Fampotakely, a sandy village in northeast Madagascar, at first seems an unlikely destination for migrants. It has no hospital, no secondary school, no electricity, and limited well water. Yet its population has exploded to 5,000 in recent years. A few of the houses, usually made from dried palm leaves and stalks, now have concrete foundations and solar panels. Fampotakely’s relative wealth is due to its strategic location in the illegal timber trade: it’s downriver from Masoala National Park, home to some of the world’s most valuable rosewood.
For the last decade, men from all over the region have gone into the park’s dense forests to work as loggers, a job that pays well by local standards. They cut down the massive trees, carve grooves in the logs, and use climbing vines to drag them to the nearest waterway. With rafts made from other felled trees, they use bamboo poles to float the precious hardwood toward Fampotakely and other villages along the Indian Ocean coastline.