, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 191-199

Deforestation in the Madagascar Highlands – Established `truth' and scientific uncertainty

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Abstract

The Madagascar central highlands with their red soils and erosion gullies are often held up as a frightening example of the consequences of deforestation. They are also used as a model of how the entire island will look if so-called `forest unfriendly activities' of local people continue. This insight is based on a narrative that describes the highlands as totally forested by the time of human arrival and gradually deforested as a response to human activities. This paper questions the deforestation narrative of Madagascar and points at alternative explanations for present day land cover. By the use of alternative sources of information the paper presents a counter-narrative that sees the treeless rolling planes of Madagascar as a result of several abiotic and biotic changes and not as the work of one single agent. The paper points at the political nature of the deforestation narrative as an explanation for its hegemonic position. On a theoretical level the paper makes an attempt to investigate the epistemological implication of a social constructivist approach to environmental discourses in Third World settings.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.