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American Anthropologist

The Low-Wage Conservationist: Biodiversity and Perversities of Value in Madagascar

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Abstract

ABSTRACT  In the early 1990s, donors began to implement “integrated conservation and development projects” (ICDPs) in Madagascar to stem deforestation, develop ecotourism, and promote forest conservation practices in rural areas. ICDPs recruited agrarian labor to groom and police parks and disseminate rules. In this article, I present a Marxian analysis of biodiversity's value in the global north, focusing on the role of manual workers in a Biosphere Reserve. I argue that ICDP's reliance on cheap local labor has maintained the historical interdependency of “slash-and-burn” agriculture, wage work, and forest conservation. By facilitating the discovery of species while unintentionally perpetuating the conditions of habitat endangerment, the conservation labor process creates forms of rain forest value.

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