomed to their presence. These visits were intended to open the offset project in a participatory manner as being part of a process of slow persuasion. But still with no possibility of disagreement from the locals [1]. Rio Tinto brought the prospect of improved economic conditions. However, the protesters in Fort Dauphin say the mine exploited them, a charge the company denies [5].

Tenure Arrangements

The majority of local people live directly from the land with 86% as subsistence farmers. Ownership is recognized at the community level as their land was always managed by traditional means. Legal tenure is difficult and costly for these locals. Of an estimated 90% of Malagasy farmers who own land, only 8% have formal land titles [1]. In Madagascar all non-privatised land is officially owned by the state, though customary and collective entitlements to land preside in most areas [4].

Non-state ownership is divided into the following categories:

  1. Official Government documented land title
  2. Individual share of a collective title supported by Government documentation but which does not stipulate an individual title designation (known as ‘cadastre’).
  3. Title of ancestral inheritance or long-term cultivation supported by witnesses but not a Government title deed [2].

QMM is operating on a 100-year lease granted by the central government of Madagascar. With very few formal land titles QMM was able to take ownership of the land fairly easily as most of the land falls under state-owned territory. The project was negotiated under the former Socialist government of President Didier Ratsiraka, later finalizing with (now ousted) President Marc Ravalomanana [4]. After the lease was granted QMM and its partnered conservation NGO, Asity Madagascar, came to the villages saying that they needed the forest to be protected. QMM collected signatures from all or most individuals in the village to obtain approval for the transfer of forest management to them. The local community, as well as the local NGO, filed their dispute to QMM’s plan to manage the forest. But this could not stop QMM from seizing the forest around St Luce [1]. Asity Madagascar is the branch of BirdLife International for Madagascar. It is in charge of implementing and enforcing the biodiversity offset at Bemangidy-Ivohibe. Asity Madagascar, villagers explained, bans the use of fire anywhere in the offset, even for shifting farm patches in recuperation back into cultivation. In September 2015, a villager burned the vegetation on one of these patches in order to prepare for subsequent planting. He was ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 Ariary or $36.00 USD which is approximately the average monthly salary [2].

Affected Stakeholders

The local Malagasy people are affected stakeholders as they have been directly affected by the involvement of QMM on their ancestral lands. They depend on this land for subsistence. Local fishermen cannot fish anywhere on the shore of Fort Dauphin due to mining operations. Farmers are banned from their highly productive plots and relocated to sandy dunes of no agricultural value. Malagasy people living from a practice called Tavy are portrayed as the main destructors of forests and biodiversity through conservationist and state discourses of degradation. Tavy is a process of controlled burning which prepares the soil for the next round of cultivation. Done sustainably for centuries until the arrival of QMM and its partnered conservation NGO’s [4].

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Interested Stakeholders

QMM is an interested stakeholder. QMM is both the corporation Rio Tinto, and the government of Madagascar. Its involvement is primarily economically based. It is speculated that much of the national earnings obtained by the Madagascar government will go towards paying off loan debt. Also, QMM purchased land for $1.70 USD per square metre, substantially less than the average price of land in the Malagasy highlands which have no mineral or biodiversity value at $10.00 USD per square metre [4].

Environmental NGOs active in Madagascar have formed corporate partnerships with QMM. These include Kew Botanical Gardens, and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), and BirdLife International also known as Asity Madagascar. Asity Madagascar is the most involved of these as it manages the biodiversity offset in the mine. These interested stakeholders receive benefits for securing land for conservation. And QMM gains a green public image by showing interest and being active in conservation efforts. International environmental NGOs have held a high level of political influence in Madagascar over the last 20 years resulting in a process called internal territorialization. Where non-state actors facilitated by the state, succeed in enclosing public lands for conservation. Despite a political crisis in 2009, non-state actors in Madagascar enclosed 9.4 million hectares of protected lands by 2010 [4].

The World Bank has been a particularly intriguing interested stakeholder in Madagascar. It helped fund several developments of the mine such as the port and hotels. The World Bank classifies the mine as an “Integrated Growth Poles Project” [4]. Its purpose is to “support private sector-led growth through the provisioning of a conducive legal, physical and business environment in selected regions centered on tourism, mining and industrial parks”[4]. Its projected benefits are purely economic. The World Bank has clearly expressed its motivating objective to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the Fort Dauphin area. Recent modifications to land ownership laws now allow foreigners to purchase land for the first time. QMM has taken advantage of this situation following the modifications by buying up prime locations and desirable properties around the town for its workers [6].

Proposed Outcomes

QMM claims that it has rehabilitated over 1000 hectares of the land it has used, provided jobs, and started new livelihoods. It has even promised to leave a “net positive biodiversity impact” (NPI) after its involvement in the region. In 2009 the company received a green accolade for its highly promoted environmental conservation program [7]. The projected benefits of the mine’s opening were grand and promising. They primarily included, the boosting of local and national economy, infrastructural development, and the promise from QMM of many job openings [5]. In Madagascar a national law requires an 80 metre wide legal boundary to be set to create a buffer zone for environmentally vulnerable areas, this is done for example to protect waterways [7]. QMM built a dam at the mouth of a river leading from Lake Ambavarano to the coast. The dam was designed to supply fresh water for dredge mining as Ilmenite mining requires enormous amounts of fresh water [4].


QMM is claiming that their goal for creating a “net positive biodiversity impact” on the coastal forest it is mining is achievable because traditional practices of local Malagasy people in their forests are not sustainable and will lead to the destruction of the forest regardless [4]. This suspicious justification is further enhanced with the questionable resignation of QMM’s biodiversity committee. The independent Biodiversity Committee of QMM was set up in 2003 in order to provide guidance on its Biodiversity Action Plan. Interestingly enough the entire committee resigned in October 2016, stating that the current position of Rio Tinto "produced an untenable level of reputational risk" to its members. Researchers have questioned and challenged both QMM's claims of “net positive biodiversity impact” along with a flawed Offsetting program. Stories of inadequate or inexistent compensation have been consistent by local people [7].

Since the beginning of mining operations, Malagasy people noticed a heavy increase in the price of land. On top of this, many land owners were selling their territory to foreigners (vahaza) or extra-locals (piavy) [4]. Local people explained how extreme increases in rents had occurred over the year of 2008, the year of the mines opening, and that the prices were now completely out of their reach [6]. But the mine disrupted the area in other ways too. After an initial construction employment boom most locals were fired, locals say the unemployed turned to banditry. The area’s tourism business collapsed as all the available hotels were fully occupied by mine workers [5]. An influx of prostitutes spread STDs around the region. In 2007, the Fort Dauphin region was placed in a state of emergency by the government as tests concluded that 17,000 people, or 30% of the region's sexually active population had contracted the sexually transmitted infection syphilis [8].

Google Earth images shows that where QMM is operating in the Mandena site, the company has surpassed the legal limits of the 80 metre buffer zone. Radioactive waste in tailings, a by-product of the mining process is now much more likely to leach into the nearby lake and water system which local people use to fish. Furthermore, an INSTN report estimates that in a typical 40-hour working week, a worker would exceed the annual dose limit of Thorium in the UK of 20 millisieverts (msv) in around 1,000 hours or 25 weeks. Thorium and Uranium can leach from tailings into water bodies and farmlands. These substances can be taken up by fish, making them contaminated, and may affect the public who purchase the fish from local markets. The waterways adjacent to the QMM mine are not only used for fishing but they also feed into the nearest town, Tolagnaro, to provide drinking water for the town. Long-term presence of thorium residue in tailings can take thousands of years to disperse to a low-level radiation hazard. [7].

In the community of Amparihy, many villagers almost solely depend on fishing for their livelihoods. Fishing provides for subsistence and as a material for trade. Here the construction of QMM's freshwater dam for mining led to the disruption and collapse of an estuarine ecosystem, completely eliminating the supply of nutritionally and economically valuable fish. A local man insisted that fishermen could previously make 100,000 Ariary per day which is much more than the wage of cultivators. QMM supposedly offered the man 130,000 Ariary per month in compensation [4].

The Result of the Ilmenite Mining Process in Fort Dauphin


The Madagascar government is still recovering from nearly five years of political crisis from 2009-2014. Local authorities lack the ability and capacity for monitoring and regulating massive foreign projects. A weak civil society and inadequate consultation around the country's new mining code has led to communities becoming helpless under the heightened threat of land grabs [7]. The process in which land laws are revised, especially the amount of recognition that is offered to customary land rights, will decide how equitable the system will be. Customary land rights are currently given a status below legal paper titles. This plays against the rights of the traditional inhabitants and works in favour of newcomers. Already prices have risen past the reach of most common locals and the trend is likely to continue. If the system is not handled carefully it could easily create a two-tier system between the landless poor and landlords. QMM’s success Employment opportunities for locals are limited and have largely decreased. The economy boom from QMM’s local expenditures seem promising however it only benefit some businesses. For many the inflation this has caused outweighs the benefits. Responsible parties have neglected to acknowledge the requirements necessary to achieve proper resettlement and to be able to provide compensation for over 1000 people. The local government, already under-resourced and overstretched, is most often left with the burden of this dilemma. Rio Tinto must overcome the appeal of exercising the substantial breadth of its power QMM and the World Bank’s commitment to ensure that the wellbeing of the permanently affected people should be upheld has not yet been demonstrated [6]. With the dissolution of QMM’s Independent Advisory Panel (IAP) and the subsequent resignation of the Biodiversity Committee just three years after, there is an increased risk of malpractice and overexploitation [7].


The detrimental consequences of QMM’s involvement, including but not limited to inflation, have affected the living conditions of most Fort Dauphin inhabitants in ways that urgently need to be addressed [6]. The 2017 United Nations Human Rights rapporteur for Madagascar presented various ways in which these failings may be addressed to the Malagasy Government; specifically emphasizing that the adjustments to the Mining Code must continue to meet human rights standards. He encourages Madagascar to join the EITA, which would provide them with "citizen access to courts to ensure that environmental laws are being enforced", preventing citizens from becoming criminalized when exercising "their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly". Proper administration is imperative to maintain human rights, and monitor potential cases of corruption, such as illegal rosewood trafficking [7]. The safety procedures applicable to the onsite staff reportedly differ from that of the local people, or lack thereof. Therefore, inhabitants must face unnecessary risk brought on by construction operations. There have been many cases in which individuals have reported rocks falling on villages from blasts, which if true, should be immediately investigated in order to thwart future injuries[6]. Two possible methods of rehabilitation are 1) the inclusion of specialists, preferably independent, who methodically supervise and assess the surroundings, and 2) the contribution of members’ opinions and concerns within the development community. The World Bank must be held accountable and make amends for the ineffective practice of its own policy on resettlement and compensation. Negotiations regarding compensation should shed some light on their situation and alleviate some of the problems regarding compensation elsewhere [6]. Insufficient legal regulations to provide security to citizens support the fact that the Malagasy administration is failing its citizens [7].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 World Rainforest Movement. (2010, April 29). Madagascar: Forest communities impacted by a Rio Tinto mine. Retrieved from World Rainforest Movement:
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 World Rainforest Movement. (2016, May 9). Rio Tinto’s biodiversity offset in Madagascar: How culture and religion are used to enforce restrictions. Retrieved from World Rainforest Movement:
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Rio Tinto. (n.d.). About QIT Madagascar Mineralsd. Retrieved from Rio Tinto:
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Seagle, C. (2012, April 19). Inverting the Impacts. Retrieved from Taylor and Francis online:
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Hatcher, J. (2013, February 8). The White Stuff: Mining Giant Rio Tinto Unearths Unrest in Madagascar. Retrieved from Time:
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Friends of Earth. (2007). Development recast? Retrieved from Friends of Earth:
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Orengo, Y. (2017, April 3). Tall tales and tailings - the truth about Rio Tinto's rare earth mine in Madagascar. Retrieved from The Ecologist:
  8. Hogg, J. (2007, July 18). Syphilis Emergency in Madagascar. Retrieved from BBC News:



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This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST270.
  1. Smith, S. M., Shepherd, D. D., & Dorward, P. T. (2012, June). Experiences from south-east Madagascar. Retrieved from Science Direct:
  2. London Mining Network. (2017, April 12). Local community hits out at Rio Tinto's 'model' Madagascar mine. Retrieved from World One News: