Madagascar, officially the Republic of Madagascar and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an island country in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa. The nation comprises the island of Madagascar and numerous smaller peripheral islands. Following the prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar split from the Indian peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. The island's diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are threatened by the encroachment of the rapidly growing human population and other environmental threats.
At 592,800 square kilometres (228,900 sq mi), Madagascar is the world's 47th largest country and the fourth-largest island. The country lies mostly between latitudes 12°S and 26°S, and longitudes 43°E and 51°E. Neighboring islands include the French territory of Réunion and the country of Mauritius to the east, as well as the state of Comoros and the French territory of Mayotte to the north west. The nearest mainland state is Mozambique, located to the west.
Madagascar is sometimes referred to as the ‘Great Red Island’ because of its reddish soils. A high central plateau runs from north to south, separating the drier western lands from the tropical rain forests of the eastern coast. A n average of 1513mm of rain falls per year, although significant regional disparities mean that some parts of the island suffer from chronic water shortages.
Important Environmental Issues
Geographically and biologically isolated for millions of years, Madagascar is home to a vast array of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, including an estimated 102 mammals, 202 amphibians, 111 birds, 332 reptiles, and approximately 500 vascular plants. Unfortunately, habitat destruction from expanding agriculture and increased deforestation threatens this biodiversity. As a result, Madagascar as more endangered species than any other country in Africa, and is one of the world's 25 global biodiversity hotspots.
However, soil erosion, endemism and threats to biodiversity as well as deforestation are the main environmental problems in Madagascar. Caused by a combination of torrential rains, deforestation and overgrazing, erosion in Madagascar is particularly a serious problem as nearly three three quarters of its land is classified as severely degraded (FAO AGL, 2003). Estimated annual soil loss in Madagascar ranges between 200 to 400 metric tonnes per hectare, which is approximately 20 to 40 times the global average. Also, as much as a third of Madagascar burns every year due mainly to people setting fires to clear land and revitalize pastures. Often these fires spread into adjacent wildlands, causing damage to the island’s unique ecosystems.
Madagascar's GDP in 2015 was estimated at 9.98 billion USD, with a per capita GDP of $411.82. The average growth rate has risen from 2.6% in 2012 to about 4.1% in 2016, due to public works programs and a growth of the service sector. The agriculture sector constituted 29 percent of Malagasy GDP in 2011, while manufacturing formed 15 percent of GDP. Madagascar's other sources of growth are tourism, agriculture and the extractive industries.
Tourism is a large driver of the economy, with tourists drawn to the island's unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural habitats, national parks and lemur species. In 2016, 293,000 tourists landed in the African island with an increase of 20% compared to 2015. For 2017 the country has the goal of reaching 366,000 visitors, while for 2018 government estimates are expected to reach 500,000 annual tourists.
Madagascar and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa
Madagascar became an associate member of the GDSA in early 2017 (with the appointment of a government Focal Point). Shortly thereafter, in October 2017, Madagascar became a signatory of the GDSA when, during a GDSA Ministers’ Forum held in Botswana, a representative of the government appended his signature onto the declaration.
Image credits, top to bottom: © Cristina Mittermeier; © Cristina Mittermeier; © Kim Reuter