ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - French-owned beverage company STAR said on Tuesday it has requested an independent audit of its supply chain in Madagascar following media reports linking maize production to deforestation in the west of the country.
Slash and burn agriculture was the biggest driver of tree loss in Madagascar last year, causing the world’s fourth largest island to lose 2% of its primary rainforest, the highest of any tropical nation according to the World Resources Institute.
STAR Group, which was bought by France’s Castel in 2011, said it wanted to ensure its drinks were not the cause of deforestation or biodiversity loss in Menabe region, an area of dry forest home to several endemic species.
“We have requested an independent audit, in this area, whose conclusions will be made public as soon as possible,” Francis Ambroise, director general of STAR told a news conference in the capital Antananarivo, citing recent reports calling into question STAR’s corn supply.
While the company does not condone destroying forests for maize production, he said he could not be 100% sure its maize supply was free of maize grown illegally in the Menabe region.
The cutting and burning of trees to clear land for maize production in Kirindy forest in Menabe is driving the world’s smallest primate - known as Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur - to extinction.
Satellite data shows the 100,000 hectare (245,000 acres) forest has almost halved in size in the last two decades.
STAR buys 13,000 tonnes of maize throughout Madagascar, representing 2.65% of the country’s total annual production (490,000 tonnes), Ambroise said.
STAR’s head of communication Karine Rajaona Razafindrakoto told Reuters 11% of the its maize comes from the Menabe region.
But conservation groups and the local deputy prosecutor say a large majority of maize from the Menabe region is grown illegally in Kirindy forest.
The audit will be conducted by Fanamby, a local conservation group that has been investigating the maize business for several years.
“If we want to move forward in restoring the situation in Menabe, we need to collaborate and be transparent to move forward instead of pointing fingers,” Tiana Andriamanana, executive director of Fanamby told Reuters.
“STAR is just the beginning,” she added, saying that other maize buyers needed to improve their supply chains, particularly the animal feed industry, which consumes almost two-thirds of national annual production.
In the past nine months, the government has made efforts to slow destruction of Kirindy forest in Menabe, arresting several farmers and destroying maize in the protected area.
But the politicians and business people who launder maize grown illegally in the forest into legal supply chains remain free, local prosecutors say.
Writing and additional reporting by Hereward Holland; editing by Elias Biryabarema and Emelia Sithole-Matarise