Tuesday, 9 February 2010


It is 1896. You keep watch while your father hunts. If you see the French coming through the forest you are to make the special call. You hold your breath, listening.

Deep thuds make a bass note to the usual forest sounds. It is the steady pounding of axes as the French clear the forest.

Your father has heard their plans. In the Central Highlands they will grow rice; in the north cloves, vanilla and sugar; and in the west rice, maize and cattle. Here, where you live, they will clear the ancient forests to plant lucrative coffee, the crop that causes the most erosion because it leaves the soil unprotected.

This is how they will harness Madagascar’s precious land, the complex ecosystems which evolved in isolation over one hundred and sixty five million years to produce unique plants and animals. Rare orchids and lemurs, spiny forests and hundreds of species of frogs; all of Madagascar’s riches will give way to the needs of Europe’s hungry population.

Families like yours will be forced onto marginal lands, causing yet more damage to the island. In just over a century, two thirds of your people will live in abject poverty as Madagascar’s red soil bleeds out into the sea.