However, French settlers arrived in Madagascar in 1895 and quickly took control of coffee production. Colonial policies made coffee the main export of the island in the 1930s. One advantage was that they unintentionally promoted the production of small farmers in the native Malagasy.
But a revolt in 1947 between the French, Reunion Creoles, and native Malagasy nationalists over resources led to one of the bloodiest episodes in French colonial history. The conflict between these two opposing parties has left deep traces in Malagasy society.
Independence for Madagascar came in 1960 and until the 1980s was one of the largest exporters of coffee on the island. During this period, Madagascar was the eighth largest producer of coffee by volume in the world.
Along with coffee, cloves, vanilla, and rice are also exported - most of this agriculture is subsistence. Farmers primarily cultivate what they can to feed their families and sell the surplus in local markets.
Coffee grown in Madagascar has changed over time. While primarily cultivating low-quality robusta in the country, now the amount of high-quality Arabica beans has increased. About 90% of the coffee produced in Madagascar is still robust, but now arabica occupies the remaining 10%.
Robusta coffee beans exported from Madagascar are now considered to be of high quality. Most of the robusta are exported to France.
Robusta is cultivated in the tropical areas of the country at altitudes of 100-300m from the east coast in the Vatovavy-Fitovivany region, Antalaha, Tamatave, and Nosy Be in the northwest, near the Ambanja and the Sambirano River.
Arabica is cultivated at higher altitudes in the central mountainous areas, in the province of Antananarivo, and near Lake Alaotra.