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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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(introduction...)

The loss of desirable vegetative cover is a threat to world food supplies, to the quality of human life, and to the environment. Desertification, erosion, and the loss of useful plant species can be arrested through revegetation. However, revegetation efforts have often ended in failure or have had limited impact. This has been particularly true in semiarid and marginal lands where the reestablishment of plants is a delicate process.

Revegetation often is required to correct the abuse of existing resources by people and their livestock. More often than not, the success or failure of revegetation schemes is also determined by human activities. Normally, adequate protection of an area is possible only if the people who use the land alter their behavior. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, revegetation efforts become more expensive or even impossible. Far too often, planners and conservationists ignore the human ecology of an area and fail to appreciate the importance of project lands for the survival of human populations. This chapter outlines the relationship between human activity and vegetative change.

In most instances, environmental degradation is a product of human activity. In the regions of Africa and Asia that are the focus of this study, overgrazing, the excessive cutting of fuelwood, and the cultivation of fragile lands - abuses often precipitated by the openaccess provisions of colonial public-domain law and subsequent lack of governmental management and control and economic differentiation associated with commercialization - have led to a loss of plant cover and required the development of government revegetation programs. To fully appreciate why this has occurred and how this process can be reversed, we must first understand how human beings have adapted to specific environmental settings.