Governance processes and impacts of extractive industries in Madagascar

Direct impacts of an ore mine in Madagascar. Photo: shutterstock.com/Roel Slootweg


The extractive industries sector has expanded worldwide in recent decades. Investment decisions are usually made by companies located in industrialized countries. But the main sites of mining activity have shifted to emerging economies and developing countries. This is the case in Madagascar, where 30 major extraction projects are ongoing – in areas that are traditionally used by subsistence farmers and pastoralists.

Economic growth – at what price?

Of course, the extensive mining investments bear potential for economic growth at the national level. But the negative impacts on ecosystems, people, and local economies are often ignored.

Of the world’s large mining operations for metals, for example, about one-third are located in or around 10 km from protected areas. While the consequences for water, soils, and air are far-reaching, most studies focus solely on biodiversity loss in the immediate vicinity of mines.

“Industrial” land use engenders social problems

Studies also show that the resettlement of village communities to make way for mining projects can have grave social consequences, ranging from loss of livelihoods to marginalization and health problems. In addition, the large-scale projects attract labour migration. The resulting “frontier urbanization” can destabilize local societal and political processes.

Social and environmental impact assessments with deficits

In response to these sustainability concerns, virtually all investor countries require implementation of environmental and social impact assessments. But despite various international standards, numerous problems remain unresolved. These include:

  • Lack of clarity about the role of such assessments in permitting processes;
  • Weaknesses in the procedure, including effective participation of affected local populations;
  • Lack of appropriate mechanisms for monitoring, implementation, and enforcement of processes.

Five ongoing or planned major mining projects involving international investors: These could be the project’s future study areas.

Extractive industries and the 2030 Agenda

In Madagascar, a hotspot of global biodiversity, problems associated with the extractive industries have increasingly given rise to political, economic, social, and ecological crises over the past two decades.

Concrete solutions are thus needed to make international investments in major mining projects more sustainable.

Scientific and practical knowledge for change

Accordingly, the research project “Governance processes and impacts of extractive industries in Madagascar” is pursuing one main objective: that of generating scientific and practical transformation knowledge to enable more sustainable mining investments in Madagascar and other developing countries.

The project seeks to do this by answering the following research questions:

  1. What is the legal and procedural framework for environmental and social impact assessments of extractive industries in Madagascar? How can it be strengthened at the political level?
  2. What is the role of different stakeholders’ decision-making and power relations in associated governance processes?
  3. What are the spatially and societally relevant impacts of large mining investments on social and ecological structures – in both rural and urban areas?
  4. What can be done to improve the procedures of environmental and social impact assessments in order to make large investments in mining more sustainable?
Farmers ploughing rice fields with zebu cattle in the highlands of Madagascar. Photo: Julie Zähringer

Approach and methods

This transdisciplinary project uses the following methods:

  • Analysis of satellite images to identify land use changes in the vicinity of mining projects,
  • Analysis of social networks to decipher the interactions between the various stakeholders involved,
  • Interviews and surveys with land users, pastoralists, as well as other local actors – such as the police or private security people, in particular to investigate the process of “frontier urbanization”.
Interview with a cattle owner in the highlands of Madagascar. Photo: Perrine Burnod