You kept watch while your father hunted.

It was 1896. If you saw the French coming through the forest, you were to make the special call. You held your breath, listening. 

Deep thuds made a bass note to the usual forest sounds. It was the steady pounding of axes as the French cleared the forest. 

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

This is how they planned to harness Madagascar’s precious land, the complex ecosystems which had evolved in isolation over one hundred and sixty 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 would have to give way to the needs of Europe’s hungry population. 

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


Alex Harvie

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