The Republic of Madagascar covers 587 040 km2, stretching 1 580 km from north to south and 450 to 570 km from east to west between latitudes 12° and 25° 30´ S and longitudes 43° 15´ and 50° 30´ E. It lies about 400 km off the continent of Africa across the Mozambique Channel.
The island's rugged, mountainous interior falls in a steep escarpment to the Indian Ocean in the east and stretches in a long slope to the Mozambique Channel in the west. The highest point is 2 876 m in the Tsaratanana mountains in the north. The landscape is a confusion of compact mountain massifs, sugar-loaf mountain tops, hills, plateaux and basins - the result of long ages of erosion of the ancient topography. Sedimentary soils (limestone and sandstone) are found on the long western slope where erosion has carved out large basins (Majunga and Morondova) interspersed with scalloped escarpments where the hard strata have been left protruding. The slope ends in a western coastline intersected by bays and silted estuaries, with coral reefs and islands (Nosy Bé) lying offshore to the north-west. Lagoons separated by natural embankments that have been cut through in order to create a continuous waterway (the Pangalanes Canal) border the straight, narrow eastern coastal plain. The north is a high, impenetrable region of crystalline mountains, volcanic domes, limestone plateaux and high inland basins. In the south, the steep cliffs of the Mahafaly and Androy limestone plateaux rise up from the shoreline.
The climate is tropical, with a dry winter season from May to September and a wet summer season from October to April. The lowest temperatures occur in July and the highest temperatures in January. Latitude and the configuration and relief of the land give rise to major variations in this overall picture:
- The eastern coast, permanently exposed to the moist south-east trade winds, has an almost equatorial climate, receiving huge amounts of rain (3 000 to 4 000 mm a year) between November and April. The average annual temperature is between 20° and 25° C and temperatures do not vary much;
- The north-west receives the full force of the summer monsoon with heavy rains (1 500 to 2 000 mm) but has a short dry season in the winter. The rainy season is much shorter toward the south. The average annual temperature is over 25° C with much greater variations than in the east;
- The south-west and the south, lying out of the path of the trade winds and the monsoon, have a dry tropical climate. The south receives temperate, if irregular, rains, but the south-west is desert-like, with dry conditions exacerbated by a cold current along the coast. Tuléar receives only 350 mm of rain per year;
- The central highlands have a tropical climate tempered by the altitude, the average annual temperature ranging from 15° to 20° C. Antananarivo, at 1 200 m, has a five-month hot wet season and a seven-month cool dry season. The average July temperature is 14.4° C;
- The far north (the Diégo-Suarez region) receives less rain than the eastern and north-western regions because its coastline is oriented in such a way that it is sheltered from the monsoon winds.
In addition, tropical cyclones arising over the Indian Ocean or the Mozambique Channel strike the north-western, northern and north-eastern coasts, wreaking havoc and dumping huge amounts of rainfall on the regions affected.
The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.