By Patrick Greenfield
Madagascar has lost nearly a quarter of its forest cover since 2001. Slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging and charcoal production have resulted in the large-scale clearing of ecosystems formed during the 88m years since the island separated from India.
Nearly all lemur species are now threatened with extinction, as is much of Madagascar’s biodiversity. Forest conservation and the development of sustainable sources of timber and charcoal, while reforesting large areas, are key challenges this century, especially for the millions of Malagasies whose livelihoods depend on them. As the planet heats, seed-banking threatened plant species has become an urgent task.
“Communities which live nearby depend on the forest for their survival. They find food, medicine, construction wood and water. The forest provides vital services like water catchment, pollution control, erosion protection and climate regulation,” says Vonona Randrianasolo, a researcher at Kew’s Madagascar conservation centre, who travels around Madagascar to collect seeds from threatened plant species. “Saving seeds is the best way to save many species from extinction. My actions are for future generations. I feel proud.”