Observations On Repressive Environmental Policies And Landscape Burning Strategies In Madagascar


  • Christian Kull


Madagascar is aflame. Slash-and-burn fires nibble at the rainforest, while vast conflagrations burn a quarter to a third of the grasslands each year. Environmentalists decry these fires as a root cause of deforestation, soil degradation, and habitat destruction. Yet, during a year of fieldwork in a highland Madagascar village, my impression was that to the rural residents, vegetation fires are an ordinary event, not worthy of note. Even as fire advances down a nearby slope, farmers continue to till the earth and market-goers chat as flames lick at the grass along their path. During the course of an interview, smoke may have billowed up from across the valley, but this never entered the conversation unless I brought it up. Two distinct reasons contribute to making these fires "non-events." First, burning is a useful, common, and well-adapted environmental management practice, hardly worth a notice. Outsiders to rural Madagascar often hold the bias that fire is detrimental, potentially dangerous, or at the very least extraordinary. In rural Madagascar, fire is central to the agropastoral logic that governs Malagasy farming systems.