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Defining and Explaining Tropical Deforestation: Shifting Cultivation and Population Growth in Colonial Madagascar (1896-1940)

Lucy Jarosz
Economic Geography
Vol. 69, No. 4, Environment and Development, Part 2 (Oct., 1993), pp. 366-379
Published by: Clark University
DOI: 10.2307/143595
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/143595
Page Count: 14
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Defining and Explaining Tropical Deforestation: Shifting Cultivation and Population Growth in Colonial Madagascar (1896-1940)
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Abstract

Shifting cultivators are often held responsible for deforestation in the humid tropics. The neo-Malthusian link between population growth and shifting cultivation negates historical considerations of the political economy of deforestation in specific places. Using concepts drawn from regional geography and political ecology, this paper examines the role played by the colonial state in the organization of land use and agriculture as central to an explanation of deforestation in Madagascar. Almost three-quarters of the primary forest was cleared from 1895 to 1925 due to the state's economic objectives, ideologically expressed as a concern for rational forest management and conservation. This concern prompted a ban on shifting cultivation. The Malagasy interpreted the ban as depriving them of independent access to subsistence and forcing them into wage work. This case study demonstrates how ideas concerning shifting cultivation and deforestation are political constructions of various groups with specific material interests. A synthesis of the political ecology and regional geography perspectives reveals how a consideration of the interactions among human groups, the environment, and social formations is central to a regional explanation of tropical deforestation. Population growth and shifting cultivation practices cannot fully account for deforestation in Madagascar during the colonial period.

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