- The Ministry of Environment of Madagascar has published a ministerial decree to stop all ongoing logging permits in areas that threaten the sustainability of forests. The ban, approved a few weeks ago, covers as much as 7.0 million hectares and aims at curbing the extensive illegal logging on the island.
Along with other agreed measures, the new course of action is setting the stage for a dramatic improvement in the governance of Madagascar's forestry sector. After decades of uncontrolled deforestation in the unique island ecosystem, the new government of President Marc Ravalomanana is taking drastic efforts to protect the environment.
In fact, last year, President Ravalomanana made a commitment to triple the protected surface area to six million hectares, or 10 percent of the national forests in the lead up to the World Parks Congress in Durban. He considers it his personal obligation to make sure these goals are met and says his credibility is on the line.
Madagascar is one of 17 recognised mega diversity countries that collectively harbour up to three quarters of the world's biological diversity. Although it occupies only about 1.9 percent of the land area of the African region, it is home to about 25 percent of all African plants and has more orchids than the entire African mainland.
The island of Madagascar was formed over a hundred million years ago, when it started drifting from the African mainland. Living in splendid isolation for such a long time, a unique ecosystem has developed on the large "island continent".
With the introduction of human populations some 1000 years ago, however, the number of the island's endemic species has progressively declined. The large downturn started with the massive deforestation over the last decades.
It is estimated that Madagascar lost about 12 million hectares of forest between 1960 and 2000, effectively reducing forest cover by 50 percent in just 40 years. Environmental conscience has however increased in Madagascar during the last years.
Following the launch of the National Environment Action Plan in the late 1980s, deforestation rates have since declined from over 400,000 hectares a year in 1975-1985 to around 100,000–200,000 hectares a year during the 1990s.
Satellite imagery shows that the total area of natural forest in Madagascar declined from 9.4 million hectares in 1993 to 8.5 million ha in 2000, reflecting a national average rate of deforestation of about 0.86 percent per year. Now, this rate is to diminish rapidly, according to the government's scheme.
The new measures by Malagasy President Ravalomanana to improve control of logging in Madagascar comes at a time that the World Bank is launching the Third Environmental Project in this African country.
The Third Environmental support project, approved by the World Bank last year, aims to improve forest management, protect biodiversity and put in place sustainable financing mechanisms for the environment to reduce poverty and contribute to broad-based economic growth, sustainable natural resources management and improve governance.
It is financed through a World Bank grant of US$ 40 million and US $9.0 million grant from Global Environment Facility (GEF). The government of Madagascar was the first government in Africa to develop a National Environmental Plan.
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