Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Illegal Logging in Madagascar

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The Rosewood Conundrum: Illegal Logging in Madagascar


Locator Map of Madagascar
Ring Tailed Lemurs in Madagascar

Madagascar or the republic of Malagasy is a country in the Indian Ocean off the coast of South East Africa. It is the fourth largest island in the world and it is home to the most spectacular biodiversity on earth. Many of the species are endemic; 90% of them are found nowhere else on this earth.[1] Biodiversity has come under great pressure due to deforestation so that, for example, the iconic lemurs of Madagascar are becoming instinct because of their loss of habitat. Poverty has deepened and this beautiful country has fallen prey to an accelerated and unsustainable exploitation of rosewood. [2]

Framing The Problem

Precious Woods

Rosewood Logging in Madagascar

The Malagasy rosewood (Dalbergia spp) and ebony (Diospyros spp), both considered to be beautiful and durable, have been sought after for making ornate furniture. The wood is also greatly valued for manufacturing stringed musical instruments and numerous crafts. Though there is a global demand for the rosewood, most of the wood is shipped to China and some to United States and the European Union.[3]

Illegal Logging

Madagascar hardwoods are of high value, which makes illegal logging a very lucrative business. Illegal shipments continue to this day, despite the efforts to ban the harvest and control the export of these precious woods. In 2009 Madagascar entered a political crisis which facilitated illegal operations to go undetected. Thousands of tons of rosewood were harvested and exported to other countries. Even national parks which are supposed to be protected areas were not spared from this illegal trade.[2] Madagascar came under the spotlight in 2009 when Gibson Guitars was prosecuted under the US Lacey Act, for importing Malagasy hardwoods.[4] Despite the current laws in protection of forests in operation, the rosewood trafficking has been growing. This abuse of power is perpetrated by influential people and the many government officials who are hand in glove with the illegal timber barons. The local people who are most often employed for the labor intensive job of harvesting the wood are aware of the existence of laws. The majority of them are the affected stakeholders who are impoverished and the illegal work is their only source of income.[2] A metric ton of Malagasy rosewood sells for 25,000 USD. The major portion of the profits go to corrupt officials and timber barons and less than 1% of it to the local people.[5] Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency suspect that government officials join hands with the loggers and the smugglers in running these operations. [2]

Offshoot of the illegal logging

The illegal logging of rosewood and ebony gave rise to another problem which was a rapid rise in the commercial trade of bush meat. The gentle lemurs were added on to the menu in many restaurants. Tourists were lured for this exotic delicacy. The lemurs not just suffered the loss of their habitat by illegal logging, they were also hunted mercilessly and their numbers declined[6]

Political Background

Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960. Since then there has been political instability with oscillating governments. An uprising in 2009 resulted in a political deadlock which brought several economic sanctions on the country. In 2013, the return of democratic elections put Hery Rajaonarimampianina in the presidential seat. Though this brought a lot of fresh hope to the people, his regime failed to bring peace in the region. Disputes run deep between his supporters and opponents who tried to impeach him. The constitutional court disregarded the impeachment and the senate which was dissolved in the 2009 coup has been elected.[1]

The Loopholes

The ban on the exports of rosewood has not been consistent and when there is a stricter ban in place, the prices rise and the illegally harvested timber is stashed away. Most of the timber traders are also vanilla traders, so when there is a ban on the export of rosewood, they rely on the steady profits from the vanilla trade. And as soon as the ban is lifted, large quantities of rosewood flood the markets, bringing huge profits to the traders. The reasons for lifting the ban are cited as to salvage the trees felled by the frequent cyclones. However, experts say that the rosewood trees have such a high density which prevents them from blowing over in cyclones.[7][8]


Implications: A Forestry Perspective

NASA Satellite imagery showing the effects of extensive logging.
Madagascar bleeding into the ocean.


Decades of extensive logging in the rainforests has resulted in severe erosion, one well known example of this is the Betsiboka Estuary where the bright red soil is washed down from the hillsides into the streams and rivers and finally into the oceans. NASA astronauts who observed this from the space have described this as “Madagascar bleeding into the ocean”.[9] The scale of this deforestation poses a serious threat to local people and the environment. Nearly 400 trees are felled per day according to a report from the US Agency for International Development. [3]


Dubbed as the “the richest poor country in the world” the people of Madagascar have been subjected to the tyranny of dictators for generations. Most people live on a dollar or two per day and less than 15% of the population have electricity[10] Madagascar was well on its way to achieving its Millennium Developmental Goals (MDGs) during the period of 2002-2006. However, the progress was undone during the period of political instability between 2009- 2013.[11] About 70% of the total population and 77% of the rural population live below the national poverty line.[6].According to a FAO report, more than 32% of the population is undernourished and nearly 50% of the children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition.[12]Experts believe if the benefits from illegally logged timber can be directed towards community based restoration of forests, there is still hope for Madagascar."While Madagascar was long known as a graveyard for grand ideas, progress in the past decade has offered hope. In that time Madagascar went from the pariah of conservation to a model. There’s reason to believe history can be repeated".[13]

Social and Cultural

The discovery of the golden bamboo lemur and the rosy periwinkle marked a historical juncture that put Madagascar in the international limelight. The periwinkle which has been put to great use in the treatment of childhood leukemia, and the presence of the rarest animals brought hope of wealth and prosperity to the nation. But the enormous profits that could be gained by the rosewood logging took centre stage and country was exploited to the maximum.[14] Embroiled by this devastation to her country, the environmental activist Razia Said who also happens to be a singer and a songwriter staged benefit concerts to create awareness to end illegal logging of the rainforests in her home country. The “Wake up Madagascar” tour was a part of this initiative. Her soulful song bears testimony to her love for Madagascar.[15][16]

Layering Perspectives

Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

1.How could someone from a different discipline or profession add to the implications above?

2.What other implications become apparent when illegal logging is viewed through the lens of other disciplines and professions?

3. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us better understand the implications associated with illegal logging in Madagascar?

Combating Illegal Logging

The management policies and forestry regulations have so far not been able to resolve the problem of illegal logging in Madagascar as there are endless inconsistencies in regulations. The situation is further worsened by the people of higher authority who manipulate local people to practice illegal logging, which in turn prevents proper management of the protected areas.[2] One extraordinary effort to expose illegal logging was undertaken by the British journalist Toby Smith, who went undercover in the forests to gather all the information and images under risky conditions. His efforts helped put international pressure on Madagascar to curb the logging. The Gibson Guitars case was a direct result of Toby Smith’s work. Since then, many of his images and articles have appeared in the global news which have put Madagascar under the watchful eyes.[17] In the most recent times, there have been initiatives which bring a lot of hope to many countries suffering from the wicked problem of illegal logging. One such initiative is the AFR100 (African Forest Landscape Restoration) to restore 100 million hectares of land across the country by 2030.This initiative aims to build a strong network of technical and financial support to ensure benefits of food security, climate change resilience and poverty alleviation.[18] Yet another initiative of the recent times which is worth mentioning is the Forest Legality initiative. This is a multi-stakeholder project led by the World Resource Institute (WRI). Their goal is to reduce illegal logging through supporting the supply of legal forest products. The WRI is also partnering with the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) whose main focus is to mobilize new technologies to combat illegal logging and crack down on all the associated activities.[19]


A Forestry Perspective

The identification of the rosewood species that comes exclusively from Madagascar is crucial in controlling the illegal logging trade, as the genus Dalbergia is pantropical in distribution. The proposed DNA barcoding methods could be an effective tool in overcoming this problem.[20] Secondly the Malagasy government can shift its command and control approach to a more participatory approach to increase awareness among the local people. Finally the government should change its words into action and adopt the strategies of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which provides a powerful tool in halting the illegal trade. “CITES member states need to uphold the commitment they made to the people and forests of Madagascar by cracking down on all illegal imports of Malagasy timber’’. [11]

Layering Perspectives

What recommendations might someone from another discipline or profession make to combat the issue of illegal logging in Madagascar? Examples might include:

  • Law
  • Geography
  • Environmental Science
  • Social Justice
  • Economics
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Philosophy


  1. 1.0 1.1 Madagascar country profile - BBC News. (2017). Retrieved from
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Anderson Randriamamonjy, T., Gusti, I., Ketut, A., Handayani, R., & Setyono, P. (2016). Inefficiency of Forestry Regulations and Management Applicability on Rosewood (Dalbergia. Spp) Exploitation in Madagascar: Case Study of Morojejy and Masoala National Parks. Journal of Arts International Refereed Research Journal ■ ■, 4142(3).
  3. 3.0 3.1
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chomitz, K. (2006). At Loggerheads? The World Bank Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Chomitz" defined multiple times with different content
  7. Madagascar sanctions logging of national parks. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2017, from
  8. Patel, E. R. (2009). Logging of Rare Rosewood and Palisandre (Dalbergia spp.) within Marojejy National Park, Madagascar. Madagascar Conservation & Development, 2(1).
  9. Betsiboka Estuary, Madagascar : Image of the Day. (2003). Retrieved from
  10. Weir, B. (2017). The richest poor country in the world. CNN. Retrieved from
  11. 11.0 11.1 Waeber, P. O., Wilmé, L., Mercier, J.-R., Camara, C., & Lowry, P. P. (n.d.). How Effective Have Thirty Years of Internationally Driven Conservation and Development Efforts Been in Madagascar?
  13. Butler, R. A. (n.d.). How to end Madagascar’s logging crisis. Retrieved October 15, 2017, from
  14. Corson, C. (2017). A history of conservation politics in Madagascar. Madagascar Conservation & Development, 12(1).
  17. Undercover Work Exposes Illegal Logging in Madagascar - ProQuest. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2017, from
  20. Hassold, S., Lowry, P. P., Bauert, M. R., Razafintsalama, A., Ramamonjisoa, L., & Widmer, A. (n.d.). DNA Barcoding of Malagasy Rosewoods: Towards a Molecular Identification of CITES-Listed Dalbergia Species.

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Shabana Zabi. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.