Leimavo Revisited: Agrarian Land-Use Change in the Highlands of Madagascar
Describing and explaining land-use change is of critical concern in Madagascar, where land transformations such as deforestation and resulting environmental degradation currently capture widespread attention. While the eastern rain forest recedes in the face of swidden cultivators, the highlands demonstrate more constructive transformations. In this paper I present a case study of land-use change in Leimavo, a small village near Ambositra studied in the 1960s by Jean-Pierre Raison. Here, the twentieth century has seen a gradual reduction in irrigated rice cultivation and cattle husbandry, and a boom in market-oriented orange, vegetable, and grain production. In the long term, a historical landscape of grassy hills has been transformed into a productive cultural landscape with woodlots, anti-erosion benching, rice terraces, fruit groves, and diverse crops. Critical factors determining the trajectory of land-use change include regional population pressure, state policies, market incentives, climate variations, and access to land and water resources. These critical factors, or explanations, are linked in the discussion by the use of a simple heuristic device—the range of choice—as a theoretical framework.