National park rangers in Madagascar are curbing deforestation by using WRI’s Forest Watcher app. WRI also played a pivotal role in designating the Andrefana Dry Forest as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Challenge

Madagascar’s forests hold some of the world’s most remarkable biodiversity. The island boasts lemurs, chameleons, tortoises and tree species found nowhere else on Earth. Communities rely on the country’s forests for food, medicines and the invaluable services they provide, such as preventing erosion and stopping silt from flowing into downstream rice paddies.

Yet Madagascar’s forests face growing threats from slash-and-burn agriculture, climate change, resource extraction and more. Even the country’s 6.9 million hectares of protected areas are experiencing deforestation.

WRI’s Role

WRI used research, technology and community engagement to reduce deforestation and conserve Madagascar’s forests.

Beginning in 2019, WRI trained park rangers, community members, government agencies, conservation organizations and others in using our Global Forest Watch Forest Watcher app. The technology allows users to receive satellite-based alerts of nearby deforestation and fires, download the points onto a map, and access the data offline to investigate activity in the field. With this near-real time information, park rangers and others can quickly navigate to areas where trees are being burned or cut down and swiftly intervene. The tool made forest patrols more efficient and transparent, with use expanding from three pilot sites to 24 areas managed by Madagascar National Parks.

At the same time, WRI conducted extensive research on the biogeography, importance and vulnerability of the Andrefana Dry Forests, analysis that was central in seeking a World Heritage Site designation for the region. WRI’s role involved compiling and analyzing data; mapping and identifying sites that would benefit from UN protections; writing the dossier for nomination; and collaborating with stakeholders to build support, including with government officials, park managers and local communities.

The Outcome

Use of the Forest Watcher app throughout Madagascar’s National Parks dramatically improved forest monitoring, allowing for swifter responses to deforestation. For example, in the Kirindy Mité National Park, the number of fire points dropped from 33 in 2020 to 3 in 2022 thanks in large part to park rangers’ use of the Forest Watcher app.

WRI’s project also actively engaged women from local communities in patrolling forests, breaking down traditional gender barriers.

And in September 2023, UNESCO officially designated the Andrefana Dry Forests as a legally protected World Heritage Site. The recognition highlights the essential role these dry forests play as guardians of evolution, emphasizing the need for their conservation.

WRI’s activities in Madagascar showcase the power of combining community engagement, technology, research and policy to protect critical forest ecosystems.