Dry forests


June 16, 2013, 1:24 pm
Source: CIA
Content Cover Image

Beach at Nosy Be, Madagascar. @ C.Michael Hogan

Madagascar is a large island nation of twenty-two-and-a-half million people off the southeast coast of Africa (east of Mozambique) in the Indian Ocean.

It is notable for its rich biodiversity. Madagascar is home to five percent of the world's known plant and animal species and 80% of these species are strictly unique (endemic) to the island.

Madagascar's major environmental issues include: soil erosion which results from deforestation and overgrazing; desertification; surface water contaminated with raw sewage and other organic wastes; and many endangered species of flora and fauna that are unique to the island. It is susceptible to periodic cyclones, drought and locust infestation.

Madagascar is world's fourth-largest island (after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo) and strategic location along the Mozambique Channel which separates it from the mainland of Africa. It has a narrow coastal plain, a high plateau and mountains in the center of the country. There are some areas of pronounced karst limestone formation such as the northwest coast.

Formerly an independent kingdom, Madagascar became a French colony in 1896 but regained independence in 1960.

During 1992-93, free presidential and National Assembly elections were held ending 17 years of single-party rule. In 1997, in the second presidential race, Didier Ratsiraka, the leader during the 1970s and 1980s, was returned to the presidency. The 2001 presidential election was contested between the followers of Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomana, nearly causing secession of half of the country. In April 2002, the High Constitutional Court announced Ravalomana the winner. Ravalomana is now in his second term following a landslide victory in the generally free and fair presidential elections of 2006.

In early 2009, protests over increasing restrictions on opposition press and activities resulted in Ravalomana stepping down and the presidency was conferred to the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina. Numerous attempts have been made by regional and international organizations to resolve the subsequent political gridlock by forming a power-sharing government. As of late 2011, a Rajoelina has appointed a new cabinet, and the country appears to be moving towards new elections sometime in 2012.


Location: Southern Africa, island in the Indian Ocean, east of Mozambique

Geographic Coordinates: 20 00 S, 47 00 E

Area: 587,040 km2 (581,540 km2 land and 5,500 km2 water)

arable land: 5.03%
permanent crops: 1.02%
other: 93.95% (2005)

Coastline: 4,828 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or 100 nm from the 2,500-m isobath

Natural Hazards: periodic cyclones, drought, and locust infestation

Terrain: Narrow coastal plain, high plateau and mountains in center. Its highest point is Maromokotro (2,876 metres)

Climate: Tropical along coast, temperate inland, arid in south.

Ecology and Biodiversity

  1. Madagascar mangroves
  2. Madagascar dry deciduous forests
  3. Madagascar succulent woodlands
  4. Madagascar spiny thickets
  5. Madagascar subhumid forests
  6. Madagascar lowland forests
  7. Madagascar ericoid thickets

See also:

Source: World Wildlife Fund


People and Society

Population: 22,585,517 (July 2012 est.)

Madagascar's population is predominantly of mixed Asian and African origin. Research suggests that the island was uninhabited until Indonesian seafarers arrived in roughly the first century A.D., probably by way of southern India and East Africa, where they acquired African wives and slaves. Subsequent migrations from both the Pacific and Africa further consolidated this original mixture, and 18 separate tribal groups emerged. Asian features are most predominant in the central highlands people, the Merina (3 million) and the Betsileo (2 million); the coastal people are of more clearly African origin. The largest coastal groups are the Betsimisaraka (1.5 million) and the Tsimihety and Sakalava (700,000 each).

The Malagasy language is of Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally spoken throughout the island, with significant regional variations. French is spoken among the educated population of this former French colony. English is becoming more widely spoken, and in 2003 the government began a pilot project of introducing the teaching of English into the primary grades of 44 schools, with hopes of taking the project nationwide. In 2010, however, the de facto government introduced measures that would limit the use and teaching of English.

Most people practice traditional religions, which tend to emphasize links between the living and the dead. They believe that the dead join their ancestors in the ranks of divinity and that ancestors are intensely concerned with the fate of their living descendants. The Merina and Betsileo reburial practice of famadihana, or "turning over the dead" celebrates this spiritual communion. In this ritual, relatives' remains are removed from the family tomb, rewrapped in new silk shrouds, and returned to the tomb following festive ceremonies in their honor.

About 41% of the Malagasy are Christian, divided almost evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant. Many incorporate the cult of the dead with their religious beliefs and bless their dead at church before proceeding with the traditional burial rites. They also may invite a pastor to attend a famadihana. While many Christians continue these practices, others consider them to be superstitions that should be abandoned. Many of the Christian churches are influential in politics. In the coastal regions of the provinces of Mahajanga and Antsiranana (Diego Suarez), Muslims constitute a significant minority. Muslims are divided between those of Malagasy ethnicity, Indo-Pakistanis, and Comorans.

Ethnic groups: Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo), Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry - Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava), French, Indian, Creole, Comoran

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 43.1% (male 4,762,589/female 4,693,259)
15-64 years: 53.8% (male 5,864,520/female 5,938,029)
65 years and over: 3% (male 295,409/female 372,415) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 2.952% (2012 est.)

Birth rate: 37.13 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 7.61 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth:  64 years

male: 61.97 years
female: 66.1 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 5.19 children born/woman (2008 est.)

Languages: English (official), French (official), Malagasy (official)

Literacy:  68.9% (2003 est.)

Urbanization: 30% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 3.9% (2010-15 est.)


The written history of Madagascar began in the seventh century A.D., when Arabs established trading posts along the northwest coast. European contact began in the 1500s, when Portuguese sea captain Diego Dias sighted the island after his ship became separated from a fleet bound for India. In the late 17th century, the French established trading posts along the east coast. From about 1774 to 1824, it was a favorite haunt for pirates, including Americans, one of whom brought Malagasy rice to South Carolina.

Beginning in the 1790s, Merina rulers succeeded in establishing hegemony over the majority of the island, including the coast. In 1817, the Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius concluded a treaty abolishing the slave trade, which had been important in Madagascar's economy. In return, the island received British military and financial assistance. British influence remained strong for several decades, during which the Merina court was converted to Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Anglicanism.

The British accepted the imposition of a French protectorate over Madagascar in 1885 in return for eventual control over Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) and as part of an overall definition of spheres of influence in the area. Absolute French control over Madagascar was established by military force in 1895-96, and the Merina monarchy was abolished.

Malagasy troops fought in France, Morocco, and Syria during World War I. After France fell to the Germans in World War II, the Vichy government administered Madagascar. British troops occupied the strategic island in 1942 to preclude its seizure by the Japanese. The Free French received the island from the United Kingdom in 1943.

In 1947, with French prestige at a low ebb, a nationalist uprising was suppressed after several months of bitter fighting. The French subsequently established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully toward independence. The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960.

Madagascar's first President, Philibert Tsiranana, was elected when his Social Democratic Party gained power at independence in 1960 and was reelected without opposition in March 1972. However, he resigned only 2 months later in response to massive antigovernment demonstrations. The unrest continued, and Tsiranana's successor, Gen. Gabriel Ramanantsoa, resigned on February 5, 1975, handing over executive power to Lt. Col. Richard Ratsimandrava, who was assassinated 6 days later. A provisional military directorate then ruled until a new government was formed in June 1975, under Didier Ratsiraka.

During the 16 subsequent years of President Ratsiraka's rule, Madagascar's government was committed to revolutionary socialism based on the 1975 constitution that established a highly centralized state. Elections in 1982 and 1989 returned Ratsiraka for a second and third 7-year presidential term. For much of this period, only limited and restrained political opposition was tolerated, with no direct criticism of the president permitted in the press.

In the late 1980s, the Ratsiraka regime came under increasing pressure to make fundamental changes. With a deteriorating economy, mass demonstrations, and crippling general strikes, the limited economic and political reforms Ratsiraka enacted were insufficient to placate a growing opposition movement known as Hery Velona or "Active Forces." A number of already existing political parties and their leaders, among them Albert Zafy and Rakotoniaina Manandafy, anchored this movement. In a bid to placate this opposition, Ratsiraka replaced his prime minister in August 1991 but suffered an irreparable setback soon thereafter when his troops fired on peaceful demonstrators marching on his suburban palace, killing more than 30. In an increasingly weakened position, Ratsiraka acceded to negotiations on the formation of a transitional government. The resulting "Panorama Convention" of October 31, 1991, stripped Ratsiraka of nearly all of his powers, created interim institutions, and set an 18-month timetable for completing a transition to a new form of constitutional government. The High Constitutional Court was retained as the ultimate judicial arbiter of the process. In March 1992, a widely representative National Forum organized by the Malagasy Christian Council of Churches (FFKM) drafted a new constitution, which was put to a nationwide referendum in August 1992 and approved by a wide margin, despite efforts by pro-Ratsiraka "federalists" to disrupt balloting in several coastal areas.

Presidential elections were held on November 25, 1992, after the High Constitutional Court had ruled, over "Active Forces" objections, that Ratsiraka could become a candidate. Runoff elections were held in February 1993, and the leader of the Hery Velona movement, Albert Zafy, defeated Ratsiraka. Zafy was sworn in as President on March 27, 1993. After President Zafy's impeachment by the National Assembly in 1996 and the short quasi-presidency of Norbert Ratsirahonana, the 1997 elections once again pitted Zafy and Ratsiraka, with Ratsiraka this time emerging victorious. The National Assembly, dominated by members of President Ratsiraka'a political party AREMA, subsequently passed the 1998 constitution, which considerably strengthened the presidency.

In December 2001, a presidential election was held in which both major candidates claimed victory. The Ministry of the Interior declared incumbent Ratsiraka of the AREMA party victorious. Marc Ravalomanana contested the results and claimed victory. A political crisis followed in which Ratsiraka supporters cut major transport routes from the primary port city to the capital city, a stronghold of Ravalomanana support. Sporadic violence and considerable economic disruption continued until July 2002, when Ratsiraka and several of his prominent supporters fled to exile in France. In addition to political differences, ethnic differences played a role in the crisis and continue to play a role in politics. Ratsiraka is from the coastal Betsimisaraka tribe, and Ravalomanana comes from the highland Merina tribe.

After the end of the 2002 political crisis, President Ravalomanana began many reform projects, advocating "rapid and durable development" and launching a battle against corruption. December 2002 legislative elections gave his newly formed TIM (Tiako-i-Madagasikara--I Love Madagascar) Party a commanding majority in the National Assembly. November 2003 municipal elections were conducted freely, returning a majority of supporters of the president, but also significant numbers of independent and regional opposition figures.

On March 17, 2009, after demonstrations in the capital, President Ravalomanana signed over power to the military, which in turn conferred the presidency on opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of Antananarivo and leader of the demonstrations. Rajoelina declared himself “President of the High Transitional Authority” and pledged to hold presidential elections by October 2010 (a pledge that he did not fulfill), following a constitutional referendum and revision of the electoral code. The United States condemned the unconstitutional and undemocratic change of power in Madagascar and considers the series of events of early 2009 that led to the installation of the de facto leadership to be a military coup d'etat.

On September 17, 2011, representatives of most of Madagascar's major political factions signed a "Roadmap for Ending the Crisis in Madagascar," endorsed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which aimed at ending the long political crisis through the formation of a more neutral, power-sharing interim government that would prepare the country for elections. Rajoelina has not yet implemented the necessary measures and reforms to comply with his--and his regime's--commitments under the SADC-endorsed "Roadmap."


Government Type: Republic

The principal institutions of the Republic of Madagascar are a presidency, a parliament, a prime ministry and cabinet, and an independent judiciary. The president is elected by direct universal suffrage for a 5-year term, renewable twice. The last presidential election was held on December 3, 2006. There is currently no legitimate sitting president or government in Madagascar. The following paragraphs describe the format of Madagascar's government as laid out in Madagascar's constitution.

In Madagascar, the parliament has two chambers; the National Assembly and the Senate. The last National Assembly election was held on September 23, 2007, and marked a significant reform to the parliament. The National Assembly has 127 members, elected for a 4-year term in single-member and two-member constituencies. The Senate has 33 members, with 22 members elected for a 6-year term, 1 for each province by provincial electors, and 11 members appointed by the president. Following the 2009 coup d'etat, the Malagasy National Assembly and Senate were dissolved by the de facto authorities. Thus, there is currently no legitimate legislative body in Madagascar.

The prime minister and members of parliament initiate legislation, and the government executes it. The president can dissolve the National Assembly. For its part, the National Assembly can pass a motion of censure and require the prime minister and council of ministers to step down. The Constitutional Court approves the constitutionality of new laws.

Capital: Antananarivo - 1.816 million (2009)

Administrative Divisions: 6 provinces (faritany), In an effort to decentralize administration, the country's six provinces were dissolved in the constitutional referendum of 2007, in favor of 22 regions. Decentralization is an ongoing process, and was a key element of Madagascar's development plans prior to the 2009 coup d'etat.

1. Diana 
2. Sava

3. Itasy
4. Analamanga 
5. Vakinankaratra
6. Bongolava

7. Sofia
8. Boeny
9. Betsiboka
10. Melaky

11. Alaotra Mangoro
12. Atsinanana
13. Analanjirofo

14. Amoron'i Mania
15. Haute-Matsiatra
16. Vatovavy-Fitovinany
17. Atsimo-Atsinanana
18. Ihorombe

19. Menabe
20. Atsimo-Andrefana
20. Androy
21. Anosy

Source: Per Johansson/Wikimedia Commons

Independence Date: 26 June 1960 (from France)

Legal System: based on French civil law system and traditional Malagasy law; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal caption Diademed Sifaka, an endangered endemic. Source: C.Michael Hogan

International Environmental Agreements

Madagascar is party to international agreements on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution and Wetlands.

Foreign Relations

Madagascar, which has historically been perceived as on the margin of mainstream African affairs, eagerly rejoined the African Union (AU) in July 2003 after a 14-month hiatus triggered by the 2002 political crisis, and joined SADC in 2006. From 1978 until 1991, then-President Ratsiraka emphasized independence and nonalignment and followed an "all points" policy stressing ties with socialist and radical regimes, including North Korea, Cuba, Libya, and Iran. Taking office in 1993, President Albert Zafy expressed his desire for diplomatic relations with all countries. Early in his tenure, he established formal ties with the Republic of Korea and sent emissaries to Morocco.

Starting in 1997, globalization encouraged the government and President Ratsiraka to adhere to market-oriented policies and to engage world markets. External relations reflected this trend, although Madagascar's physical isolation and strong traditional insular orientation have limited its activity in regional economic organizations and relations with its East African neighbors. During his term, President Ravalomanana welcomed relations with all countries interested in helping Madagascar to develop. He consciously sought to strengthen relations with Anglophone countries as a means of balancing historically strong French influence.

Following the 2009 coup d'etat, Madagascar was suspended from participating in AU and SADC activities until constitutional order is restored. Most donors in Madagascar, including the United States and the European Union, have suspended assistance programs to the Government of Madagascar. The United States currently undertakes only humanitarian assistance programs that have a direct impact on civilian populations in need. The AU formed an International Contact Group to coordinate international community action to ensure a return to constitutional rule as quickly as possible, and SADC appointed former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano as a mediator in the effort to find a consensual, negotiated solution to the ongoing political crisis. Additionally, the AU and others have enacted certain targeted sanctions or travel restrictions on members of the HAT regime who are impeding a return to free, fair, and durable democracy in Madagascar.

International Disputes: claims Bassas da India, Europa Island, Glorioso Islands, and Juan de Nova Island (all administered by France)


Total Renewable Water Resources: 337 cu km (1984)

Freshwater Withdrawal:  Total: 14.96 cu km/yr (3% domestic, 2% industrial, 96% agricultural). Per capita: 804 cu m/yr (2000)

Access to improved sources of drinking water: 41% of population

Access to improved sanitation facilities: 11% of population


Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the economy, accounting for more than one-fourth of GDP and employing 80% of the population.

Agricultural Products: coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (tapioca), beans, bananas, peanuts; livestock products

Irrigated Land: 10,860 sq km (2003)


Natural Resources: graphite, chromite, coal, bauxite, salt, quartz, tar sands, semiprecious stones, mica, fish, hydropower.


Energy in Madagascar
  Production Consumption Exports Imports Reserves
Electricity 1.11 billion kWh
(2008 est.)
1.032 billion kWh
(2008 est.)
0 kWh
(2009 est.)
0 kWh
(2009 est.)
Oil 0 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
22,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
0 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
16,390 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
0 bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
Natural Gas 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
Source: CIA Factbook


Issues: Inadequate sewage treatment facilities; insufficient number of physicians.

Major Infectious Diseases: degree of risk: very high

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: chikungunya, malaria, and plague
water contact disease: schistosomiasis (2008)


Structural reforms began in the late 1980s, initially under pressure from international financial institutions. An initial privatization program (1988-1993) and the development of an export processing zone (EPZ) regime in the early 1990s were key milestones in this effort. A period of significant stagnation from 1991-96 was followed by 5 years of solid economic growth and accelerating foreign investment, driven by a second wave of privatizations and EPZ development. Although structural reforms advanced, governance remained weak and perceived corruption in Madagascar was extremely high. During the period of solid growth from 1997 through 2001, poverty levels remained high, especially in rural areas. A 6-month political crisis triggered by a dispute over the outcome of the presidential elections held in December 2001 virtually halted economic activity in the first half of 2002.

Following the 2002 political crisis, in coordination with international financial institutions and the donor community, the government attempted to set a new policy course and build business confidence. Madagascar developed a recovery plan in collaboration with the private sector and donors and presented it at a 2002 "Friends of Madagascar" conference in Paris organized by the World Bank. Donor countries demonstrated their confidence in the new government by pledging $1 billion in assistance over 5 years. The Malagasy Government identified road infrastructure as its principal priority and underlined its commitment to public-private partnership by establishing a joint public-private sector steering committee.

In 2000, Madagascar prepared a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. The boards of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank agreed in December 2000 that the country had reached the decision point for debt relief under the HIPC Initiative and defined a set of conditions for Madagascar to reach the completion point. In October 2004, the boards of the IMF and the World Bank determined that Madagascar had reached the completion point under the enhanced HIPC Initiative.

The Madagascar-U.S. Business Council was formed in Madagascar in 2002. The U.S.-Madagascar Business Council was formed in the United States in May 2003, and the two organizations continue to explore ways to work for the benefit of both groups. An American Chamber of Commerce was launched at the end of 2008 and remains active even after the 2009 coup d'etat.

Madagascar’s ongoing political crisis continues to negatively impact key economic indicators and the business sector. Due to the actions of the HAT regime, Madagascar no longer met eligibility requirements for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as of the end of 2009, a situation which resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs. Swaths of the country have returned to a barter economy, and standards of living have progressively declined since the coup.

Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the economy, accounting for more than one-fourth of GDP and employing 80% of the population. Exports of apparel boomed in recent years primarily due to duty-free access to the US, however, Madagascar's failure to comply with the requirements of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) led to the termination of the country's duty-free access in January 2010 and a sharp fall in textile production.

Deforestation and erosion, aggravated by the use of firewood as the primary source of fuel, are serious concerns.

The current political crisis, which began in early 2009, has dealt additional blows to the economy. Tourism dropped more than 50% in 2009 compared with the previous year, and many investors are wary of entering the uncertain investment environment.

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $20.6 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $9.4 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $900 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 28.8%
industry: 16.6%
services: 54.6% (2011 est.)

Population Below Poverty Line: 50% (2004 est.)

Industries: meat processing, seafood, soap, breweries, tanneries, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly plant, paper, petroleum, tourism

Exports: coffee, vanilla, shellfish, sugar, cotton cloth, chromite, petroleum products

Export Partners: France 31.9%, US 26.7%, Germany 6.1%, UK 4.9%, Italy 4.4% (2006)

Imports: capital goods, petroleum, consumer goods, food

Import Partners: France 14%, China 13.4%, Iran 8.4%, Hong Kong 5.2%, Mauritius 5.2% (2006)

Economic Aid Recipient: $929.2 million (2005)

Currency: ariary (MGA)

Ports and Terminals: Antsiranana, Mahajanga, Toamasina, Toliara.

Further Reading

  • Luc Eyraud. 2009. Madagascar: a competitiveness and exchange rate assessment. 30 pages
  • International Monetary Fund. 2003. Madagascar: poverty reduction strategy paper. 245 pages


Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2013). Madagascar. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbee5d7896bb431f697512


To add a comment, please Log In.