Desertification in the Sahelian Region of Africa
There are two schools of thought with respect to the underlying causes of “desertification” in the Sahelian region of Africa, the Eurocentric view (which blames desertification solely on the action of pastoral nomandists) and the Systems view (which blames desertification on the complex interaction of several factors including climate change and colonialism). This essay will define and describe both of these views. We will them discuss to what extent the view of desertification propounded in the 1970s was formed by a “Eurocentric” view of ecosystems organization and behaviour. Finally, we will touch on what extent it was formed by a negative and paternalistic attitude to pastoral nomadism.
Desertification is the degradation of lands in dry areas. The direct cause of desertification is poor land use. A long-term change in climate could make an area more desert-like without human intervention, but so far there is no evidence to support that this is happening. (Granger 1990).
The Eurocentric view of desertification puts the blame on pastoral nomadism. This is an issue because the cultivation of arid and semi-arid lands in regions like the Sahelian region of Africa is helped by the fact that the soils are usually rich in nutrients since, unlike wetter areas, the limited rainfall has historically washed only a smaller proportion of nutrients from the top soil to the lower soil levels. There are also long hours of sunshine to provide the raw energy for the growth of plants. However, the rainfall is sparse, leading to inconsistent crop yields. (Granger 1990).
Pastoralism is an excellent way of converting into food the vegetation which grows as a result of the irregular and variable rainfall on large areas of arid and semi-arid rangelands. On of the main types of pastoral systems that are practised is pastoral nomadism. Nomadic pastoralists make the best use of marginal arid lands where rains may or may not come and where the vegetation in low in quantity and sparsely distributed. Herdsmen generally know the best places to take their livestock and leave for the next grazing ground when one has been used up. In this situation, the herdsman move their livestock continually not following a set pattern. Each year they travel from the wet-season grazing lands in the arid zone to fallow lands in the semi-arid agricultural zone. Pastoralists have over time developed complex methods to ensure their survival in extreme environments. (Granger 1990).
This overgrazing by the pastoral nomads can have severe consequences including leading to desertification. Overgrazing affects the vegetation, the soil, and even the health of the animals themselves. It can lead to a decline in the annual production of rangeland vegetation and to a change in the species composition, with a drop in the proportion of palatable grass species, particularly perennials which are good at holding the soil together. (Granger 1990).
There is also the Systems view of desertification, which as we know blames the problem on a complex interaction of several factors including climate change and colonialism. There are any number of ways that desertification can occur under this model. It can happen through natural disasters, or degradation due to bio-geophysical causes or ‘acts of God’. Through population change, as degradation occurs when population growth exceeds environmental threshold or decline causes collapse of adequate management. Through underdevelopment, as resources exploited to benefit the world economy or developed countries, leaving little profit to manage or restore degraded environments. Through internationalism, as taxation and other forces interfere with the market, triggering over-exploitation. Through colonial legacies, as trade links, communications, rural-urban linkages, cash crops and other ‘hangovers’ from the past promote poor management of resource...
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