MADAGASCAR: New eco-deals protect unique forests

Thursday, June 19, 2008
Madagascar has signed a series of environment agreements to protect unique forests and support local communities as part of a commitment by the government to ramp up environmental protection on the Indian Ocean island.

In its largest ever debt-for-nature swap, Madagascar signed a deal with France this month, in which US$20 million of debt owed to the former colonial power was put into a conservation fund, the Foundation for Protected Areas and Biodiversity (FPAB).

"Thanks to this, the money will go into the protection of the Malagasy environment instead of to France," Nani Ratsifandrihamanana, the environment director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told IRIN.

Her organisation played a crucial role in brokering the deal that will help protect Madagascar's forests, home to many of the world's most fascinating creatures. Nearly all the island's land mammals, over 90 percent of its reptiles and 80 percent of its plants are found nowhere else.

In a separate deal, Madagascar committed itself to selling nine million tons of carbon offsets to help protect its forests. The money will be used to protect the vast Makira forest, one of several under threat as a result of the poverty of the overwhelmingly rural population.

Scientists say deforestation in the tropics contributes to about 20 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions and that reducing deforestation is one of the quickest ways to fight climate change. Deforestation in Africa is twice as high as anywhere else in the world, where some 13 million hectares of forest are cleared every year.

Conservation International (CI), a non-profit environmental group, said the main drivers of deforestation in Madagascar were slash-and-burn agriculture, charcoal production for use in towns and cities, mining, and the conversion of forest to plant maize.

Reducing deforestation is a hard battle to win because more than 75 percent of the island's 18 million people are rural and depend on land and natural resources.

The new carbon credit deal, managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), based at the Bronx Zoo in the US, represents an innovative way to tackle the problem.

Offset schemes allow polluters to pay for emission cuts in other countries, while providing a source of precious foreign currency to developing countries.

The Malagasy government has had some success in forest protection in recent years and has been able to increase the number and size of protected areas. According to environmentalists, the rate of deforestation has been dramatically cut in some of these areas.