The Deforestation of Madagascar and its Similarities to America- Matt Sargent

Madagascar is known for its extremely beautiful rainforests, but those same beautiful rainforests are quickly dying. 90% of the country’s original forest cover of the country is now gone (WWF). The main cause of this major deforestation is a method of clearing out land called Deforestation-of-TRF-a-case-study-of-Madagascar_img_3tavy. Over 64% of deforestation in Madagascar comes from this illegal method (Callahan). The impacts of deforestation in Madagascar are massive. They include climate change, loss of plant
life, but most importantly, and what will be focused on in this blog, soil erosion. What’s most interesting about deforestation in Madagascar is how similar it is to deforestation in America and how similar the environmental effects of abusing the land in Madagascar are to the effects in America.

Ted Steinberg, in his book Down to Earth, writes about how colonists used to cut down their forests, abuse the land by overgrowing crops, and then move on to new forest to cut down. While the word tavy might seem foreign, the meaning of the word is actually very relevant, Tavy is the method of cutting a forest and burning it, clearing out the land for further use. Farmers use this now cleared out land to plant crops and the wood that was cut down is sold as lumber. After one or two years of growing crops, the field is then left alone for a few more and then the cycle is repeated until the land is physically exhausted. Both of these styles did similarly clear out land, but also led to major problems with deforestation in both countries.
The methods that colonists and the people of Madagascar used were indeed very similar, but they also held similarities elsewhere. The massive deforestation of Madagascar had extreme effects on the environment, including the destruction of habitats. With over 90% of the country’s original forest cover being gone, 90% of habitats in the forest then go with it. That right there is a devastating blow to the environment because of how unique the animal life in Madagascar is. “Of more than 200,000 known species found on Madagascar, more than 80 percent exist nowhere else” (Butler) The aye aye, lemurs (which are now the most endangered species (Life Science), and countless other species are now considered endangered because of their loss of habitats due to deforestation ( A very similar, yet downscaled,madagascartropicalrainforest.blogspot.com_.es_forestdestruction version of this also happened when Americans expanded, creating railroads and moving out West in the 1800s. This was especially the case in the Southern states where the forest cover declined by 40% (Steinberg, 110). Building these railroads and traveling with their horses, wagons, and livestock, they cut down trees and trampled vegetation. They cleared paths they could travel through and fed their animals with the food that was naturally there. Those trees they chopped down and that vegetation they destroyed happened to be home of countless lifeforms. “Deers, bears, and turkeys disappeared as the woodlands vanished. Ginseng, mayapple, and other plants, which mountaineers had collected and exchanged at stores for cash, met a similar fate.”(Steinberg, 111)

Soil erosion was another major factor that came from deforestation. In Madagascar soil erosion led to “the filling and clogging of coastal waterways with sediment” ( of the Betsiboka Esturary, which is the mouth of Madagascar’s longest river, as seen in the images. In the past boats had been able to go upstream but now because of this soil erosion they can’t. In America they got much more lucky. In the South farmers had to begin planting their cotton on hills because of how much land was already cleared out and being used. They also had to use fertilizer for the crop because of how badly they physically drained the land. This all led to soil erosion but instead of it flowing down into a river like it did in Madagascar, it instead flowed down into more land, redistributing the soil wealth. American farmers easily could have caused serious environmental issues like the Malagasy farmers did, instead they lucked out and helped themselves out.

Betsiboka Esturary in 2004

Betsiboka Esturary in 2004

Betsiboka Esturary in 1985

Betsiboka Esturary in 1985

When someone is asked what they first think of when they hear the word Madagascar, they’ll either think of the movie Madagascar, or the beautiful rainforests and scenery of the island. So when I learned that the rainforests are being depleted at the rate that they are, it amazed me that this wasn’t more of a known problem. What amazed me even more was howsimilar that the way deforestation in Madagascar occurred and the effects that came with it were so similar to the way deforestation in America occurred.

Works Cited

Steinberg, Theodore. Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. New York Oxford UP, 2013. Print.


11 thoughts on “The Deforestation of Madagascar and its Similarities to America- Matt Sargent

  1. awshue

    This is a very informative post Sarge. I don’t think many people in the US know anything about Madagascar so it was interesting to find out they are facing a lot of issues that other developing countries are facing. I also liked the pictures you put because they show the harm that sediment pollution is causing in what must be a beautiful country.

  2. aciaramitaro

    Enjoyed this post very much Sarge, also a huge fan of the Movie! This is something that I was very unaware of, because I always supposed Madagascar was very protected. I like the connections that you made to Sternberg and our class, it is always interesting to see what history repeat itself in other parts of the world and how they decide to handle the issues that arrive. Like many forrest around our world, it will be interesting to see how how these conflicts get handled in the near future.

  3. zak gentile

    It seems to me that the rainforests are so essential to existing species that in the future if the rainforests go so do these species. Thats scary to think about. The fact that 80 percent of Madagascar’s rain forest species are unique to that area is incredible. I never thought about the soil erosion aspect of deforestation only clear cutting. Well done Sarge learned a lot and you related it to Down to Earth very well.

  4. Emily B.

    I like the strong connections you made to the book Down to Earth. The deforestation seems to be a major issue regarding wildlife in Madagascar, which as you pointed out is what it is most known for. Do you believe the same detriments to wildlife have been made in the U.S. but that it just goes more unnoticed considering we don’t have quite so many exotic species? If so, which species are presently in the greatest danger?

  5. Jonathan Palmer

    I thought the pictures were nice, they clearly showed the problems Madagascar is having with deforestation. I especially liked the first one, it makes it clear how much forest they have lost. You provided a lot of information that was helpful in understanding the topic. I wasn’t aware of this problem before reading this blog. You also connected this issue to Steinberg and American deforestation, which was a good addition to your blog. I also enjoy the movie and that’s what i picture when I hear Madagascar, but after reading this I realize it is not exactly like that.

  6. mlongbi101anselm

    It sounds to me like they need to learn from the previous mistakes made by settlers in the United States. Although Indians used slash mechanisms to improve the land, it does not sound like the folks in Madagascar have similar interest. One thing that was confusing to me was the reason for the tavy; are these people destroying the land to develop a greater agricultural revenue?

  7. Nick Rolli Post author

    You used your sources very nicely. This was an interesting blog to read because I only picture Madagascar the movie whenever I hear the word, and never knew about such deforestation issues. Interesting to see how problems from the past in America are occurring in Madagascar. Your first picture really explains how the environment is being harmed continuously as the years go on. Hopefully there is an end to this.

  8. earthhist Post author

    Great post. I loved the strong connection you made between the situation in Madagascar to Down to Earth, nice job applying current events to in-class material. It’s scary to think about what will happen to the 200,000 species that live on Madagascar with 90% deforestation. This article sheds a lot of light on an issue that needs more attention. – Lucas DeAngelo

  9. Sarah Bartlett

    Your blog post was extremely informative Matt. I have never heard of this illegal deforestation method called tavy before. It is so sad that 90% of this rainforest has been destroyed by humans. Rainforests are one of the most beautiful natural biomes on earth and producers focus more on the extrinsic value of the forests rater than the intrinsic value. The rainforest has been completely commodified and it is very alarming. I really enjoyed how you compared the deforestation in Madagascar to the deforestation that occurred in America since we read about that in class. It really surprised me that soil erosion from deforestation led to the filling and clogging of coastal waterways. Most people, including myself, would not connect the rainforest’s trees being cut down to soil erosion.

  10. christian smith

    Sarge, your blog post was very interesting and informative great job, This post really help settle my confusion over some of there results caused by deforestation and I will surely be using some of this information in my global engagement paper on the deforestation of India. It really blows me away the amount of damage done and how rapidly these forrest are disappearing.

  11. katieneyland

    Great blog post Sarge! I really liked how in depth it went with the comparison between American deforestation and Madagascar’s deforestation. I was startled to learn that 90% of the forest was already gone. The image you picked to illustrate this really helped get you point across. Do you know where all the deforested wood is going or how its being used? Are there any measures being taken to help stop or slow the deforestation process? Because there has already been so much damage, do scientists think that the ecosystem can be salvaged?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s