Advisor: Dr. Arjun Guneratne, Macalester College


In conservation discourse Madagascar is often portrayed as an environmental battleground; over 80% of its species are endemic and under direct threat from a booming indigenous Malagasy population. As the majority of Madagascar’s population are rural subsistence agriculturalists, conservation programs are faced with the paradox of preserving biodiversity without interrupting the livelihoods of the communities peripheral to protected areas. The proposed solution to this problem is integrated conservation and development programs, which are designed to “translate” conservation principles to local populations and economically compensate them for land loss. Unfortunately, local conceptions of moral land use and cultivation are not being re-translated into international conservation discourse. This thesis argues that this mis-translation results in parks that preserve biodiversity at the cost of local food security, or fail to protect biodiversity under the pressure of illegal forest use by the local populations.

This thesis is based on two months of research in villages within and bordering protected areas in Madagascar. Through participant observation and fifty-five ethnographic interviews of subsistence agriculturalists, local guides, and park managers, I attempted to understand the relationship between local communities and protected areas in Madagacar, and map the flow of resources across the constructed boundaries of national parks. While my thesis is argued through mini-ethnographies of three villages living under conservation programs, I use political ecology as a theoretical framework to bring their local experiences into national and international discourse over what to “save” in Madagascar and how best to save it.



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