Natural growth (2.8% per year in the five-year period 2000-06; 3% in 2009) is quite sustained, with a birth rate that remains just below 40 ‰. The living conditions of the population are not satisfactory, as evidenced by the 118th place occupied by the country (2007) in the decreasing world ranking of the value of the human development index, an aggregate of three indicators (life expectancy at birth: 63 years; literacy: 71%; per capita income adjusted according to purchasing power: $ 923) which effectively expresses the effective level of social and economic development of a national community.
According to VAULTEDWATCHES, the distribution of the residents in the territory is far from uniform: the greatest concentrations are recorded in the central plateaus (in particular in the province of the capital) and in the eastern coastal strip, which is also devoid of natural landings and moreover exposed to typhoons. The causes of the intense population of these parts of the island can be traced back to the landing of populations from south-east Asia on the east coast, as apparently evidenced by the language, belonging to the Austronesian group and common, albeit with slight differences, to the whole ‘Island. The Merina (or Hova) form the largest ethnic group (24%) of the 18 that make up the Malagasy population. The Betsimisaraka (13%) are based on the east coast; the Betsileos follow(11%), in the south-eastern part of the plateau, and the Tsimihety (7%), in the north. There are also small communities of French (now reduced to a few thousand), Comorians, Indians and Chinese.
The capital (and main city), Antananarivo, is the only center to be configured as properly urban: it is located in the center of one of the most advanced areas, economically and culturally; the other major cities are Toamasina (formerly Tamatave), Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toliary and Antsi; ranana.
In addition to Malagasy, which is the official language, French is also spoken. As for religion, half of the population has remained faithful to animist cults; the other half is represented by Christians (Catholics and Protestants) and, only for 7%, by Muslims.
The Malagasy economy went through a particularly critical phase after the coup d’état in 1975, which introduced a policy of forced socialization of the economy, with unsuccessful results (drop in production in the countryside, food shortage, growing poverty), aggravated by the collapse of prices on the world market for export products. Only in the mid-1990s did there begin to show any signs of recovery, however held back by the political crisis of 2000-01 and by recurring serious natural disasters. The government has introduced a series of liberal reforms (abolition of customs barriers, introduction of tax breaks to attract foreign investments) and has scrupulously followed the requests for structural adjustment received from international financial institutions; remission of foreign debt, the consistency of which, at that date, was equal to 30 times the amount of the gross annual domestic product.
The economy of Madagascar is based on the export of agricultural and mining products and textile products and on the income from tourism. Among the products of commercial agriculture, the main ones are coffee, sisal, cotton, sugar cane, but above all some products of low volume and high value, such as vanilla (of which Madagascar is the first producing country, with about half of the world production), cloves and various essential oils. The main subsistence crops are rice and cassava. Less than 10% of the land is cultivated, with rather low yields. The manufacturing sector (15.8% of the employed in 2007) is based on the export of some products linked to local raw materials, in particular textiles, and has drawn impetus from foreign investments attracted by the concessions granted in some free zones established after 2000. Up to now, mineral resources have not been adequately exploited; the extraction of ilmenite and nickel by foreign companies should be noted. Tourism (312,000 admissions in 2006) is mainly oriented towards the ecotourism market and takes advantage of the presence of almost uncontaminated habitats and the extraordinary biodiversity heritage of the island.
The trade balance is passive. Exports, mainly addressed to France and the United States, are made up for about half by agri-food products and 40% by textiles. With regard to transport, internal communications are represented (1990) by 900 km of railways and 50,000 km of roads, of which just over 5400 are asphalted. Main port is Toamasina, on the east coast; followed by Mahajanga, Toliary and Antsi; ranana on the west and north coasts. The major airports are those of Antananarivo and Toamasina.
CULTURES OF Madagascar
The ethnographic interest for Madagascar arises from the particular mixture of African cultural and linguistic elements and traits with elements and traits coming from South-East Asia. The successive contributions of European culture through the work of the Portuguese and the French and of Islamic culture through the Arabs have made the socio-cultural picture of the island extremely rich and complex.
The Merina, very numerous on the central plateau, farmers organized in a highly stratified society (nobles, free, slaves), occupied in the 19th century. large regions of the island, founding a powerful kingdom and determining the fate of other populations. Anthropologist Madagascar Bloch, as well as studying culture of a small group of Eastern forest (the Zafimaniry), has investigated the evolution of the Merina ritual institutions in a diachronic key, in particular the circumcision ritual and funeral rites, the latter characterized by double burial and dissemination on the territory of stone sepulchers. The great importance of cults and funerary practices are a characteristic of the Malagasy populations and most of the traditional artistic productions of the island are connected to them.
In the southern part of the plateau are the settlements of the Betsileo, culturally similar to the Merina. Another numerous ethnic group is constituted by the Sakalava, investigated in recent times by Madagascar Lambek; they occupy the western territories of the island and their social and religious system is reminiscent of that of the Shona of Zimbabwe. The Vezo are culturally related to the Sakalavas, skilled fishermen studied by the anthropologist R. Astuti. The Betsimisaraka, rice growers and farmers who, as a reaction to the European presence, gave birth in the 18th century have settled on the east coast. to a confederation of potentates. One of the most representative groups of the southern part of the island are the Tanala farmers, while at the northern end are the Tsimihety, who, unlike most other Malagasy groups, prefer livestock to agriculture.