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close this bookThe Improvement of Tropical and Subtropical Rangelands (BOSTID)
close this folderPart I
close this folderThe social context for rangeland improvement
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentProduction systems in tropical and subtropical regions
View the documentContext of environmental degradation
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Context of environmental degradation

Typically, lands requiring revegetation have had their plant cover destroyed through improper farming methods, the extensive gathering of wood for fuel or construction purposes, or through overgrazing. In terms of destructive impact, cultivation and the gathering of woody species probably have had more impact on the environment than have grazing animals. Livestock are the primary cause of desertification only in areas where large numbers of grazing animals are concentrated, such as around boreholes. Overgrazing is, however, a major cause of vegetative change and often inhibits the restoration of plant cover.

Although these three actions of man are the main causes of environmental de gradation , the reasons for increased degradation are still debated. Four common reasons for environmental deterioration are climatic change, population growth, economic change, and human fallibility. Usually these factors interact. Over the past 30 years, the human and animal populations using semiarid and marginal lands have grown, thereby putting more pressure on the environment. Given the cycles of wet and drought years common to semiarid regions, such as the West African Sahel, this led to population growth that could only support the population in wet periods. The shortsightedness of governments and donor agencies also has contributed to environmental deterioration. In Africa in particular, ill-conceived water and livestock development projects contributed substantially to overgrazing (Bernus, 1971; Haaland, 1977). These factors have all contributed to the need for revegetation programs, but merely listing the mechanisms and factors leading to environmental problems does not explain the process by which this has occurred. Also, in many cases, destruction of plants in marginal areas has been occurring at a faster pace than have climatic or population changes. This has been due to factors that have reduced both the mobility and the diversity of traditional economies. These factors also undermined traditional mechanisms of environmental protection. The need for revegetation and conservation has been accelerated by the growth in government power, in modern economies, and in the use of improved technologies.

Changing political conditions have had severe impacts on many pastoral societies of Africa and Asia. In many cases, national boundaries were created in such a way that grazing lands used by one people were split between two or more nations. Over time, nations have incressingly restricted the movement of people and animals across frontiers . Such restrictions reduce the diversity of ecosystems available to herders and lead to herds spending longer periods of time in marginal areas than they had in the past. For example, it has been argued that the imposition of the frontier between Uganda and Kenya was the reason for overgrazing and the destruction of the pastoral economy of the Karamajong of Uganda (Quam, 1978). The imposition of national boundaries also had some impact on trading activities.

The growth of state authority has impinged on pastoral production systems in several other ways. To a large degree, governments have eliminated the raiding and warfare that often characterized the relationship between herders and their neighbors. While pacification is in itself quite desirable, it often had the effect of opening grazing lands to groups that previously did not have access to them. Often the state did not give title or the means to restrict access to grazing lands to anyone. This in effect made it impossible for communities to enforce local regulations designed to protect pastures or woodlands. Often government planners felt that local rules concerning pasture use prevented efficient meat production or impeded nation building (Sall, 1978; Cole, 1981). They wished to create a common pasture situation in which any individual who wished to raise livestock was free to do so, both to expand meat production and to combat tribalism. In many instances, these changes were accompanied by changes in herd composition. For example, cattle production increased dramatically in the northern Sahel at the expense of less destructive, better adapted forms of livestock, such as the camel (National Research Council, 1983).

The reduction of intergroup hostilities and the introduction of government land resource planning had additional impacts on the viability of traditional pastoral economies. Governments have generally sided with agriculturalists in disputes between them and pastoralists. The cessation of raiding by pastoral groups led to projects to expand agricultural production, and population pressures have contributed to the expansion of cultivated are as - further reducing the mobility of traditional pastoralists. Generally, those lands that are occupied by farmers are marginal croplands but are among the best watered and most productive pastures (figure 2-3). They are generally those used during the dry season or in winter months when the productivity of other pastures is low. The loss of these lands to farmers forces animals to remain longer on more marginal lands and increases the likelihood of erosion and desertification due to overgrazing. Even where arrangements can be made for the pasturing of animals on stubble, as is the case of much of West Africa, mobility is reduced. Such arrangements can often be developed for regular seasonal usage of pastures but not usually for occasional or for emergency use.

While governments frequently have reduced pastoral groups' land rights, in some countries there have been attempts to protect pastoralists by adjudicating land rights. French colonial authorities in North Africa attempted to adjudicate tribal boundaries, and, in East Africa, post-independence governments have attempted to delimit group ranches and grazing blocks. These attempts have in some cases restricted the growth of herds and have probably reduced overgrazing, but they also can restrict mobility if strictly enforced. As mentioned earlier, the fluid, often vague, boundaries between the areas used by different pastoral groups facilitated mobility. Overly rigid enforcement of these rules can confine animals to too small an area or, if not enforced, boundaries may be ignored. If local groups still manage resources, the fluidity of boundaries may not be a problem, but if reforms have eliminated or modified the ability to control grazing, then once again the creation of a common resource may be required where one previously did not exist.
The growth of market economies, and the adoption of new technologies that this growth permits, have also reduced the viability of tradition al resource management strategies . In a subsistence economy, one's survival is directly linked to the local environment. One exploits a wide variety of resources, but one's survival over time depends on the sustained productivity of the immediate environment. The introduction of a market economy changes this. First, one can specialize in animal production or in the cutting of fuelwood. To do so means that one can increase one's standard of living by intensely exploiting a particular environmental niche. If one is selling for cash, the feedback loop between subsistence levels and environmental conditions is less effective. If demand for one's product is rising, price increases can more than cover the loss of productivity because of overexploitation of the environment. For example, as a pasture deteriorate, a subsistence herder may only have milk and meat to eat, while a commercial beef producer may for a long time experience stable or even rising income levels.. Free labor markets also reduce the risk of degradation for the individual. The destruction of the land may cause hardship, but the possibility of wage labor in the city always exists.

In the past, some form of “passive" management occurred when quantities of stock died as a result of drought. Today, in many parts of Asia and North Africa, herders can maintain herd numbers, even when pastures and water are totally exhausted, by trucking water and feed to their animals until rains restore pastures. The purchase of feed and the delivery of water, often subsidized by governments during droughts, leads to levels of overgrazing that would be impossible for traditional subsistence pastoralists. An unintended consequence of improving veterinary services and reducing disease is to remove this “natural" regulator of herd size. Another consequence of the growth of the market economy is that individuals enjoy increased economic independence. In traditional groups, each individual family is dependent on others for survival. In such a setting, social pressure and the threat of ostracism may be sufficient to prevent deviant behavior. The development of a market economy increases economic differentiation and may reduce consensus on resource management questions.

Modernization has also contributed to the degradation of the environment in some areas Improved medical and veterinary techniques have reduced the constraints that disease placed on human and herd numbers. The development of roads and the introduction of motor transport have caused some nomads to become more dependent on herding as caravans have become less profitable and have probably encouraged the switch from camels to cattle. Roads and trucks have also made it profitable to cut fuelwood or produce charcoal at great distances from cities, and trucks make it possible to increase the use of remote or poorly watered pastures (Thalen, 1979). In many cases, mechanized plowing and sowing have made it profitable to plow up rangelands where rainfall is so erratic that only one year in three witnessed successful harvests. The introduction of new technologies often requires changes in traditional institutions, hence an unintended consequence may be a weakening of those institutions that have in the past protected the environment. In this light, publicly funded revegetation programs may be seen as attempts to correct some of the excesses of rapid social change.

As we can see, then, desertification and the destruction of plant cover have been caused by a number of factors. It is important to remember from these examples that environmental deterioration has been accelerated because the mechanisms that formerly helped people adapt to semiarid and marginal environments have been weakened. Diversification and mobility have been limited, and the feedback from man's use of the environment has been distorted. If revegetation efforts are to be successful, they must create a sustainable human ecology as well as stable, productive environmental systems. Too often, projects have undermined themselves by ignoring people, or by inadvertently accelerating the processes of declining diversity and mobility in production systems.

Successful revegetation requires changes in land use patterns so that the reestablishment of vegetation is encouraged. In the past, attempts have been made to control access to revegetated areas by changing land tenure arrangements. Nomads have been settled, private and group ranches have been created, and forest reserves have been legislated, all in attempts to control access to project lands by reducing animal movement and by restricting people to particular parcels of land. As previously mentioned, the reduction of mobility may threaten the viability of traditional subsistence systems. If their livelihood is threatened, people may resist overtly or may passively resist by bribing forest guards or by grazing or cutting revegetated areas when they are not being properly guarded. Conflict between traditional users at the very least raises the cost of revegetation substantially, and may in many instances negate project efforts.

In some cases, the failure to understand the importance of mobility can mean disaster even when project goals are attained. Boreholes are examples of efforts to increase available pastures that, in fact, led to local desertification and to heavy livestock losses during droughts (figure 2-4). At other times, the success of programs in one area may lead to larger levels of environmental deterioration outside a project are a . Herds that are required to leave the are a of a range or reforestation project must go somewhere, hence the revegetation projects may accelerate the processes that they are intended to reverse. The settlement of nomads may increase overgrazing, as we saw in the Sudanese example (Haaland, 1977). The creation of private ranches or group ranches may improve the conditions of ranges in their boundaries, as it has in some parts of Kenya (Hopcraft, 1981; and case study 10). If ranchers are not excluded from common pastures they may use their individual pastures as reserves, which permits them to exploit other lands more intensively (Little, 1983). In a similar vein, people may preemptively destroy an area rather than have it come under the control of a public range or forestry program. Pascon (1980) cites the example of herders in Morocco who, when presented with the successful establishment of wheat grass on overgrazed plain, chose to plow up the entire region and plant wheat rather than give up control of their resources to a range management scheme. These examples, though perhaps more graphic than most, are typical of many attempts at revegetation.

Those who plan revegetation efforts often face a dilemma. Successful programs may require the use of coercion and force, which, in turn, raises the cost of revegetation, reduces the extent of the area that can be treated, and reduces cooperation. This is one part of the dilemma - coercion reduces the program area. On the other hand, success in a limited area may be illusory; vegetation may be protected at the cost of widespread environmental destruction in adjacent areas. This is a cruel dilemma.

In part, this difficulty can be overcome if rehabilitation efforts are carefully reconciled with local systems of production. If one understands how a revegetation program will impact on an area, one may be able to make adjustments in other parts of the local production system to compensate for disturbances caused by a program. Instead of paying money for guards, it may be possible to plant highly valued, multiple-use species that would strengthen and diversify the local economy, thereby justifying protection by local populations. Approaches can be developed that enhance the advantages of mobility and diversity for production systems in these areas. The creation of new jobs or economic activities may have a greater impact on the environment than the creation of forest or grazing reserves.

Given sufficient time and money, it is possible for planners to characterize a production system and to design appropriate revegetation programs. An easier approach may be to reduce technical input, but to work closely with local populations to identify appropriate types of interventions and to monitor the program. Such an effort may succeed in areas where government policies have often undermined local institutions.

It is of particular importance that environmental rehabilitation projects yield multiple benefits. Multiple uses of vegetation should be encouraged. Local involvement should reduce management costs through increased self-enforcement of conservation rules. Finally, the project should help reestablish a local sustainable resource system that is not dependent on the vagaries of public funding and political will. There may often be some trade-offs between the efficiency of revegetation and local involvement. There may be more efficient and more effective ways of conserving and protecting plant cover than those acceptable to local populations. For example, the policies developed by ranchers and the Grazing Service in the United States under the Taylor Grazing Act did not satisfy many conservationists, but they could be implemented effectively and did lead to improved range conditions in the western United States (Foss, 1960; U.S. Forest Service, 1979). The goal of any revegetation program should be to create a viable environment for plants, animals, and people. This can be done only by placing revegetation efforts within the context of local and regional production systems.