The sale of 1.3 million hectares in 2008 to the South Korean company Daewoo was one of the major issues behind the 2009 protests against the government of Marc Ravalomanana, now exiled in South Africa. Under the new government of Andry Rajoelina, negotiations on land seem to happen more at regional and local levels. Transparency remains a serious issue, explains Mamy Rakotondrainibe of the Collectif pour la Défense des Terres Malgaches (CDTM). That vast area was to be leased for 99-years without any financial compensation for the Malagasy people and was to be used to produce corn and palm oil for biofuel. Most of the output would have been exported to South Korea which triggered critics in Madagascar, a net food staff importer.
The proposed sale followed a change of the land tenure legislation in 2003, under the pressure of the World Bank and the IMF, which allowed foreign corporations to buy land. This was not in line with local sensitivities since land is considered sacred, a heritage from the ancestors. The problem is also that only a small part of the population has land titles, owing to red tape obstacles to get documentation of land ownership. Eventually, the strong mobilization against the project stopped it.
A similar situation occurred with the Indian corporation Varun which was negotiating a farming deal to use 465,000 ha for a 50 years period. In exchange for the land, the Indian firm would build a number of hydroelectric power plants, water supply systems and schools. 70% of the production would have gone to Varun while the remaining quantities would have remained to the owners of the land. CDTM was critical about the terms of the deal, fearing that at the end of the day, part of the farmers would have no choice but migrate or start farming in protected areas.
Eventually, owing to the popular outcry, none of these projects materialized. But others are being implemented. One is being developed by UK-based GEM Biofuels Plc which signed a deal to acquire 452,000 ha to grow jatropha and sugar cane to produce biodiesel and ethanol. Other biofuels companies such as Jason World Energy, Dreyfus, Bioenergy South Africa, Vertical SEA and D1 Oils are also trying to set up similar projects.
Mamy Rakotondrainibe and his friends of the Collectif pour la Défense des Terres Malgaches also expose the destruction of graves during the grabbing of vast areas in the Ihorombe highlands by Indian-owned Landmark Madagascar Corporation and Tozzi Green, which signed a contract for the lease of 100,000 ha of land.
Land grabbing is not the only scourge in the current difficult period through which Madagascar’s economy and society are going through. Madagascar has witnessed a decrease of the development aid from US $ 700 million to 405 million between 2008 and 2011, and the loss of 50,000 jobs in the textile industry, owing to USA decision to deny Madagascar clothing duty and quota free access to its market. The crisis has sparked a spectacular and unregulated rush to the country’s resources, which is extremely damaging in the long run.
Intensive illegal logging of rosewood and mahogany is taking place in the World Heritage national parks of Masoala and Mananara in the North Eastern part of the country. On top of that, illegal mining in the Ambatodrazaka protected area, some 180 km to north of Antananarivo, is depleting the forest. Owing to this kind of practice and slash-and-burn agriculture, over 520,000 ha of forest have disappeared in Madagascar in the past decade. Environmentalists fear that at the current pace, the country could turn into a new Haiti, where most of the forest cover has been destroyed, in less than a decade.
In late 2009, two researchers of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Porter Lowey and Derek Schuurman, reported an “unprecedented highly organized expansion in the illegal timber trade operating in the wake of the country’s political turmoil with more than 625 containers of rosewood – worth an estimated 130 million US$ – leaving the port of Vohemar since early 2009”. Since then, the situation has dramatically deteriorated, Joseph Randriamiarisoa, the minister of Environment, told SouthWorld. The minister blames Mamy Ravotomanga, a businessman close to President Andry Rajoelina, as the mastermind of the trafficking. The later denies and says he will sue the minister for libel.
Meanwhile, other scandals are happening. At the beginning of his mandate, the minister discovered that only 17,000 of the 90,000 ha state-owned wood producing areas remained covered by trees. Accordingly, high ranking politicians were involved in the plundering of resources. On top of that, while traffickers are making huge profits, the Ministry of Environment can hardly cope. It only employs 114 forest guards for a country larger twice than the UK and Ireland combined, whereas the neighbouring French tiny island of La Réunion can rely on nearly 300 guards.