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Case Study 3: Morondava Forest (West Coast of Madagascar)

1. Management of dry forests in Madagascar
2. Morondava forests

1. Management of dry forests in Madagascar

1.1 Background
1.2 Menabe Programme

1.1 Background

About 1 million ha of dry forests are currently reserved, including two integral natural reserves, the Bemaraha Tsingy and the Ankarafantsika stand, totalling some 200 000 ha.

In order to develop the Malagasy forests, at the beginning of the 1970s the forestry services undertook a number of activities with FAO support, and in particular drew up local forest inventories (FAO, 1972). One of the results of these surveys was a proposal to set up three Forestry Vocational Training Centres (FVTC), for each major ecological zone of Madagascar: the West Coast, the Highlands, the East Coast. These FVTCs are intended to develop rational wood logging and processing methods and to train professionals in both these activities. The Morondava FVTC for the West Coast and the Fianarantsoa FVTC for the Highlands were created in 1978 while the one for the East Coast has not yet been established.

In view of the degradation of the forests and the environment, many projects were set in motion at the end of the 1980s. Three surveys financed in 1994-1995 under the Forest Management and Protection have a major importance in terms of the future of the forests: help in drafting the national forestry policy, national forest inventory, and management of human resources in the forestry sector.

1.2 Menabe Programme

The Menabe Programme is the present outcome of Swiss aid to the forest/environment sector in the region of Central Menabe, in joint co-ordination with national and local partners.

The aim of the Morondava FVTC was to develop and exploit forest resources with the intention of designing a rational and sustainable wood extraction model and disseminating it through training activities. But in view of the scope and speed with which clearing was taking place in 1987, the West Coast Management and Safeguard Operation (SAF-CO) was set up in order to support the village communities in developing durable and more sustainable land use systems. The local forestry service, as a major partner of both FVTC and SAF-CO, was given support starting in 1987 in order to strengthen the effectiveness of these other two organizations.

In 1990, support for all three structures was brought together under a programme approach, but the roles and the activities were not yet sufficiently clearly defined. For this reason in 1994 the Menabe Programme, was instituted in order to strengthen co-ordination and create synergies between at least the three aforementioned structures, supported by the Swiss co-operation.

The present purpose of the Menabe Programme is “to improve the living standards of the people living in Central Menabe by implementing a sustainable natural resource management and safeguard strategy.”

The main purpose is “to provide support to the village communities of the marginal zones of Central Menabe in their socio-economic development for a responsible and sustainable management of their natural resources.”

To do this, three main ways are being pursued:

- the socio-economic development of the village communities, to promote the settlement of the peasants on the former cleared areas by developing the village lands and through the socio-economic structuring of village communities (participatory management at two levels: the village lands and the territory);

- implementing the regional land use management strategy, designed to maintain the present forest areas, regularize the extraction of forest resources and to develop water resources (forest management is only one component of land use management);

- a programme to guarantee the dynamics, regional synergies and structuring of the social environment and civil society.

2. Morondava forests

2.1 General conditions
2.2 Socio-economic environment
2.3 Morondava FVTC forest management scheme
2.4 Participation by the riverside populations
2.5 Financing forest management
2.6 Lessons learnt and future prospects

2.1 General conditions

The best-known forest is the one allocated to the FVTC of Morondava, covering 10 000 ha. It is situated about 60 km north of the town of Morondava, and between 15 and 25 km from the Mozambique Channel. It is representative of a large part of the dry deciduous forests of the central part of the west coast known as Central Menabe, with a dry tropical type climate, with two clearly distinct seasons:

- an eight-month dry season (March/April to November/December, where on average it only rains six to eight days, but the concealed rainfall [dew and mist] is considerable) comprising a fairly fresh period between May and August;

- a four-month hot rainy season (November/December to March/April) with 40 to 45 days of rain, irregularly distributed. During the so-called rainy season there may also be one to two weeks dry periods.

At the Morondava meteorological observation post, which is close to the sea, the average annual rainfall calculated over 80 years is 767 mm distributed in 43 days. The maximum rainfall recorded was 1 422 mm in 69 days in 1953 and the minimum 340 mm over 34 days in 1930. In the forest, average rainfall is higher than at Morondava, and this increases with distance from the sea.

2.2 Socio-economic environment

Menabe is a region on the west coast of Madagascar covering about 46 000 km2 around the town of Morondava. The Central Menabe covers about 9 000 km2 and is inhabited by 120 000 people. Outside some urban centres (Morondava, Mahabo and Belo-syr-Tsiribihina, which lie on the irrigation alluvial plains), the population density is low, with only a few inhabitants per square kilometre. The main economic activities involve agriculture, fishing, animal husbandry, forestry and tourism.

Even though not a great deal is known about the livestock husbandry, it is important, particularly zebu husbandry for cultural and social reasons. It is extensively practised. The grazing zone very largely corresponds to the natural forest.

Forest logging and wood processing are important activities in the region. The Morondava zone is the third largest harvesting centre in Madagascar after Moramanga and Antsohihy. The primary forests still cover 20 percent of the region but they are virtually all harvested to varying degrees. About 12 companies, mostly small ones (with 100 to 500 ha) officially extract 1 500 m3 Roundwood Equivalent (RWE)/year while annual consumption is about 10 000 to 13 000 m3 RWE for Morondava (namely 0.25 m3 RWE/person/year of timber). Part of the wood extracted leaves the region for Antananarivo and Tuléar and a few semi-processed products, such as planks of Madagascar rosewood, anakaraka (Cordyla madagascariensis) and katrafy (Cedrelopsis grevei) are exported to Réunion. Logging is executed in a traditional way: axe-felling, square cutting, pit-sawing and manual hauling. Very often the loggers come from other regions and most of them only work during the dry season. Harvesting is mostly the exploitation-felling of a few species whose dimensions make it possible to supply the products requested. The actual yields are low, around 18 percent in semi-processed products (planks, beams), in terms of the log volume.

Apart from the FVTC sawmills, there are two others equipped with circular saws and numerous small carpentry workshops which operate to order. Their material hardware is very often small and rather old.

Tourism has grown considerably over the past ten years in Morondava, particularly ecological tourism, which is developing in parallel with guides and recognized circuits.

2.3 Morondava FVTC forest management scheme

2.3.1 Objective

The main objective is “to keep the present forest areas and regularize the extraction of forest resources and for the merchantable stands to produce timber while maintaining the maximum animal and plant biodiversity.”

2.3.2 Regime, rotation and revolution

The regime is an uneven-aged high forest with multi-cyclical cutting operations. Only the timber species that exceed the commercial diameter are cut on each rotation. The merchantable diameter is fixed per species by forestry legislation.

However, a few valuable rare species such as hazomalany (Hernandia voyroni) are not logged. Others, whose technological characteristics are special, such as sarongaza (Colvillea racemosa) or whose preservation is difficult such as farafatsy (Givotia madagascariensis) are only felled on demand.

The minimum threshold of commercial volume was set in 1978 at 10 m3/ha following the results of FAO inventories in the region. But considering the allowable cut from the stands this was reduced to 7.5 m3/ha and then to 5 m3/ha.

The preferred renewal method is natural regeneration either by seed or by sprouts or root suckers, but plantations or direct seeding can be used where necessary. The structure sought for is not even-aged high forest, but rather a more of a selective group or clump system high forest.

Rotation was set at the beginning at 25/30 years. Very rapidly it was increased to 50 years. At present it is estimated at about 100 years to make it possible to extract the same quantity of timber at each rotation.

It is difficult to speak about revolution with uneven-aged high forest which contains species that have different growth rates. For the arofy (Commiphora guillaumini and C. mafaidoha), which represent about 70 percent of the merchantable volume, it is estimated to take about 400 years to reach the necessary merchantable statutory diameter of 38 cm. However, the gradual opening up of the stands, by pinpoint thinning, may encourage the growth in diameter of certain species and therefore reduce rotation and revolution periods. However, it does not seem possible to go below 50 years for rotation and 200 years for revolution.

Permanent experimental control plots have been set up to monitor the evolution of stands after the first logging operation and to be able then to plan the time of rotation in terms of the fertility of the sites (Burren, 1990). But they are still too new to be able to draw any trends from these.

2.3.3 Compartment layout

The layout is based on two main parallel tracks, 2 km apart, opened up earlier for oil prospecting. They start from the national highway and run across the forest from west to east. A transversal track has been opened up in the middle of the forest.

The compartments, called ‘blocks’, each have a surface area of 100 ha, and are 1 km2 in shape, except on the borders of the forest. Each ‘block’ is divided into two sub-blocks, each of 50 ha, perpendicular to the main tracks and are reached by a secondary access track which is perpendicular to the main tracks.

2.3.4 Inventory and methodology

Two methods have been tested with the same 8 percent sampling rate (Covi, 1992):

- The first was a systematic sampling by 40 m wide strip running the length of the block. Set up 500 m apart from one another, these sample strips which run perpendicular to the main access tracks, coincide with the future positioning of the secondary tracks. This makes two 1-km strip per 100 ha block. The arrangement is a systematic one-degree arrangement. A priori stratification was not possible because there were either no photographic documents available, and the ones that did exist were of poor quality. The sampling rate was 8 percent, therefore it was very high in a natural forest.

- The second was also a systematic sampling, with a circular experimental plot, with a radius of 20 m, following a square grid system of 125 m.

The first method was chosen because it is about twice as fast as the second (7.4 man/days/100 ha compared with 14 to 16 man/days/100 ha) without the latter providing more reliable results or the possibility of any realistic mapping, because both the quantitative and the qualitative results can be very different between adjacent experimental plots.

Table 26 details per diameter class, the total volumes per hectare, the percentage of the rotted wood, and the number of merchantable stems (with confidence intervals).

Two-thirds of the surface area of the forest have a commercial volume in excess of 8 m3/ha. The most plentiful blocks close to the Kirindy River or to the east of the forest are the most difficult to log because of accessibility problems. There is a great spatial variability as the results of one strip can be double those of an adjacent strip. The average merchantable tree remains constant (whatever the layer) and has a diameter of 46 cm for a volume of 1.04 m3. Arofy (Commiphora spp.) accounts for 70 percent of the commercial volume. This proportion falls as the layer becomes more varied. The volume of trees with inner rot is particularly high in the poor layers.

Table 26: Volumes and numbers of merchantable stems by diameter class (Morondava)

Diameter class

Area (ha) area

Percentage e total

Total volume (m3/ha)

Percentage volume rotted

Number of stems with > 37cm



















































Average = 8.7


CI = Confidence interval

A comparison of the inventoried and extracted volumes was made on 560 ha. The volumes actually logged were on average 25 percent below those estimated by the inventory even after deducting the trees with inner rot. No rational explanation was found for this over-estimate of the inventory and it is not known whether it is due to the volume table, trees that may have been missed out during logging, etc. This means that even with a high sampling rate (8 percent) the inventory only gives orders of magnitude of extraction potential.

2.3.5 Productivity

Estimates made on the basis of the growth of arofy and of the stand structure indicate mean annual increments of 0.05 to 0.08 m3/ha/year of timber on a site with average fertility (Walker, 1989). The arofy are the slowest growing timber producing species. Following different logging procedures (localized thinning to which many species appear to respond positively), one might think that the growth rates might exceed these figures, particularly if the fast-growing species are supported.

No overall study has been carried out on the stand as a whole. But the timber species represent only about 10 to 20 percent of the total stand basal area, and if one extrapolates the results obtained above, total productivity would be between 0.5 and 1 m3/ha/year. This productivity might seem low, but considering the ecological conditions (low and variable rainfall, chemically-poor soils and low water reserves, high evapotranspiration during the growth period) these estimates seem to be realistic and comparable with those found elsewhere under similar conditions. Under equivalent conditions, an Eucalyptus camaldulensis from a good source has a mean annual increment at ten years of 5 m3/ha/year (some might even be tempted to propose converting this forest, which would not be judicious).

As far as products other than wood, few surveys have been carried out. However, one might quote the production of 3 t/ha/year of leaf litter of which an non-quantified part is sought after by lemurs and zebus.

2.3.6 Logging operations

During logging operations, only 4 to 15 m3/ha (6 to 20 trees/ha) are extracted.

A two-man saw is used for felling throughout the year and does not raise too many problems because arafy wood is soft. The felling direction is chosen to facilitate yarding and to avoid crushing neighbouring trees.

Two main methods of hauling are used:

- A semi-mechanized method (Rakotonirina, 1987) with a forest tractor equipped with a winch which hauls the logs with a cable, and then drags them along a strip 4 m wide. The strips are perpendicular to the secondary track every 100 m and run east-west. The total infrastructure covers 5.3 percent for 100 ha, including: secondary tracks (1.2 percent), depots sites (0.4 percent), and hauling strips (3.7 percent).

- An animal traction skidding method using a timber cart drawn by four zebus to carry each log from the felling site to the depot site along a yarding strip, 2.5 m to 3.5 m wide. The layout of the strips depends on the logs felled and are not arranged systematically as in the case of the other method, and such obstacles as large and non-usable trees are skirted (Wyss, 1990). With this method, infrastructure covers 8 percent of 100 ha, of which: secondary tracks (2.4 percent), depot sites (0.4 percent) and yarding strips (5.2 percent).

The maximum yarding distances never exceed 250 m and average 125 m.

In the case of mechanized yarding, the logs are evacuated directly without interrupting the load. This requires heavy investments, long depreciation, and requires large volumes of wood to be extracted. In the case of yarding using animal traction, the heavier logs are squared with an axe, or are processed on the spot with a pit saw. The maximum weight that can be yarded with four zebus cannot exceed 800 kg. Animal yarding raises problems, particularly in the dry season when the zebus need to be provided with water and feed.

These harvesting methods enable the sawmills to obtain semi-processed product yields of 35 percent of the extracted volume compared with 15 to 18 percent using traditional methods.


- opening secondary tracks 6 m wide and depots: 7 man-days/100 m;
- opening mechanized yarding strips 4 m wide: 3 man-days/100 m;
- opening animal traction yarding strips 3 m wide: 0.7 man-days/100 m;
- felling: 0.25 man-days/m3, or 10 trees per team of two loggers;
- squaring 0.7 to 1 man-days/m3 of lumber with 33 percent square-sawn;
- mechanized yarding (Timberjack): 24 m3/day with a two-man team (driver, crane slinger);
- draught animal yarding: 5 to 6 m3/day with a three-man team.
2.3.7 Silvicultural operations

Silvicultural operations are carried out in combination with logging. They give priority to commercial species, particularly those of a superior technological quality and/or rapid growth.

Silvicultural work is mainly carried out to rehabilitate the forest after logging, either by natural regeneration or by enrichment, although some stand improvement operations can also be carried out.

a) Natural regeneration

Natural regeneration includes regeneration by seed, but also by sprouts and root suckers. Some important species seem to be propagated mainly by the vegetative method: the rosewood (Dalbergia spp.), anakaraka (Cordyla madagascriensis) and the Terminalia spp.

The only method which induces adequate and sufficient natural regeneration is to open up the stand completely over at least 100 m2, because light is the major factor for regeneration establishment and above all for the initial growth of the seedlings of commercial species which are generally heliophilous. This is why one only finds plentiful regeneration on the yarding infrastructures. The openings created by felling are too small in area (rarely more than 25 m2) for sufficient light to reach the ground. Other essential factors are the soil and water availability, which depend on the topography. The most interesting regeneration occurs particularly at mid-slope level, at the bottom of the slope and in the valley on non-flooded soils. These sites are the most valuable in terms of commercial volume and species diversity. There are also many other factors involved in successful regeneration.

The main silvicultural work is cleaning/weeding in the first two years at the beginning of the rainy season, and then opening up to the light by broadening the strips. Crotch elimination and release-cutting are implemented if necessary, at the same time as cleaning/weeding. After seven years, the dominant heights are between 3 and 8 m depending on the station and the species. On each site, there are often one to three dominant species, and the stand becomes stratified. New release-cutting and thinning may then be envisaged, combined with the removal of climbers. A list of about 30 species to be given preference has been established to facilitate the work.

b) The plantation

Plantations are undertaken either on stations which are not favourable to natural regeneration or on stations where the latter has been insufficient. Over 25 local species are used, of which seven quite commonly: Broussonetia greveana, Colvillea racemosa, Commiphora guillaumini, C. mafaidoha, Gyrocarpus americanus, Hernandia voyroni and Neobeguea mahafaliensis. A few exotic species (Gmelina arborea, Khaya senegalensis and Tectona grandis) have been tested but without much success. Seed collecting and germination are often the most crucial problems needing to be resolved. The plants used are all bare-rooted seedlings. Stumps do not offer satisfactory results. The choice of the species depends on the type of soil. Generally speaking, planting takes place in the dry season (July-August), because paradoxically the rate of success is better (Table 27).

It is essential to protect the plants against predators, particularly the Vositsy (Hypogeomus antimena), a local rodent, and the river hog which is particularly fond of the young tubers of Cordyla madagascariensis.

Table 27: Annual average growth in height and the average height of several species at Morondava



AH at 7 years

Broussonetia greveana



Colubrina decipiens



Colvillea racemosa



Commiphora guillaumini



Commiphora mafaidoha



Cordyla madagascariensis



Gyrocarpus americanus



Hernandia voyroni


Highly variable

Neobeguea mahafaliensis



MAHI = Mean Annual Height Increment
AH = Average Height

Mixing of species, although more difficult to manage, is a technical alternative that should not be neglected because it makes it possible to minimize risks, to recreate structures that are similar to those of a natural forest, and helps maintain genetic diversity.

c) Direct seeding

This is an interesting procedure because it is two to three times cheaper than a plantation. However, it can only be used with species whose seeds are available in quantity and quality. It requires the following:

- seed bed must be ploughed;
- seeding must take place after the first regular rains (mid-December to early January);
- first weeding/cleaning must take place very quickly after the seedlings emerge (February-March). Colvillia racemosa and Gyrocarpus americanus alone meet these conditions (the former in the dry sites and the latter in the humid sites).
d) Stand improvement

Selective thinning to open the crown to the light is carried out to benefit the commercially attractive species. This thinning out is therefore dependent upon the stage and state of the crown of the trees in question.

The results have shown that selective thinning can increase the diameter growth of certain species, particularly the heliophilous ones. This sort of thinning can double the diameter growth of the stems belonging to lower and intermediate layers for at least five years. As regards shade-loving species (Hernandia voyroni), clearing seems to have no effect on their diameter growth; which makes this technique costly for a result whose effectiveness is not guaranteed in time.

e) Conclusion

Between 1978 and 1993, using these various silvicultural techniques, the FVTC achieved the following:

- natural regeneration of about 200 ha on depot sites, hauling strips and former small cleared areas within the forests;

- establishing plantations on hauling strips, depot sites, yarding strips and felling clearings distributed over 4 000 ha of logged forest, equivalent to 160 full ha with 200 000 trees;

- direct sowing on hauling strips and depot sites on about 500 ha of logged stands, equivalent to 20 full ha and about 150 000 seeds;

- stands’ improvement on about 50 ha.

The silvicultural practices used may be considered as gentle, in as much as they do little to upset the forest ecosystems. Only 10 to 15 percent of the stand areas is affected by the logging infrastructures and the felling openings. This kind of silviculture makes it possible for a sustainable long-term yield of timber while minimizing the risks of upsetting the forest ecosystems. Traditional loggers in the region create few infrastructures because they are costly and the wood extracted is generally hauled manually by the loggers on narrow tracks. These are not very favourable to the reconstitution of the woodlands because they are too closed.

The loggers’ technical specifications lay down rules for preserving the continuity of the forest and its reconstitution. But very often they are over-general, difficult to apply and difficult to supervise. Moreover, the harvesters prefer to pay a comparatively low fee to the Forestry Service (which should be used to reforest an area equivalent to that exploited) rather than carrying out the silvicultural works on their own extraction plot.

Following traditional logging operations, there is no guarantee that the forest will be reconstituted. This is paradoxically due to the fact that the stands’ structure is hardly modified by the logging operations. This lack of radical intervention in the lower and intermediate layers fail to create sufficiently large openings to make natural regeneration of the woodland or plantations possible.

2.3.8 Other forest products and services

Food products: honey, game (lemurs, tenrecs - a species resembling hedgehogs - river hogs, birds), fish from the ponds or rivers, tubers, leaves, fruit, mushrooms, etc., are mainly used for feeding the forests’ neighbouring populations and are very important in the inter-season period (December-March) for their survival, since some households virtually eat these products only, and on average they depend on them over 80 percent for their survival (Favre, 1990).

Other products are equally important for the daily life of the villagers: medicinal plants, plants which directly or indirectly produce gum, latex, glue, fibre, string, straw, soap, etc. The natural forests also play an essential role in all their ritual practices, whether they are for ancestor worship or magic.

The primary natural forest is also a grazing and protection area for the semi-wild zebus, which are recuperated during certain events by their owners. These zebus have never actually been counted, but they are comparatively numerous. Their tracks are found throughout the forest.

2.4 Participation by the riverside populations

Apart from meeting their own requirements, the riverside populations, with the exception of the FVTC workers, play no part in managing the natural forest. The loggers come generally speaking from another region of Madagascar and only work here for part of the year.

Men are responsible for extracting/collecting most of the natural forests’ products. Women and children are only in charge of collecting firewood near the villages or their homes.

Conversely, the villagers take part in managing their village land, deciding on the cleared areas to be cultivated, the infrastructures to be built (wells, irrigation channels) and more recently in the case of some villages, which forests to conserve and the purposes of managing them.

2.5 Financing forest management

Many felling permits are in fact free of charge. Regarding those for which a charge is made, most of the volumes extracted are not declared (about two-third in the Morondava region). Fees are calculated in terms of the species category, the distance from the towns, the ‘roadside’ volumes and the type of product.

The latter criterion encourages processing to take place within the forest (squaring and longitudinal sawing) which is evidently wasteful and makes it impossible to supervise the legal commercial diameters. The fees and the repayments (taxes paid by the logger to different decentralized communities) when they are recovered at all, only represent 5 percent of the selling price of the semi-processed products, namely US$0.50-1.00/m3 of product (Raonintsoa, 1993).

Fines for illegal activities are rarely paid because the procedures are time-consuming. Very little of these sums, fees and fines are returned to the region because there is no redistribution by the Central Forestry Service. The work set out in the loggers’ specifications are not carried out because the loggers prefer providing other services as a compensation to the Forestry Service.

2.6 Lessons learnt and future prospects

2.6.1 Achievements

The main achievements refer to various aspects, relating to techniques and approach. The main lessons learnt after 15 years of experience in managing the dry forests of the Menabe are the following:

- Need for a good general knowledge of the region in all its aspects (ecological, agronomic, historical, economic and social). But this must not merely be a pool of knowledge, but must be used to diagnose the role of the forestry sector with all its constraints and potential.

- Importance of taking a systemic approach to forestry problems, which often stem from constraints in the agricultural, economic and social sectors.

- Perfect knowledge of the legal, illegal, formal and informal issues before proposing possible improvements.

- Studying the possible perverse effects of certain ‘sound’ solutions. This is why it is essential to know the issues and systems properly.

- Training and information are very important in developing and utilizing new techniques and must get through to every person concerned, while containing different contents and using different approaches.

- Actors involved (villagers, loggers, craftsmen, public service workers, etc.) must be really motivated and able to evaluate for themselves the benefits that they can enjoy before changing their ways of working.

- Need for a long period in order to draft and begin implementing management plans.

2.6.2 Modifications needed

At the level of forestry policy the ongoing debate must make it possible to redefine the major objectives, priorities and principles of execution of the forestry sector. The roles of the Central and Regional Forestry Service, of the various administrative entities and of all the actors and parties involved (the villagers, loggers, industrialists, craftsmen, etc.) could be reviewed by giving greater responsibilities to the civil society. The Forestry Service should be more of a stimulator and a facilitator, than a controller/supervisor.

Forestry legislation could be amended to take account of the present situation (most of the forestry laws date back to the 1930s). Inter alia, it could lay down procedures for approving management schemes, reviewing the regulations imposed on logging, and revise forestry fees. However, there should be a certain flexibility so that it can be adapted to the ecological and socio-economic conditions of each region.

Land tenure legislation could also be revised, not only for the forestry sector but above all for agriculture. This could allocate land to communities (villages) and streamline the allocation procedures.

Case Study based on the following documents: Delaporte (1995); Sorg and Rohner (1996).

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