29 thoughts on “Madagascar Updates: Chapters 1-6

  1. Palaeontologist Aro Rakotondrabao is currently creating an outdoor museum about 65km west of Tana at Ambatolevy, at the site of a former vazimba settlement, where the villages continue the tradition of lamb sacrifice.

    • Don Simon says:

      Our trip to Madagascar was cancelled and the tour operator has not refunded any of our funds and is not communicating. You may want to delete Luc at Mada Expeditions from your recommendations.

    Journey back 500,000 years to discover wild coffee and join in the Malagasy coffee obsession. An abridged version of the following article will appear in the 13th edition of Madagascar: The Bradt Travel Guide (2020). It is written by written by sustainable coffee advocate and coffee development specialist Nicole Motteux (nicolemotteux.com) with input from Lilani Goonesena and thanks to interpreter and guide Harry Rakotosalama.

    Love coffee? Then Madagascar is your mecca: a caffeine-fuelled culture where even the lemurs and fruit bats get in on the act. Home to almost half the world’s wild Coffea species, it’s the place to discover the real origin of coffee and enjoy it like a local.

    A bean in a forest, half a million years old

    Based on genetic studies, wild coffee in Madagascar originated from a single species dispersed from Africa around 500,000 years ago, with all wild species now found on the island having evolved from this ancestral variety. Over hundreds of thousands of years, Madagascar’s 59 wild coffee species readily colonised its wide variety of environments – from lowland forests to high mountain ecosystems across the northern, eastern and western parts of the island. These newly evolved endemic species then spread from Madagascar to Mauritius, Reunion and beyond.

    This amazing spread and diversification of Coffea plants across the island is largely thanks to Madagascar’s exotic mammals, including lemurs and fruit bats, which eat whole seeds and fertilise the forest with them.

    Trekking through the island is the best way to find wild Coffea plants. Not that it’s easy. Even professional coffee hunters, familiar with the local landscape and with considerable dedication, have to work hard to spot and identify wild plants. Malagasy Coffea is highly diverse from supersize beans to hairy berries. Some plants even have 0% caffeine content!

    Coffee under threat

    Traipsing through the undergrowth searching for wild coffee is an adventure that, sadly, may be short lived. Research findings published in 2019 show that at least 60% of the world’s wild coffee species are threatened with extinction. In Madagascar the figure is even worse at 72%.

    Given the importance of wild coffee species for crop development and long-term sustainability, these are worrying figures. Of the 124 species that make up the Coffea genus, only two are currently of commercial significance for coffee beverages and products: Arabica and Robusta.

    If wild coffee plants disappear, great genetic diversity will be lost – not good news for the development of new commercial varieties.

    The coffee bush is a fragile plant. Climate change, diseases and pests, together with the loss of habitat is threatening the precious bean. Population growth, livestock damage, slash-and-burn agriculture, forest fuelwood collection and charcoal production have all led to increased deforestation and the serious loss of endemic species. And as the forests disappear, so do the wild coffee species and the ecosystems on which they rely.

    The case for coffee protection

    A long day’s drive southeast of the capital leads to a quiet set of buildings and a vast field. Here, rows and rows of evergreen trees produce clusters of cream-white flowers with green fruit that ripens to a crimson red, orange or yellow, depending on the variety. The trees can be as small as a small shrub or as tall as a medium-sized tree.

    This is one of the world’s most important coffee gene banks. Since the 1960s, coffee hunters for the National Centre of Applied Research and Rural Development in Kianjavato have collected wild coffee species from across the island. They work with World Coffee Research, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Denver Botanic Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to preserve coffee species that almost no one has heard of, much less consumed.

    These nondescript little coffee varieties may just possess genetic traits with pest and disease tolerances that can protect the global coffee industry. The Kianjavato collections consist of accessions of around 44 species of endemic Malagasy Coffea.

    Ultimately, the coffee industry wants to increase the supply of quality coffee to create greater product differentiation and sustainability. With over 100 million people dependent on coffee for their livelihoods in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and more than 80 countries as coffee producers, this is of increasing importance.

    A short history of coffee in Madagascar

    Madagascar has been a coffee-obsessed country since the late 1800s with the arrival of French settlers. Arabica coffee beans, including Bourbon Pointu varieties, were introduced from Reunion (formerly called Bourbon Island) into Madagascar. The delicate flavours of Bourbon were highly sought after by traders to supply Europe’s growing coffee demand.

    When the French invaded Madagascar in 1894 and ruled it as a colony for over 60 years, coffee played a major role in their reign. Coffee production rose dramatically during this period as the French introduced agricultural reforms and exported vast quantities back to Europe. In the 1930’s, the French had placed such high demand on coffee that even small farms were growing coffee in lieu of other crops.

    In 1946, Madagascar was declared an official District of France, becoming an attractive destination for its Reunion Island neighbours. Four years later, the Sakay colonisation scheme encouraged Reunionais immigrants to settle in the Itasy region west of the capital. Schools, medical facilities and even cinemas were established and Itasy soon became known as the real ‘El Dorado’ offering ideal soils and altitudes for growing coffee. Settlers planted Arabica coffee varieties from Reunion, Ethiopia, Kenya and Costa Rica, as well as other agricultural crops.

    In 1960, Madagascar became an independent nation but the First Republic maintained close ties with France through a series of Cooperation Agreements. This relationship with the country’s former colonisers was resented by Malagasy nationalists and in 1975, the Malagasy revolt led by Didier Ratsiraka ended these close ties.

    The revolt saw many of the Reunionais coffee farmers in Madagascar – especially those who were part of the Sakay project – abandon everything. Many returned to Reunion, leading to the collapse of the coffee sector in Itasy and throughout Madagascar .

    Today, Itasy is known as the ‘kafendrazana’ – the region of ‘coffee grown by the old people’, still recognised for its high-quality coffee. It’s also home to some enormous fruit bats, who love to sniff out ripened coffee. When the bats start feasting, the local farmers know its harvest time!

    Small-scale coffee farmers in Itasy’s KMKFI cooperative run tours on the entire coffee process and its tumultuous Madagascan history. The popular Ampefy restaurant, l’auberge Chez Jacky, also arranges coffee tours and focuses on improving practices to produce quality coffee. For an Italian-style espresso made from Bourbon coffee varieties or a rum coffee, visit Fanihy café outside Ampefy town. Ramartour or Jacarando tours can arrange this in advance.

    Madagascar’s tall poppy dwindles

    Between 1938 and 1954, coffee rose from 32% of total agricultural exports to 49%. In 1983, coffee covered an area of around 220,000ha, mostly along the east coast. The coffee industry employed a quarter of Madagascar’s population. From 1965 to 1989, Madagascar was the 8th largest coffee-producing country in the world, exporting this precious commodity through the sea ports of Toamasina, Mahajanga and Antsiranana. These historic towns remain key sea ports today.

    The French coffee producers were gradually displaced by Malagasy cultivators and by independence in 1960, local people grew 90% of the island’s commercial coffee.

    At the end of the 20th century, however, things took a disastrous turn. The global coffee price crash in the late 1990s, coupled with antiquated technology and weak commercial links to foreign markets, sent prices and investment plunging.

    In desperation, Malagasy farmers uprooted their coffee trees in favour of the staple crop, rice. Annual coffee exports, which peaked at 81,000 tonnes in 1979, fell to less than 5,000 tonnes. In the last 30 years, coffee production has been well surpassed by vanilla, fisheries and textile manufacturing. Today, about 80% of total coffee production is consumed within Madagascar.

    A homegrown coffee culture

    Though no longer the pride of Madagascar’s agricultural exports, coffee is an instrinsic part of Madagascan culture and the local economy.

    Consumed morning, noon and night, and many times in between, coffee is a source of food, warmth and society in Madagascar. There’s barely an activity that doesn’t include an andao hisotro kafe, a strong, black, piping hot coffee, preferably topped with a generous dollop of condensed milk.

    Coffee is sold on every corner of every street in Madagascar, usually hawked by street coffee vendors who scratch out a living one cup at a time. Coffee vending is a means of survival and independence for those who can handle the long hours and labour with skill and tenacity. Selling coffee on the street is a reliable way to generate some much-needed income, especially for women and poorer families. In this informal market, vendors are not deterred by a lack of basic services such as running water, electricity, shelters or stands and they service the local demand of customers who are cannot afford to patronise established cafés.

    Sit down with the other customers at a makeshift wooden bench at any roadside kiosk across the island and admire the skilled moves of the coffee vendors who throw their energy into every step of the process, from roasting beans by hand to waving down passers-by.

    Join young and old, poor and rich, before the day even starts, dipping freshly cooked mokary (small fried rice cakes), mofo gasy (fried doughnut rounds) or koba (a sweet made from ground peanuts, brown sugar and rice flour) into your hot, bracing coffee.

    Track your coffee to the source

    Wild Coffea species are sometimes used locally to make coffee but only on a very small scale. By far and away the most popular brew is the cultivated Robusta variety. It has a stronger, earthier taste compared with Arabica but almost double the caffeine.

    Green Robusta coffee beans are sold in the daily markets across the island. Sellers scoop the beans out of hessian sacks using a standard measuring tool – a 390g condensed milk tin or a 170g tomato paste tin. Payment is made per scoop. The green coffee is then roasted at home over an open fire, or by local coffee vendors.

    To see Madagascar’s coffee country, climb aboard the Fianaratsoa-Côte Est railway to the small port of Manakara in the south east. Breakdowns are frequent but provide more time to appreciate the 163km journey from the Arabica coffee highlands in the southeast to the lowland region of small-scale Robusta producers, and on to Manakara. The rusty old train rattles slowly down the world’s third steepest railroad incline and through rural regions inaccessible by road.

    The old coffee heartlands of Manamapatrana are particularly beautiful. In April, the coffee fields are full of delicate white coffee blossom, best viewed by leaning precariously out of a lowered window. June to October is harvest time, with brightly-dressed women in sarongs, men and children out on the plantations picking and processing the bright red coffee berries. The sacks of coffee cherry are then packed up and carried by head, hand or truck to local markets.

    Coffee is also grown in the north-west of the Great Island, on Nosy Be, around Ambanja, along the Sambirano river and in the north-eastern Sava region in Antsiranana province. The lushly forested SAVA is also known as home to Madagascar’s famous vanilla bean and part of the ‘Route de la vanille’.

    Several upmarket cafés, particularly in the major cities, offer coffee experiences that are a few notches up from the simple wooden kiosks dotted throughout Madagascar. One of the most famous is the 1946 establishment, La Pâtisserie Colbert in Antananarivo, known for its superb Malagasy coffee, chocolate and desserts.

    Café Liégeois serves a French dessert of sweetened coffee ice cream and chantilly cream alongside expresso coffee, long coffee, short coffee and cappuccino. Or for a western style experience, L’Express Bleu , 3 kms from the Independence Avenue in Antananarivo serves a ‘Segafredo’ roast from Australia.

    Coffee in Madagascar is everywhere, from hotels to the streets. The best part of coffee is that it allows you time to take a few moments watching Madagascar’s bustling life passing by – or watch geckos climb up beams. It also gives you a let-up from the heat and insects, pollution or throngs of people – since there are over 25 million people in Madagascar it is busy and often chaotic.

    Grab a bag of local coffee

    TAF Le Gourmet established itself in 1945. Their original shop stocks their flagship coffee and other goods. It is located on Patrice Lumumba Street, near the Railway Station in Antananarivo. If you don’t get time before you leave, Arabica and Robusta blends grown in Madagascar are sold at the airport. But wherever you buy, be sure to take home this amazing flavour of Madagascar.

    • Haja Rasambainarivo says:

      The Zebu Coffee estate located near Analavory in the Itasy region ( about 120km-3hours from Antananarivo) is poised to be the first estate to produce specialty coffee in Madagascar. ZEBU Coffee started to grow Arabica Bourbon trees in 2014. The estates’ high quality coffee beans are already selling for 300GBP/kg in UK ( available at https://seaislandcoffee.com/ ) . The estate is open to visitors and travellers will have learn about this beautiful project which grows coffee, avocado, lemon, chilli and various vegetables. A camping site, toilet & shower facilities are available on site. Guests can take this opportunity to plant trees during their visit. The farm is a project of Groupe ASISTEN, a 100% Malagasy company which also owns the Luxury tour operator ASISTEN Travel ( http://www.asisten-travel.com ). For information or visits, please contact info@asisten-travel.com

  3. Chris Inman says:

    On page 102 of the guide in the car-hire section there is still (though somewhat shortened from previous editions) the “advice” from reader Paul Kolodziejski that “stopping at police check points seems to be optional.” I really hope that this will disappear from the next edition.

    From my own experience of self-driving many thousands of kilometres in Madagascar, I can assure readers that stopping is not “optional”, and Paul’s “advice” is very bad. What is true is that at the vast majority of checkpoints, the police or the gendarmerie (each have their own checkpoints) are simply not interested in stopping vehicles driven by foreigners. They know that normally their papers are in order, the vehicle is more or less roadworthy and there are no obvious handles for extorting a bribe. They therefore either ignore the vehicle or wave to the driver to continue (in which case waving back is a normal gesture of courtesy – I recommend it). If Paul stopped at a checkpoint where he wasn’t required to do so, I’m not surprised that it was a “waste of time”. As all Malagasy drivers are happy if they don’t have to stop, I can imagine the cops would be quite puzzled as to what to do with a driver who stopped “voluntarily”.

    On the other hand, if the people at the checkpoint do want you to stop, the gesture is quite unmistakeable and you ignore it at your peril. Some of the checkpoints are equipped with stingers to destroy your tyres, all of them are in contact with the next checkpoint down the road, many of them have fast motor bikes, and whether or not they actually have ammunition in their machine pistols is something I really wouldn’t like to put to the test. The conversation when they then do stop you would be a very interesting one!

    • Donal Conlon says:

      Hi.Just some remarks about checkpoints. I have been motor biking for 10 years in Madagascar where I keep a motorbike. At the beginning I used to stop always when I saw the sign, “Police-Halt”. Now only stop if someone in uniform stands right out in front of me. Once between Majunga to Diego I passed through 15 checkpoints and was stopped at 11. Sometimes a police stop was maybe a hundred metres from one manned by the gendarmerie. Extremely frustrating but you have to keep your frustration hidden. I learned that saying I only spoke English and only ‘très peu’ French was a help. Most of them have difficulty in saying anything in English.
      Some excellent news now! I have been motor biking around Majunga for the last three weeks and never stopped for the ‘paper check’. This is unprecedented. Normally I used to be stopped every day and sometimes more than once. Police and gendarmerie would wait in shady spots for unsuspecting motorists (with a preference for ‘vazahas’) to see what they could extract. They also, of course, harassed locals. They are very much detested by ordinary Malagasies. The new president is seemingly seriously cracking down on at least these types of corruption-and police have, to a great extent, been taken off the streets. His first term in office was with the help of the military and wasn’t in any sense an anti-corruption crusade but now he has been elected in his own right and maybe he, at last doing something. People tell me the police are actually afraid to take money. A few have been fired for doing so. Halleluiah! I can’t speak about other towns or villages for the moment but I can tell you that in Majunga the repressive air has lifted. Wonderful!
      The maximum visa length has stayed at 2 months. Third month extensions are possible later for about €20 but cumbersome and time consuming. There are, as this is Madagascar, other routes to go!

      • Hello Donal, a lot of bad habits changed since the recent elections. It is a fact that there is a far lesser police presence on the roads and even within the cities. I ride across this fascinating island on big motorbikes and I never had any issues or harassments with the police or gendarmerie, not even before the changes you’ve mentioned above.
        They knew that it will be a waste of time to control Vazahas or even worse, Vazahas on motorcycles. Usually they are just curious to have a look on big bikes because there are not many of them on the Island.

      • Donal Conlon says:

        Hi Klaus! Thanks for message. I have never been stopped for the guys en uniform to admire my bigbike. It has never been bigger that 250 cc.

      • Dona Conlon says:

        Just a remark about tourist visas! It is still true that at Ivato they give a maximum of two months…you can get the extra month in one of the large towns by producing 5 or 6 documents and spending a lot of time going through the rigmarole. It costs 80 000 ar and they always are suggesting a little more. A real headache! The extraordinary thing is that if your arrival is Majunga or Tulear, Diego, Nosy Be, etc (not Ivato) you can get 3 months. These arrivals would be via or from Mayotte or La Rénunion. Ludicrous Malagasy stuff.Can’t figure it out!

  4. Helen Jackson says:

    Air Madagascar – I’d worry more about Air Madagascar’s scheduling than its safety record: we were told it was known locally as Air Maybe due to its track record: maybe it will take off on time, maybe it won’t.
    The security demonstration, in three languages (Malagasy, French and English) is laborious. Complimentary soft drinks and nuts are offered. Leg room isn’t great, but the flights are short.
    Flight 1 – Antananarivo to Morondava – delayed by 30 minutes.
    Flight 2 – Toliara to Antananarivo – on time but we waited 20 minutes for luggage.
    Flight 3 – Antananarivo to Antisiranana – after two relatively painless journeys, our luck ran out. All appeared to be going well until an announcement said the flight to Tamatave was cancelled but there would be another flight in the afternoon. Phew, not our flight! A few minutes later, we were told our flight would be delayed by 3 hours, but vouchers for a drink and sandwich were made available in the next-door international terminal. Here we chatted to passengers on the Tamatave flight and found their original flight time was 7.15am with a revised time of 3pm. Suddenly, three hours didn’t seem too bad.
    Flight 4 – Nosy Be to Antananarivo – once again, we landed on time.
    The allowance is 20kg for hold luggage and although we’d been told it was 6kg for hand luggage, signs and scales told us it was now 5kg.
    Due to our varied experience I’d never trust Air Madagascar if I had a connecting flight or an important appointment on arrival.

  5. Helen Jackson says:

    Prior to our trip to Madagascar, I was checking out Rainbow Tours website on Responsible Travel, and discovered that they would welcome donations of embroidery threads. As I had a huge amount of threads and other items, a visit to Centre Fihavanana (page 177) was arranged whilst passing through Antananarivo.
    On arrival we were led up steps, passing an empty school room, and were met by Sister Annamma. As she didn’t speak English, and our French is poor, our guide translated.
    As I unpacked the bag of threads, books, cards and material, the Sister seemed very impressed and as we were surrounded by cross stitch cards for sale and a huge cross stitch sampler hung on the wall, I knew it was going to the right place.
    In the next room we were shown table cloths which the older women embroider with local scenes of lemurs and baobab and heard how exports abroad are down, as they cannot compete with cheap machine-made Chinese products.
    I left feeling pleased that my gifts would be well used and would urge others to visit, donate or simply buy.

    • Chris Inman says:

      Air Madagascar has now transferred all domestic flights to its subsidiary Tsaradia.

      This has advantages and disadvantages for travellers.

      Firstly, on the downside, Tsaradia is discontinuing the practice of offering discounts to Air Madagascar’s long-haul passengers. Very much on the upside: the online fares on Tsaradia’s website are (currently at least) if you book well in advance, at the level at which the discounted tickets were offered, and not at the exorbitant rates previously charged on the Air Mad website. This also means, at least at present, that passengers flying into Tana on another airline can now get domestic flights at a reasonable rate.

      Secondly, on the downside, the baggage allowances on Tsaradia’s flights are fixed and the previous practice of granting Air Mad’s long-haul passengers the long-haul allowance on domestic flights no longer applies. Possibly on the upside, I have received reports of domestic passengers nevertheless demanding and receiving the long-haul baggage allowance at Ivato. I will be trying this out for myself in February.

      Thirdly, also a downside, (either deliberately or due to bad programming – who knows!) the Tsaradia website cannot display every journey where a change of aircraft or flight number is necessary. That means that unless you happen to know that there is a connecting flight from an intermediate point, and where that intermediate point is, the site will tell you that there is no flight. Also, in these cases they have gone back to the bad old practice of charging each leg of a flight with a change of aircraft separately, which leads to a good hike in the overall price.

      An example of this is Maroantsetra, the jumping off point for Masoala National Park. There are flights into Maroantsetra from Sambava and Tamatave, if you happen to know this, and you can of course connect to these destinations from Tana. But if you search for a flight from Tana to Maroantsetra on the respective days, the site tells you no flight.

      All this is due to the effective takeover of Air Mad by Air Austral. Air Mad’s lease on its two Air France Airbuses runs out at the end of June and Air France is apparently fed up with Air Mad. Air Austral has demanded the hiving off of Air Mad’s domestic flights. The merger, if that is what it is, is taking shape – my Air Mad frequent flyer programme has now been transferred to Air Austral’s.

  6. As of yesterday, 15 November 2018, the option to obtain a 90-day-duration visa on arrival has been suspended. Now it has been confirmed that only 30-day (€35) and 60-day (€40) tourist visas are obtainable on arrival at Ivato Airport in Madagascar.
    Border police at the airport are vague about the reasons, saying only that it is a “government decision”. The fact that this change has happened without warning, and without any official announcement from the tourism ministry or tourist office, is leading some to suspect that the reasons for the suspension may have some shady connection to the currently ongoing presidential elections, in which case we may expect the 90-day visa to be reinstated in due course. For now, there is no official word on the reason for or duration of the suspension.

  7. When buying fossil ammonites and nautilus as souvenirs, you must ensure to get a receipt from the seller. Be aware that, before leaving the country, it is necessary to take the receipt to the Ministry of Mines desk in Ivato airport to receive an export authorisation. The desk is usually unmanned, but the telephone number of the officer on duty should be displayed at the desk so that they can be summoned. There is no cost for the authorisation document. Attempting to pass through the customs checks, where all baggage is scanned, without an authorisation paper is likely to result in the fossils being confiscated or a bribe being demanded. Note that there is a limit of three ammonite or nautilus fossils per person, although there is some flexibility in this and more pieces may be permitted if they are not too large. Quantities deemed to be commercial are not permitted.

  8. The octopus tree family, Didiereaceae, formerly comprised 11 species that are all endemic to Madagascar. However, following some recent taxonomic revisions, the family now also includes nine further species from the African mainland.

  9. Moramora West Adventure (mob 032 70 676 92; email mg.mwa@yahoo.com) is a local tour operator specialising in western Madagascar but able to organise tours across the island. They organise tailor-made ecotours with ‘Malagasy authenticity’, focusing noit only on nature but also history and culture. Run by Faratiana and Bruno Rasoanaivo, former owners of Tsingy Hotel in Bemaraha.

  10. Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com) is to add a thrice-weekly service to Nosy Be starting next month. The destination is their second in Madagascar after they opened a route from their Addis Ababa hub to Antananarivo last year. They will fly on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from Addis Ababa via Comoros to Nosy Be, then return direct to Addis Ababa on those afternoons.

  11. Far and Wild is an Africa-specialist tour operator offering quality tailor-made tours for individuals and for small groups. When it comes to Madagascar, their expertise is unrivalled in the UK. Programme manager Derek Schuurman has worked with tourism to the island since 1992 and has long been a co-author/contributor to both Bradt’s “Madagascar Wildlife” book and the Bradt Travel Guide to Madagascar.
    They say “contact us for your Madagascar experience: we’ll take you to the island’s most spectacular places and help you to see its most unusual wildlife”. Tel: +44 (0)1768 603 715; email hello@farandwild.travel; web http://www.farandwild.travel .

  12. Donal Conlon says:

    A much more important development for visitors to Madagascar is the newly announced possibilty of obtaining a visa on Internet

    • Hi Donal, what have you heard about this recently? In 2014 the Madagascar ministry of tourism told me that e-visas bought in advance online would be obligatory by 2017. But when I enquired three years later, no advancement had been made with the proposal…

      • Donal Conlon says:

        I believe it is going to happen this time. Details are emerging. Supposedly for 1st April but I must go back and check my sources. It is true that in a dysfunctional state nothing is ever sure. This is supposed to cut down on corruption in the immigration sector. Will check and update.
        I have checked out the visa-on-line for France, in any case. It is operational in a sense but costs: if you do it via internet, €90 for one month (about double what you pay at airport and it seems quite ponderous).

      • Good to know, thanks! I understand from local tour operators that they have been advised that the “e-Visa fees for 2018” are €35/40/50 (30/60/90 days), which suggests the plan is indeed to launch them this year, but this is the first I’ve been made aware of such a specific date. I’ll try to find out more. Let me know if you hear something more concrete.

      • Chris Inman says:

        The e-visa website now exists at http://www.evisamada.gov.mg/# in French English and Italian and the online section is headed “available end 2018”. However at the present date (25.01.2019) the link to the application form has not been activated, so the airport and embassy options are still all we have.
        Still, it does look as though they’re serious about the e-visa, and they will eventually get around to it.

  13. From April 2018, Air Seychelles plans to scale down its operation by a third to concentrate on its domestic network, and will no longer fly to Madagascar or Paris. British Airways is expected to start operating from UK to Seychelles in March.

  14. Should we be eating foie gras?
    Foie gras is a popular French delicacy produced by force-feeding ducks (or sometimes geese) until their livers swell between six and ten times their natural size. The result – which tastes far more lusciously buttery than regular liver – may be dished up whole, but given its expense and rich flavour is usually encountered as a pâté, mousse or parfait served as an accompaniment to a dish such as steak.
    Madagascar has produced foie gras since colonial times, but the country has seen an explosion in production levels over the last decade, and with that have risen the number of concerns being expressed over the ethics of consuming it. Some 25,000 tonnes are produced globally each year, around 75% of that in France, with Hungary and Bulgaria responsible for most of the rest. Madagascar’s output is currently some 60 tonnes per annum, most of which is exported.
    But so controversial is foie gras that its production is illegal in 22 EU states as well as several other countries including Australia, Turkey, India, Israel, and Argentina. The sale of imported foie gras is not outlawed in the UK, but it is not easy to find as the product is boycotted by all UK supermarket chains following animal welfare campaigns and customer complaints.
    The state of California enacted a law in 2004 forbidding both the making and selling of foie gras, but included a provision for an eight-year grace period before the implementation of the ban to allow for a humane method of production to be developed. No such viable technique was found and consequently the law took force in 2012.
    Animal welfare organisations have described as cruel and torturous the process to induce disease and thus swelling in the liver. They say that the force-feeding tubes – essentially metal funnels through which up to 1kg of corn and fat is pumped daily into each duck – which are necessary to overcome the birds’ natural gag reflex, often cause injury to the oesophagus. The animals become overweight often to the point that their legs can no longer support them. They need to be slaughtered within two weeks of the start of fattening process, as mortality from infection, stress and injury skyrockets after that period (one in 25 birds does not even survive those two weeks).
    In southwest Spain, a variety is now being produced that is claimed to be more humane as it does not involve force feeding. However, the product does not meet the French legal definition of foie gras, and at €1,050/kg is nearly ten times the price.
    In Madagascar, there are currently no laws restricting the manufacture, export, sale or consumption of this delicacy, and consequently it is widely available in restaurants in Tana and beyond. Delicious though it undoubtedly is, it is good to be aware of where foie gras comes from before making your choice from the menu.

  15. A fairly new route to Madagascar – and currently often the cheapest from the UK and some other European countries – is with Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com) via Addia Ababa. They currently fly to Antananarivo by Boeing 737 three times per week.

  16. Madagascar’s Embassy in London is to be reopened. Following two years of rumours, the decision has just been made official by the Malagasy government. It is no coincidence that the reopening of the embassy coincides with the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship signed between Britain and King Radama I, and it is expected that president Hery Rajaonarimampianina will be in the UK to mark the occasion and attend the reopening in early September 2017.
    The reopening comes five years on from the reestablishment of the UK’s embassy in Antananarivo, where Ambassador Tim Smart’s term comes to an end this November and Dr Phil Boyle, former British Ambassador to Mali, will take his place.

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