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 tavy. 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 (wildmadagascar.org). A very similar, yet downscaled, 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” (wildmadagascar.org) 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.
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.
Steinberg, Theodore. Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. New York Oxford UP, 2013. Print.