Madagascar | Study Abroad | Environment | Natural Resource Management

Madagascar: Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management

Explore environmental challenges, conservation, and development strategies in Madagascar, a biodiversity "hot spot" island isolated from neighboring landmasses for more than one hundred million years.

This program offers classroom and field-based instruction in natural and social scientific methods to encourage students to analyze environmental issues in an array of ecosystems — including rainforest, dry spiny thicket, alpine and transitional forest, savannah, gallery and littoral forest, mangrove, and coral reef — and within multiple economic, socio-political, and cultural contexts.

Major topics of study include:

  • Lemur ecology
  • Ethnobotany
  • Marine studies
  • Conservation and protected areas management in Madagascar
  • Root causes of biodiversity loss, including mining and economic development, deforestation, slash and burn agriculture, and cash crop production
  • Balancing environmental protection with livelihood needs from local to global scales

Madagascar is a world apart, evolving from a set of unique, isolated environmental circumstances.

Live and study in Fort Dauphin.

The program is based in Fort Dauphin (Tolagnaro), a town of approximately 50,000 people. Situated on a peninsula at the southern end of a chain of rainforested mountains, Fort Dauphin is surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean and is home to some of the country’s cleanest and most beautiful beaches.

Five very distinct ecosystems exist within a fifty-mile radius of Fort Dauphin, making it a great base from which to take a variety of educational excursions. You will be able to appreciate the wonders of rainforests, spiny thicket, gallery zones, coastal vegetation, and transitional areas.

chameleon in MadagascarExamine Madagascar’s long-term conservation and development needs.

You will not only be exposed to spectacular natural settings, you will also explore the human pressures placed on the country's ecosystems and possibilities for the future. You will grapple with a host of issues pitting conservation against development in a variety of ecosystems. Further questions will be raised amidst seemingly irreconcilable choices, compelling you to study, learn, and contribute to possible solutions.

Explore a variety of integrated themes in collaboration with Malagasy partners.

The program offers thematic units on biodiversity, lemur ecology, conservation and environmental management, environmental impacts of mining and economic development, forest types and land use over time, ethnobotany, ecotourism, and marine studies.

The Environmental Research Methods and Ethics seminar allows you to experiment with a wide range of social and natural science field techniques alongside Malagasy counterparts studying environmental management.

Enhance your French while learning Malagasy.

The program is based in a country that is part of francophone Africa, enabling you to improve your French, while studying the environmental and conservation issues about which you are passionate. Learning Malagasy allows you to connect more deeply with Malagasy people. You will have multiple opportunities to improve your speaking skills in both languages through time in the classroom; on field excursions; and with host families, friends, and Malagasy students and through conversations with the program’s extensive network of partners and contacts. 

tidal pool studyCommunity ecology project with Malagasy students

During the village stay, you will work closely with your Malagasy counterparts on a community study using participatory rural appraisal techniques. Project activities may include ecological inventories, community maps, resource flows, market studies, and interviews, which together illuminate how local peoples view and use natural resources, as well as their impacts on the environment. You will synthesize your data, and present your findings in French on the physical, cultural, and social aspects of the village upon return to Fort Dauphin.

Visit key sits related to Madagascar's contemporary ecology and conservation.

Madagascar is an incredibly rich country in terms of flora and fauna. During excursions outside Fort Dauphin, you will directly witness current conservation challenges, such as deforestation for cattle grazing and mining, slash and burn agriculture, charcoal production and fuel wood use, production of non-food cash crops, and the illicit trade in endangered species. Madagascar’s national system of park management is juxtaposed with local livelihood practices, where people view the forest as a source of food, shelter, energy, and medicine.

Complete an Independent Study Project.

During the final month of the semester, you will focus on an Independent Study Project (ISP) in which you will conduct primary research on a selected topic. The ISP is conducted throughout Madagascar in appropriate locations.

Sample topic areas include:

  • Behavioral ecology of lemurs
  • Community-based resource management
  • Conservation assessments of endangered species
  • Coral reef management and conservation
  • Cash crop production and links to local livelihoods
  • Medicinal plants in the marketplace
  • Ecotourism
  • Carbon sequestration and financing 
  • Land tenure reform and agricultural production
  • Payments for ecosystem services
  • Sacred forests
  • Sustainable land use techniques


Previous college-level coursework in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields, as assessed by SIT. Three recent semesters of college-level French or equivalent, and the ability to follow coursework in French, as assessed by SIT.

Access virtual library guide.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

Classes will be conducted mainly in academic French, with university professors and experts in relevant fields teaching the Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management seminar.

The Environmental Research Methods and Ethics seminar, conducted mainly in English, focuses on research techniques and cross-cultural adjustment skills, and is intended to prepare students for the Independent Study Project. Readings and classroom sessions for the Research Methods and Ethics course are supplemented by a short field research project undertaken in a rural village.

The program’s French language course builds students’ capacity through a focus on conversational French and also aims to enhance their use of French in the context of the natural sciences. Coursework in Malagasy provides students with the foundational and essential tools required for daily use. 

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management Seminar – syllabus
(ENVI3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
An interdisciplinary seminar conducted primarily in French, with required readings, analyzing the environmental challenges and conservation and development strategies in Madagascar across scales, from local to global. The focus is on Madagascar's southern region. Resources utilized in the delivery of course content include the Libanona Ecology Center, Department of Natural Sciences at the University of Antananarivo and the Marine Studies Institute of the University of Tulear, as well as international and local environmental nongovernmental organizations such as Madagascar National Parks, WWF, Azafady, Blue Ventures, Reef Doctor, and Honko.
Malagasy – syllabus
Malagasy (French Version) – syllabus
(MALA1000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Emphasis on beginning speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Formal instruction is augmented by language practice with homestay families.
French for Natural Sciences – syllabus
French for Natural Sciences (French Version) – syllabus
(FREN2000-2500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
French for Natural Sciences – syllabus
French for Natural Sciences (French Version) – syllabus
(FREN3000-3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Focusing on oral proficiency in the context of the natural sciences with a biodiversity and natural resource management concentration, language teaching is targeted toward the many activities in the thematic and research methods seminars in order to help students work more independently in the field. The objective is to facilitate students' interactions with a range of professionals in the field working to manage resources while promoting development within the local cultural context. In support of these objectives, course content provides additional focus on fundamentals of spoken and written French to increase student capacity. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in the appropriate level, with additional language practice in homestays and on field visits.
Environmental Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ENVI3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Conducted primarily in English, this is a course in social and natural sciences research methods. The focus is on learning how to collect, analyze, integrate, and report social and ecological data to critically understand and evaluate various environmental issues. The course serves as an introduction to the Independent Study Project and includes a focus on field study ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy. Field studies may include designing a research project; writing a proposal; interviewing; surveys; and maintaining a field journal. Specific ecological field study methods may include habitat surveys; biotic sampling and analysis; fauna and flora identification; biodiversity monitoring; population censusing; and animal behavior.
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
Conducted primarily in southern Madagascar or other appropriate locations. Sample topic areas: reforestation; coral reef conservation; medicinal plants in the marketplace; ecotourism; carbon sequestration and financing; land tenure reform and agricultural production; conservation assessments of endangered species; cash crop production and links to local livelihoods; sacred forests; community-based resource management; behavioral ecology of lemurs; sustainable land use techniques.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Discover the challenges of promoting conservation alongside sustainable development in diverse ecosystems throughout Madagascar.

Gain direct knowledge of specialized ecological zones, rural conservation, and development issues.

Students in Madagascar on the road to a safariFort Dauphin Region

Field excursions in the home base region focus on interviews with fishing peoples in Evatraha, a stakeholder analysis and an overview of QMM mining operations and conservation activities at Mandena, and botanical studies in the littoral forest of Sainte Luce.


During the program’s major excursion, the group travels to Tuléar, where students begin the marine studies and protected areas units. You will engage with traditional and industrial fishing practices; visit sacred areas protected by local customs; visit newly protected areas; debate issues concerning coastal resource management with NGO personnel; and explore key ecosystems, including spiny forests, calcareous plateaus, mangroves, and coral reefs of one of the world’s largest barrier reefs, the Great Barrier Reef of Tuléar.

Faux Cap Region

You will spend a week in a rural village with Malagasy counterparts from the Libanona Ecology Center learning about rural life, resource use, and social aspects of conservation and development needs in the context of southern Madagascar. The rural stay is typically in the Faux Cap region, near the southernmost point of the island.

A lemur in MadagascarNational Parks and Community-Managed Protected Areas

From Tuléar, the group travels north through various protected areas, including spectacular national parks and community-managed reserves at Isalo, Anja, Andringitra, and Andasibe. Lemur ecology field techniques are performed in the classified forest at Kianjavato. You will see a great range of vegetation types, including spiny forest, savannah, transitional forest, alpine, and rainforest, while the geology changes from oceanic sandstone and limestone to continental sandstone and granite monoliths.

Antananarivo (Madagascar’s capital)

The major excursion ends in the capital city of Antananarivo, commonly referred to as Tana. There, you will hone in further on human adaptations and impacts on the various ecosystems visited, integrating ideas on how to preserve Malagasy cultural practices and the biodiversity on which they depend, while putting the finishing touches on your plans for independent study.

Jim HansenJim Hansen, Academic Director

Jim Hansen received his BS in economics from Montana State University and his MA in geography from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. In addition, he has pursued further studies in the Département d'Etudes du Français Langue Etrangère at the Université de Toulouse le Mirail in Toulouse, France, and is currently an MA candidate in European languages and literature (French) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Mr. Hansen has served as an energy analyst at the East-West Center in Honolulu, where he has done contract work with the United Nations Pacific Energy Development Program, the World Bank, UNESCO, and Pacific Island governments in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Tonga. More recently, he has been employed as an English as a Second Language (ESL) and French instructor at both the University of Hawai'i and Punahou School in Honolulu. Mr. Hansen has published in the fields of linguistics, cross-cultural communication, and energy economics. He was academic director of the SIT Cameroon program in spring 1994, the SIT Mali program in fall 2002, and SIT programs in Madagascar since fall 1994.

MamyMamy Rajaonah, Program Assistant

Mamy expertly handles logistics in all aspects of the program, including transport, communications, local staff, catering, and health and safety. He also provides valuable insight into Malagasy culture and advice and logistics for students’ Independent Study Projects. A native of Antananarivo, Mamy has played an essential role in SIT Madagascar programs in Antananarivo and Fort Dauphin since 1998.

Barry FergesonBarry Ferguson, Academic Coordinator

Barry assists the program’s academic director in many aspects of the semester, including teaching both field and practical courses on lemur ecology, protected areas management, people and conservation, and research methods. Barry also spends time working with students to identify and refine their Independent Study Projects.
Barry has a broad academic background with a BSc in ecology (Durham UK) and an MSc in environment and international development (UEA, UK). He is currently conducting doctoral research on the political ecology of the Mandrare Valley, focusing on land claims, customary tenure, and livelihoods of people living within newly protected areas (UEA, UK). Barry has published on various aspects of conservation in Madagascar, and he is an editor of the journal Madagascar Conservation and Development. He considers himself an advocate for improving the linkages and communication between communities, scholars, and professionals in the conservation movement. A native of Ireland, Barry has been involved in a wide range of conservation, education, and rural fieldwork in southern Madagascar since 1999. He has supported the SIT Madagascar: Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management program in various capacities since 2001.

staffLuis Manera Raevoniaina “Naina,” Language Coordinator and Academic Assistant

Naina is responsible for organizing and teaching French and Malagasy languages and providing academic insight into Malagasy culture and traditions. A native of Fort Dauphin, Naina received his degree in geography from the University of Tuléar. His varied background includes working in community relations as a sports and culture specialist for Rio Tinto QMM; teaching history and geography at Lycée Sacre Coeur; and working as a language formation consultant.

Martine Razafimandimby, French Instructor

Martine is the program's most experienced language teacher, with over twenty-five years at the lycée and twelve years at the Alliance Française in Fort Dauphin. A native of Fort Dauphin, Martine holds an advanced degree in French language from the University of Antananarivo and is currently director of the Lycée Pole in Fort Dauphin.

Melvin Joelson Razafimandimby “Sosony,” Language Instructor

Sosony teaches French and Malagasy languages and aspects of Malagasy culture, especially song and dance. A native of Fort Dauphin, Sosony is a specialist in physical education through training at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Ecole Nationale de l’Education Physique in Antananarivo. He has represented Fort Dauphin as regional director for the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Culture. Currently, Sosony is regional director of tourism and handicrafts in Anosy. He also furnishes contacts for students’ Independent Study Projects and provides logistical support.

Lecturers include:

Dr. Gabrielle Bakolimalala Ramamonjiarisoa “Bakoly,” Lecturer

Bakoly teaches biodiversity, conservation, and the relationships between plants and animals in addition to leading the program’s field course on botanical inventories. A native of Antananarivo, she earned her doctorate in botany at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is an internationally renowned expert on plant systematics, agroforestry, and biodiversity. She has attended numerous conferences throughout the world and is currently working on classifying newly discovered plant species, particularly in Madagascar. She is Madagascar’s scientific authority for the International Convention for the Trade of Endangered Species, and works closely with Missouri Botanical Gardens and Kew Gardens. Bakoly teaches at the Department of Natural Sciences at the University of Antananarivo, where she served as department chair for twelve years.

Share daily life by living with Malagasy families.

Hospitality is very important in Malagasy culture. The two-way exchange afforded by the program’s two homestay experiences is an integral and unforgettable part of the semester.

Fort DauphinFort Dauphin

You will live with a host family in Fort Dauphin for a month, punctuated by trips to various ecosystems, national parks, historical sites, and the village stay (see below). Some students also choose to spend time with their Fort Dauphin host family during the Independent Study Project period.

The homestay in Fort Dauphin offers a gateway into the warmth and generosity of Malagasy family life and social relations. It is a primer for language learning and gives deeper insight into many of the issues discussed in the program’s core seminar.

The program’s experienced homestay coordinator works to ensure a cross section of families. Host parents in Fort Dauphin work in a variety of professions and could be teachers, government officials and civil servants, doctors, bankers, NGO workers, tailors, or auto mechanics. Families tend to be large with many children.

Many Malagasy homes are modest and simple compared to American homes, although homes of wealthier families can seem very large and lavish. Most host families are middle class, and cook outside on charcoal stoves, so it is not uncommon to have pigs, chickens, goats, and occasionally turkeys in the courtyard.

Students in their village homestayVillage Stay

To learn about Malagasy rural issues, you will live for one week in a rural village, typically in the area of Faux Cap. Faux Cap is on the southern tip of Madagascar next to the ocean, and students are placed in different villages surrounding the town.

Village conditions are very basic, with no electricity or running water. You may spend time in bean fields, at the local school, medical clinic, or at the market, or may engage in various local activities. Each evening, your host family will teach you songs and dances typical of their village in preparation for the village dance party with all villages on the final day. SIT staff members visit each village daily.

The village stay emphasizes the importance of reciprocity as an integral part of the study abroad experience. SIT students travel to Faux Cap with Malagasy students studying environmental management at the Centre Ecologique de Libanona in Fort Dauphin. In addition to sharing the experience of living in rural Madagascar, SIT and Malagasy students work together to obtain information pertaining to local resources, land use, health, education, transportation, traditional governance, economic activities, communication, physical and cultural environments, and the ecology of each village area.

The rural visit provides an invaluable opportunity to participate in the daily activities of rural Madagascar communities and to learn and work alongside Malagasy students while gaining a deeper understanding of pressing environmental and social issues.

Other accommodations during the program include hostels, campsites, or small hotels.

A diversity of students representing different colleges, universities, and majors study abroad on this program. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things that connect back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Director of International Programs and Global Health Fellowships, Norfolk Academy, Norfolk, Virginia
  • Executive Director, EduFood, Oxford, Mississippi
  • Project managers, research fellows, and national field directors

Alumni are also working in climate change and sustainable development, renewable energy, sustainable living design, permaculture, business development and strategic growth, medicine, and law.

Program Dates: Fall 2016

Program Arrival Date:  Aug 25, 2016

Program Departure Date:    Dec 7, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Jun 1, 2016


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $15,360

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Biodiversity and natural resources
    • Malagasy society and cultural values
  • Environmental Research Methods and Ethics seminar in preparation for the Independent Study Project
  • Intensive language instruction in French
  • Intensive language instruction in Malagasy
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Kianjavato rainforest, the Spiny Desert, Andasibe, Andringitra, Isalo National Parks, and the barrier reef of Tuléar, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $2,290

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period.  This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Fort Dauphin, Tolagnaro), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period.  Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • All homestays (four weeks in Fort Dauphin and one week in a rural village)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 60

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 40

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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