- Traditionally, the Malagasy economy has been based on cultivation of paddy rice, coffee, vanilla and cloves. But in recent years foreign resource companies have invested billions of dollars.
- The economy is forecast to shrink this year, analysts say, compared with 7.1 percent growth in 2008.
- Government spending has been drastically cut this year after foreign donors suspended aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Analysts say the slump in economic activity will hurt tax revenues, so spending is likely to be squeezed next year too if there is no speedy resolution to the political turmoil. Former president Marc Ravalomanana had planned to increase spending in 2009 by 17 percent to 4,074 billion ariary compared with 3,482 billion in 2008 before he was ousted in a March coup.
- Canada's Sherritt International holds the biggest stake in a nickel and cobalt operation that is likely to be one of the world's largest nickel mines when complete in 2010.
- The mine is in Ambatovy, about 80 km (50 miles) east of the capital Antananarivo, and is projected to produce 60,000 tonnes of nickel annually for 27 years. In February, Sherritt said capital costs for the project had leapt to $4.5 billion from a previous estimate of $3.4 billion.
- A subsidiary of UK-based multinational Rio Tinto Plc started production and export of ilmenite, used to make titanium dioxide, this year.
- Companies are also looking for gold, coal, chromium, platinum and uranium. Conservationists say mining projects could threaten the island's biodiversity.
- Madagascar Oil has a heavy oil project at Tsimiroro, with estimated oil in place reserves of 1.7 billion barrels. In 2008, the company produced 2,000 barrels during a 6 month cyclic steam trial.
- TOTAL paid $100 million for a 60 percent share in Bemolanga, said to hold some of the world's largest undeveloped bitumen reserves. Bemolanga holds recoverable reserves estimated at 2.5 billion barrels.
- Exxon Mobil is also investing in Madagascar's offshore oil potential, but its exploration activities have been on hold since February.
- Against tough regional competition from Indian Ocean neighbours Mauritius and the Seychelles, the island is promoting itself as an eco-tourism destination. Criminal gangs have taken advantage of a security vacuum this year, illegally exporting precious hardwood and exotic animals for Asia's pet trade.
- Official data show visitor numbers in 2009 are half the 380,000 arrivals in 2008. Some say that is optimistic. Tourism revenue in 2008 was $390 million.
AREA: 581,540 square km (224,532 sq miles), Madagascar is in the Indian Ocean about 400 km (250 miles) off the coast of Mozambique. It is slightly larger than France.
POPULATION: 20 million.
LANGUAGE: Malagasy and French are the official languages, but Hovba and other local dialects are also spoken.
ETHNICITY: The Malgaches, who comprise 99 percent of the population, are of Malagasy-Afro-Indonesian origin.
RELIGION: About half the population professes traditional beliefs, with 41 percent Christians and seven percent Muslims.
(Writing by Richard Lough and David Cutler)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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