One step that can be taken is to improve the roads.
Outside of the two major north/south and east/west roads, you need a 4-wheel drive to get around the country. Better roads would improve the ability of farmers to get produce to markets and ports, and in an agricultural economy this is crucial.
A second necessary step is population control. In the old days a common greeting in the countryside was, may you have seven boys and seven girls. Without population control income gains will be difficult. A Vermont based non-profit, Population Media Center, has been doing effective work in Africa with radio soap operas, emphasizing family planning and women’s education.
A final issue is the almost unsolvable one for developing countries – corruption. It is endemic in Madagascar. Any permit can be had for the right price and no permit can be gotten without greasing the wheels of business. How do you address corruption? Better government institutions would help but this is easier said than done. A British statesman was once asked the secret to democracy. His response, “the first 300 or 400 years.” The Chinese are trying to address their corruption issue with some draconian purges today. No one knows if this is a band aid approach or the real long term solution. Every country has to address its governmental institutions and how they operate in their own way. No easy answers here.
Madagascar has one potential trump card today – its demographic dividend. They have a large population of young people and if this group could be put to work they would generate tremendous growth. Look at what China has achieved the past 35 years with its young population. Asia is getting more expensive today (see chart here) and Africa is one of the last bastions of cheap, plentiful labor. But without infrastructure and education the investment is not going to happen.
I also traveled to Mauritius and La Reunion in addition to Madagascar. La Reunion, a part of France, is especially interesting – a volcanic island where you can actually climb an active volcano. It is an exciting 2½ hour ascent to a cone where you look straight down into a 900 foot crater. Not on everyone’s bucket list but a great adventure nonetheless.