Madagascar’s most cattle-dependent regions have, in recent years, been surrounded by narratives of a sudden and violent decline in both the sheer number of and benefits conferred by the nation’s distinctive zebu cattle, narratives which largely attribute this decline to theft and insecurity. This paper examines the broader state of cattle-based livelihoods in two such regions, Haute Matsiatra and Ihorombe, through evidence garnered from semi-structured interviews conducted over three weeks in the major cattle market towns of Ambalavao and Ihosy, and in the rural commune of Sakaviro, five kilometers south of Ambalavao. By incorporating secondary historical sources and recent work from both Malagasy and Western academics, the paper finds that the cattle economy has cyclically experienced high levels of related violence, foreign involvement in cattle trafficking, and conflict between and among the local and Malagasy state institutions involved in the process. However, the paper also finds that this historically cyclical system is under increasing duress from two mutually worsening sets of stressors: one constituted by deepening poverty, environmental adversity, and population growth, the other a pervasive process of social disintegration within pastoralists communities and the institutions that work with them. It concludes with a set of recommendations for relevant actors in an attempt to avoid the worst-case scenario- the collapse of cattle-based livelihoods due to a rapid decline in Madagascar’s cattle population.
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