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The "degraded" tapia woodlands of highland Madagascar : rural economy, fire ecology, and forest conservation
Journal of Cultural Geography
Madagascar is well known for deforestation. However, highland "tapia" (Uapaca bojeri) woodlands may present a counterexample of indigenous management leading to woodland conservation. Contrary to common wisdom that these woodlands are degraded, tapia woodland extent and composition have seen little change this century. Tapia woodlands harbor many benefits, including wild silkworms (whose cocoons have been harvested for centuries to weave expensive burial shrouds), fruit, fuelwood, mushrooms, edible insects, and herbal medicines. As a result, villagers shape and maintain the woodlands. Burning favors the dominance of pyrophitic tapia trees and protects silkworms from parasites. Selective cutting of non-tapia species and pruning of dead branches also favors tapia dominance and perhaps growth. Finally, local and stateimposed regulations protect the woodlands from overexploitation. These processes-burning, cutting, and protection-are embedded in complex and dynamic social, political, economic, and ecological contexts, which are integral to the tapia woodlands as they exist today. As a result, I argue on a normative level that the creation and maintenance of the woodlands should not be seen as "degradation," but rather as a creative "transformation."
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