Snatching Up Madagascar’s Land

12 Aug 2011

In what is becoming an increasingly widespread situation, families that have inhabited Madagascan land for generations are being evicted as large parts of the African island continue to be sold off to foreign companies. With the situation reaching a critical point, our local Terra Madre network representatives, united in the Madagascar Land Defense Collective, are leading grassroots struggles against this corporate land grabbing.

After local laws were amended to allow the sale of land to foreign entities in 2003, the national campaign reached a peak in 2009 when South Korean company Daewoo Logistics tried to purchase one third of the island. The public outrage was enough to put the deal on hold, but protestors are still trying to confirm the cancellation of this agreement and new land grab cases are constantly arising.

“The government in Madagascar should be working to improve local agriculture and support people to develop sustainable local agriculture – not working to sell our lands to foreign corporations,” said Mamy Rakotondrainibe of the Madagascar Land Defense Collective in an interview earlier this year for

With a population of twenty million people, a staggering two million formal complaints have been lodged following evictions from land. Most people who have lost their land cannot afford a lawyer to defend their case, just as they haven’t been able to afford the fee for registering their land ownership. Many fear making too much noise, as many victims of land grabbing that have resisted have been arrested.

In Madagascar, traditional people have no official documentation of land ownership and obtaining this documentation is a long bureaucratic process that costs a unaffordable several hundred dollars. In fact, only around 10% of the country’s surface area has ever gone through a land registration process, due in part to colonial rules that still apply and makes it almost impossible for local populations to initiate land ownership requests.

Around 80% of Madagascar’s population are poor rural people engaged in family agriculture, and it is these people who are facing the loss of land. Snatching it away leaves them in great distress, not only homeless, but also without soil to grow food and a broken link with their traditions and intimate knowledge of the land.

The Madagascar Land Defense Collective argue that if eviction is unavoidable, traditional land owners must at least be eased into a new life without erasing their food sovereignty. Training and new skills that allow them to transition inline with sustainable development goals is fundamental to their own vitality and the health of communities.

The land being sold to foreign interests is primarily for large-scale agribusiness to feed populations in India, the Middle East and other region, as well as mining projects and real estate development. Many deals happen secretly, and the distinction between national and international investors has become blurry since foreign companies are allowed to buy land through a Madagascar subsidiary.

But the farmers and citizens of Madagascar are not the only ones to suffer from the deals which puts their future sustainability in the hands of a few with vested interests elsewhere. The island boasts and incredible biodiversity, with 80% of its species are found nowhere else on earth due to the isolation of the land. With significant deforestation already, the impact of land grabbing could have a devastating impact on the island’s unique ecosystems.

The Madagascar Land Defense Collective are demanding that evictions from land grabbing stop immediately and asking for total transparency on all land deals, including those done in the past, and for the local population to be involved in any land transfers.

To sign their petition, please visit

Read an in-depth interview on the situation with Mamy Rakotondrainibe from the Madagascar Land Defense Collective at

Slow Food is working with producers in Madagascar united in eight Terra Madre communities, including two Presidia projects – the Alaotra Lake Dista Rice Presidium, and Mananara Vanilla Presidium.

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