Madagascar and New Report for USAID


New report shows that as rare lemurs and tortoises are being captured at rates that “ensure their extinction in the wild”, the US needs to look beyond the political turmoil to save this global treasure

Arlington, Virginia – Twenty-five years of environmental assistance in Madagascar by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has achieved major progress in the biologically spectacular nation, but the gains are at critical risk of being reversed – and will likely be lost all together - if the international community continues to punish its government for the ongoing political situation.

That was the conclusion of a major new report which was commissioned by USAID’s Bureau for Africa, following the 2009 coup d’état in Madagascar and subsequent US suspension of environmental funding. The report, a comprehensive review of environmental assistance by the United States to Madagascar dating back to 1984, was produced by the International Resources Group (IRG), and launched at Conservation International’s (CI) global headquarters in Arlington this week.

It presents three provocative ‘scenarios’ for the international community to consider for future policy, including a massive commitment of new aid to save Madagascar’s forests and flagship species well into the future:

  • Scenario 1: Forget it; it’s already too late and nothing we can realistically do will save Madagascar’s remaining forest resources.-  This scenario proposes that USAID invest its scarce resources in other places, where the situation is more favorable to positive and sustainable outcome.
  • Scenario 2: Keep on track. Do more of the same, but do it better – this scenario proposes reprioritizing USAID intervention to areas identified as likely to offer the greatest impact, and adding significantly more resources with assurances that funding will continue for at least another 20 years
  • Scenario 3: Break all the rules and go for it. The ends justify the means – this scenario recognizes that the international community values Madagascar’s biodiversity far more than its own government and people do, and must be willing to pay for its protection at a massive scale into the distant future. Funds would be used for direct payments to Malagasy communities that forego activities harmful to the environment.

“It’s time for a truly global commitment, regardless of temporary political impasse”, said Conservation International President, Dr. Russ Mittermeier, addressing members of the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG) during a presentation of the report’s highlights.

A globally recognized primatologist and expert on the ecology of Madagascar, Dr. Mittermeier added, “USAID, together with the World Bank, has been the leader of biodiversity conservation efforts over the past 25 years, and the program there has not only been one of USAID’s best on the biodiversity issue, but one of the best programs overall. Now is not the time to withdraw.  Aid continues to provide substantial humanitarian assistance to Madagascar, but it is now imperative to recognize that the environment must be considered part of any humanitarian package.”

The review, titled Paradise Lost? Lessons from 25 Years of USAID Environment Programs in Madagascar, charts numerous environmental achievements made in the island nation over the past quarter century, including the establishment of new institutions to create policy and co-manage natural resources;  a sweeping initiative to create protected areas; a credible national park system that has shown comparatively low rates of deforestation; and an overall slowed loss of deforestation from 400,000 hectares per year in 1985 (~1,550 sq. miles), to approximately 50,000 ha. (~193 sq. miles) today.

At the same time, the review chronicles very real setbacks to environmental conservation in Madagascar, and deepening challenges:

  • Madagascar’s environment is in significantly worse shape now than it was 25 years ago, and has lost nearly 2 million hectares of pristine natural forest since 1990, in spite of efforts by USAID, Madagascar and the donor community
  • The population has doubled:  in 1990 Madagascar had about 11 million ha of forest and 11 million people. Today, it has about 9 million ha of forest left, and 20 million people, who rely on the island nation’s dwindling natural resources for their food, water, and climate security;
  • The remaining vegetation is increasingly vulnerable – 80% of forests are now located within one km of a non-forest edge – easily accessible to people

US Ambassador to Madagascar, Niels Marquardt, wrote in the Foreword to the report: “Since the coup d’état in March 2009, biodiversity-rich sites and the local communities that are dependent on them have been under attack by unscrupulous profiteers. While not new, this illegal logging has now reached unprecedented levels.. approximately 400 trees per day are being cut in some regions.”

Ambassador  Marquardt continued, “Threatened animals, including several particularly endangered species of rare lemurs and tortoise, are being captured for export and for food at rates that ensure their extinction in the wild, unless this trend can be reversed.”

“We don’t want Madagascar to wind up like a huge Haiti,” said Dr. Mittermeier, “but if things continue, they will.  The world has already made a huge commitment to Haiti, a country less than 1/20 the size of Madagascar. We need at least a comparable effort for this truly amazing global gem that Madagascar represents.” 
Described by scientists as a ‘megadiversity’ hotspot, or one of the biologically richest and most endangered ecoregions on Earth, Madagascar’s shrinking ecosystems support a wealth of plant and animal species found nowhere else, including: 25 endemic families of plants and vertebrates , many more than any other country; 363 known reptile species, 260 species of birds, and 101 species of lemurs which are 100% endemic, and 244 species of known amphibians, with hundreds more still being described. The island nation’s natural resources also support a human population that is rapidly increasing, and totally reliant on the many ecosystem services that nature provides.

“The world simply cannot give up on Madagascar.  It is perhaps the highest priority biodiversity hotspots on our planet and we have both a moral and scientific obligation to save what remains there,” added Dr. Mittermeier, author of Lemurs of Madagascar and other publications on the region. “The commitment of aid agencies such as USAID has made a huge difference over the past 25 years in protecting its irreplaceable natural resources and biodiversity. What we need now is not less, but much much more.”

“I’m hopeful”, added Tim Resch, Environmental Advisor to USAID Bureau for Africa, at the report’s launch. “This review gives us a real platform to launch a wider discussion about how USAID might respond when the opportunity to re-engage with Madagascar presents itself. Let’s all hope that happens soon.”


Read the report here:  

Photos from Madagascar available for download to journalists:
For more information:
Kim McCabe
U.S. Media Manager, Conservation International
office: 703-341-2546
mobile:  202-203-9927

Note to editors:
Conservation International (CI):
Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. For more information, visit

Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG):  The ABCG is comprised of seven U.S.-based international conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with field programs in Africa. ABCG explores emerging and high priority African conservation issues, shares lessons learned, and seeks opportunities for collaboration, and its goal is to work collaboratively, efficiently and effectively to further a sustainable future for the African continent. Members include: the African Wildlife Foundation, Conservation International, the Jane Goodall Institute, The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fun. Visit,