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Priorities in conflict: Livelihood practices, environmental threats, and the conservation of biodiversity in Madagascar

Michael Joseph Simsik, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Madagascar is one of the richest sites of biodiversity in the world. During the last two decades, it has been the recipient of large amounts of foreign aid in an effort to halt biodiversity depletion. Despite these efforts, deforestation continues unabated and the conservation activities undertaken to date have been largely ineffective. To better understand the reasons for continued environmental degradation in Madagascar, a political ecology research framework is used to identify different social actor groups vying for access to natural resources and the extent to which their actions influence biodiversity conditions on the island. The application of this framework in a region on the central highlands of Madagascar reveals that local actors (most of whom are subsistence agriculturalists) resent conservation programs that fail to consider them as part of the “biodiversity” that international environmental nongovernmental organizations (IENGOs) are laboring to conserve. Local actors are frustrated by state-sponsored conservation programs that simultaneously victimize and penalize them by taking away traditional lands and then giving them “protected area” status. At the same time, elite and extralocal interests (e.g., politicians, businessmen), in collaboration with government civil servants, exert their power and influence to mine state resources for their personal benefit. It is this inequality in power and influence that permits extralocal actors to continue the pillaging of state resources without any accountability, as IENGOs and their donors willfully turn a blind eye to these activities. This research posits that contrary to the conventional wisdom of IENGOs working in the country, it is extralocal actors, and not local ones, who are primarily responsible for biodiversity depletion in this region of Madagascar. The behaviors of all of the actors in this situation assure the continuation of the status quo, which includes current patterns of biodiversity elimination. If this situation continues, the Malagasy rainforest and associated biodiversity will surely be eliminated within this century. To be more effective, IENGOs in Madagascar and elsewhere must take a more vigorous stance in undertaking activities that genuinely address local needs as well as the fundamental causes of biodiversity depletion.

Subject Area

Geography|Forestry|Cultural anthropology|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Simsik, Michael Joseph, "Priorities in conflict: Livelihood practices, environmental threats, and the conservation of biodiversity in Madagascar" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3096315.