The island of Madagascar, lying off the southeastern coast of Africa, affords a field for industrial exploitation and commercial expansion little known until recently. Neglected for many years and relegated to the position of a mere trading post, with the advent of the French the possibilities of the colony were first brought to the attention of the western world. Since the establishment of a more or less autonomous form of government, endeavors have been made, by both the home authorities and the colonial administration, to pave way for the development of commercial and industrial enterprises and to attract foreign investors to the island.
Madagascar is rich in natural resources of various descriptions. Its large belt of woodland and forest is capable on future exploitation of furnishing vast quantities of hardwood and timber for use not only in the mother country but also to other nations of Europe and America, while its graphite deposits have long since attracted the eyes of manufacturers throughout the world. Other mineral products are of sufficient value to warrant a closer and more detailed examination, and recent bulletins seem to show that Madagascar, like the Belgian Congo, may be able to add somewhat to the worlds supply of radium.
The climate of the colony is easily supportable by the European, and already the white inhabitants hâve feached a cönsiderable humber. With an increase of transportation facilities and the introduction of modern methods of cultivation and commerce, Madagascar seems in a fair way to offer inducements to capital for the exploitation of its rich lands, and the present developments augur well for the future of this far distant colony of France.
As early as 1527 a number of seamen from Dieppe landed on the coast of the island of Madagascar, and these were followed during the succeeding years by travelers and merchants from Brittany and Normandy. The era of colonization, however, did not actually begin until 1642, in which year the Société de lOrient received the exclusive privilege of establishing commercial settlements in Madagascar and the neighboring islands. During the next 200 years the results attained were meager, and it was not until 1868 that the French Government obtained a treaty assuring protection to French citizens in the island, similar to that accorded to the British three years previously. From that date French influence became predominant, and in 1896 the sovereignty of France was affirmed by treaty. After a general insurrection, which was quickly suppressed, Madagascar was annexed to the Republic of France.
The island of ; is separated from the southeast coast of Africa the Channel of Mozambique, the shortest distance between it and the mainland being 240 miles. Its greatest length is 980 miles, greatest width 360 miles, and it has a coast line of more than ,000 miles. The island is extremely mountainous, except in the west, where the vast Sakalave Plain is situated. The central portion is an immense plateau, and consists of two distinct regions, the central section, comprising the districts of Imeria and Betsileo, and the Ankaisina Plateau in the north. In the east large rivers rise about 70 miles from the coast at a height of over ,000 feet, and form torrential watercourses, which are navigable only within 12 miles of the coast, while in the west the land extends toward the interior in wide, low valleys and is traversed by rivers with marshy banks, which are navigable for 60 or 100 miles. Area and population.The total area is 226,910 square miles. The population of Madagascar and its smaller surrounding islands was given by the census of 1921 as ,387.968, chiefly of Malay and Polynesian origin. French inhabitants numbered and European and mixed foreigners 10,310. Climate.Along the entire coast the temperature is usually high, and there is a considerable amount of moisture, except in the north. On the central plateau it is temperate and the seasons are well defined. The mean annual temperature varies from 65° to F, depending on the region, and the average rainfall is approximately 54 inches.
Coffee has been grown in the colony for many years, the eastern and central districts producing a variety of Arabian Mocha. Some years ago, however, the ravages of the borer insect obliged the lanters to undertake the cultivation of a more resistant type, and iberian coffee was introduced. With the gradual development of plantations, primitive methods, of cultivation have given way to more modern systems, and machinery has been substituted for the inconvenient native instruments. A uniform method of preparation has also been established through the crushing of the fresh pods, the grains being dried in the sun or in a drier before being placed in bags...This standardization in preparation is resulting in a more uniform yield and is facilitating business transactions." In 1921 there were approximately 35,000 acres planted to coffee throughout the island, and the exportation amounted to 1,232 metric tons. Almost all the plantations are located in the eastern region, particularly in the zone between Maroantsetra and Farafangana.
The area covered by coconut trees amounts at present to about 25,000 acres. Some of the copra produced is exported and the balance used on the island is the manufacture of oil and soap. The total production in 1921 was small, amounting to only 580 metric tons. The first coconut plantations were in a measure unsuccessful, and this fact delayed further attempts at cultivation for some time. Moreover, the establishing of a coconut plantation requires the tying up of capital without remuneration for some years, and this hinders the development of the industry. The southwestern section of the island is the most suitable district for cultivation of coconut trees.
Although cultivated with good results in several parts of the colony, Madagascar is not in a favorable position to compete with other countries in growing peanuts, owing to the high cost of transportation. In 1921 the quantities exported amounted to 460 metric tons and the area planted to about 24,000 acres. Sisal hemp is grown in some parts of the island, but its cultivation is little developed. Cotton has as yet shown but negligible results, although fibrous plants of various types are grown throughout the island. There are numerous varieties of fruits, peaches, apples, apricots, strawberries, and the like, as well as pineapples, bananas, mangoes, oranges, and other fruits generally found in tropical forests.