Madagascar, officially the Republic of Madagascar, is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. The nation is comprised of the island of Madagascar, which at 587,000 square kilometres (227,000 sq. mi.)  and is classified as the fourth-largest island in the world, as well as numerous smaller peripheral islands. Beginning in the early 19th century, the majority of the island was united and ruled by a series of Merina nobles (Andriana) as the Kingdom of Madagascar until the island was conquered and absorbed into the French colonial empire from 1896 to 1960 when the current Republic of Madagascar became independent. Madagascar’s sources of growth are tourism, textile and light manufacturing exports (notably through the EPZs), agricultural products, and mining. Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla and accounts for about half the world’s export market. Tourism targets the niche eco-tourism market, capitalizing on Madagascar’s unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural habitats, national parks and lemur species.