Madagascar Bleeds

During the summer of 2015, the DLC brought a student from the North Carolina School of Science and Math to participate in education program activities. Caleb Caton joined the team and led tours, maintained the tour path and gardens, and he wrote this blog report on a topic of his choosing – erosion in Madagascar.

August 19, 2015 — In Madagascar, unsustainable farming practices can permanently scar the environment.

After years of farming on a plot of land that has been slashed and burned, the soil becomes empty of nutrients, useless for both lemurs and people. Forest soil requires the cycling of nutrients from dead plants to the soil in order to stay productive. Slash-and-burn agriculture is only sustainable if the land is allowed to fallow, or regrow vegetation, every few years after being burned.

A tree is only half the picture; plants have about as much root mass as the mass visible above ground! Without the large root systems that hold the soil in place, the red Madagascar soil is more exposed to erosion. Rain lifts the soil and washes it into streams and rivers, leaving eroded gullies behind. Sediment can also cover downstream rice fields, or build up in irrigation canals.

This is happening in the central plateau of Madagascar, where people have been living the longest, and the original forests have not existed for about the same amount of time. People depend on most of their agriculture just to feed themselves, and the amount of land suitable for rice farming is decreasing as Madagascar’s population increases.


Erosion from space- the Betsiboka River runs red with sediment. Google Earth, 4/9/2013


The World Bank, a non-profit organization against poverty, says that “a more holistic approach to fight land degradation and manage water resources will be crucial to sustain growth and lift out of poverty the 92% of the population still living on less than two dollars a day.” In other words, the only way to help the remaining natural lands is to help the people manage the land they have in a sustainable way, for their sake and the lemurs.

Read their story: