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close this bookReversing the Spiral - The Population, Agriculture, and Environment Nexus in Sub-Saharan Africa (WB, 1994, 320 p.)
close this folder1. Introduction
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe three basic concerns
View the documentKey elements of the ''Nexus''
View the documentPopulation growth revisited: Feedback from the Nexus
View the documentElements of an action plan
View the documentConclusions

Key elements of the ''Nexus''

Shifting Cultivation and Transhumant Pastoralism

Shifting or long-fallow cultivation and transhumant pastoralism have been appropriate under conditions of slow population growth, abundant land, limited capital, and limited technical know-how. The ecological and economic systems were in equilibrium The key to maintaining this equilibrium was mobility. People shifted to a different location when soil fertility declined or forage was depleted. This allowed the fertility of the land to be reconstituted through natural vegetative growth and decay. For field cropping, this typically involved farming a piece of land for two to four years, then leaving it fallow for as long as fifteen to twenty-five years. Herders' mobility generally involved a far greater geographic range, but a far shorter temporal cycle, dictated by the seasonal availability of water and forage.

As long as land was abundant, more land could be gradually brought into the farming cycle to accommodate the slowly growing populations. Where population density increased slowly, the traditional extensive agricultural production systems gradually evolved into more intensive, and eventually permanent, systems which intruded soil conservation, fertility management, various forms of agroforestry, and the integration of livestock into farming systems. This has happened, for instance, in the Eastern African highlands, in Rwanda, and in the more densely settled areas of northern Nigeria.

But in most of Sub-Saharan Africa the scope for further expansion of cropland has drastically narrowed. Large areas of forests, wetlands, river valley bottoms' and grassland savanna have already been converted to farmland This can be seen particularly in most of West Africa and in traditional grazing areas of eastern and southern Africa. On average, per capita arable land actually cultivated declined from 05 ha per person in 1965 to slightly less than 0.3 ha/person in 1990 (Table A-18). In many areas, rural people are increasingly compelled to remain on the same parcel of land, yet they continue to use their traditional production techniques Soil fertility and structure deteriorate rapidly where fallow periods are too short and traditional cultivation methods continue to be used As a result, crop yields decline and soils erode. In most areas, population growth has been so rapid that the reduction of arable land per farmer and the associated soil degradation have greatly outpaced the countervailing innovation and adjustment by farmers. When farming is no longer viable, people migrate to establish new farms on land previously not used for farming—in semiarid areas and in tropical forests where soil and climatic conditions are poorly suited to annual cropping Migrants bring with them the knowledge of only those farming techniques they practiced in the areas they left, and these are often detrimental to their new environment.

In some countries, land continues to be more abundant in relation to current population. But in some of these land-abundant countries, much of the land is under tropical forests which need to be preserved. Id most of Africa/ rapid population growth is pushing settlers to extend farming and grazing into areas that are agroecologically unsuited to these forms of land use.

One of the conditions that stimulated Asian farmers to adopt "green revolution" technology—the abundance of labor relative to cultivable land—is increasingly emerging in parts of SSA (see, for instance, Pingali and others 1987, Lele and Stone 1989). But institutions and individuals have not been able to adapt quickly enough in the face of very rapid population growth. Slow technological innovation because of ineffective agricultural research and extension systems is only part of the reason. The poor transport infrastructure throughout most of SSA severely blunts farmers' incentives to switch from subsistence to market production and from extensive to intensive farming. inappropriate agricultural marketing and pricing as well as fiscal and exchange rate policies have reduced the profitability of market-oriented agriculture, prevented significant gains in agricultural productivity, and contributed to the persistence of rural poverty. Poorly conceived and implemented agricultural projects have not helped. The lack of agricultural intensification in most of Africa has meant that expanding rural populations must depend on increasing the cropped area, to the detriment in many cases of natural resource sustainability.

Women's Time and Their Role in Agriculture and Rural Production Systems

The widespread prevalence of gender-specific (gender-sequential and/or gender segregated) roles and responsibilities in rural production systems maybe a major factor contributing to agricultural stagnation and environmental degradation and even to the persistence of high fertility rates. In many areas, women have primary or sole responsibility for food crop production, and they usually manage separate fields for this purpose. Women also tend to have significant obligations concerning labor to be performed on men's fields and with postharvest processing activities.

Given women's triple roles—child bearing/rearing, family and household maintenance, and production/income earning activities— the pressures on their time continue to intensify. With increasing deforestation, combined with growing populations requiring more fuelwood, fuelwood has become scarcer Women must walk farther to fetch it or reduce the number of hot meals prepared. Increasing populations put greater pressure on available water resources, while environmental degradation reduces the availability and accessibility of water. Women must walk farther to fetch water, and get their daughters to help them. Throughout much of rural Sub-Saharan Africa, women also are the primary means of porterage. In the absence of adequate rural transport infrastructure and of means of transport other than human porterage, women spend substantial time headloading not only water and fuelwood, but farm produce and other commodities to and from their homes.

As growing numbers of men leave the farms to work in towns and cities, women are increasingly taking on primary responsibility for farm operations—while their recourse to male labor is diminishing. About 70 percent of Congo's farms are today managed by women, for example, and in Ghana more farmers are women than men. Moreover, the expansion of higher-input cash cropping under male control tends to increase demands on female labor for traditional female activities such as weeding and harvesting. In Zambia, women in farm households headed by males contribute more hours daily than men to farm work (8.5 hours versus 7.4 hours) and nonagricultural tasks (5 hours versus 1.1 hours). At the same time, women are traditionally confronted with severe restrictions on access to Land and capital. These restrictive attitudes persist and today are reflected in limited access to e-tension advice; to productive land; to institutional credit; and to improved production, processing; and transport technology. In Botswana, a 1984 study found women contributing almost 70 percent of the value of crop production, but receiving the benefit of less than 15 percent of national agricultural outlays. These constraints, combined with intensifying pressures on women's time, severely impede productivity improvements and intensification of women's farming operations. Most women farmers have little choice but to continue practicing traditional low-input, low-productivity farming which, with sharply shortened fallow periods, is neither environmentally sustainable nor viable in terms of longer-term agricultural productivity. The severe pressure on women's time also retards progress in cash crop production controlled by men that depends on significant female labor input at critical times.

The heavy pressure on women's time also has implications for infant and child welfare and, hence, infant and child mortality — with significant repercussions on fertility aspirations and attitudes toward family planning. More contentious is the hypothesis that the multiple work burdens and the heavy time pressure on women may be a contributing causal element behind the persistent high population fertility rates. Additional labor is often the only factor of production that women can easily add, or are able or even compelled to add, in order to meet their multiple and increasing production and household management responsibilities. The combination of traditional attitudes and constraints with greatly increasing workloads of women may thus be part of the explanation for the continuing extraordinarily high fertility rate in SSA, now about 6.5 children per woman on average (compared to less than 4 in other developing countries).

There are, of course, many other factors that contribute to these high fertility rates. Traditional attitudes that favor numerous offspring, particularly sons, play an important part Polygamy and the widespread practice of women marrying considerably older men are both phenomena that tend to increase women's economic and social dependency on sons and, hence, their willingness to bear many children. High infant and child mortality rates, resulting, among other things, from poor nutrition and poor maternal and child health care, are potent inducements to maintaining high fertility rates. The relative importance of these and other factors has not been established, and may never be. Nevertheless, the severe and increasing pressure on women's time and the significant gender-based constraints faced by women in their pursuit of both traditional and nontraditional farming activities may be preventing the emergence of women's demand for fewer children and thereby contribute to the persistence of high fertility rates.

Land Tenure Systems

Customary land tenure systems provide considerable security of tenure on land brought into the farming cycle (clearing, cropping, fallowing, reclearing) through customary rules of community land ownership and allocation of use rights to members of the community. Inmost cases, the tenurial security enjoyed by members of the community is sufficient to induce investment in land Outsiders, or strangers (i.e., nonmembers of the community) may obtain use rights of various types, but in many cases with considerably less long-term security. As long as populations increased only slowly and the demand for land use rights by migrants from other communities remained modest, traditional systems were able to accommodate the emerging need to move towards de facto permanence of land rights assigned to community members (Magrath 1989; Migot-Adholla and others 1991).

There are, however, other aspects of traditional land tenure systems that have not adjusted rapidly enough to changing economic conditions. In most traditional systems, for instance, the individual users' ability to transfer land use rights is subject to significant constraints—due to customary norms and/or the absence of effective administrative and legal mechanisms. Tree tenure arrangements are often distinctly separate from land use rights pertaining to the cultivation of annual crops and can result m serious conflict. Much common property land— forests, wetlands, and range lands—has become de facto open-access land end has been converted to farming, often with significant negative environmental consequences. In many areas where traditional land rights systems provided for overlapping and complementary uses by sedentary farmers and transhumant herders, the development of valley bottoms into permanent cropland has created major constraints on the mobility of herders, with negative implications for environmental integrity. Increasing population pressure and agroenvironmental problems are inducing considerable rural-rural migration. Since migrants often come with conflicting traditions of land allocation and land use, strangers' tenurial rights and their implications for land resource conservation are of increasing concern. These various pressures are causing traditional land tenure systems to break down, reducing tenurial security.

Most governments and external aid agencies have mistakenly believed that traditional tenure systems provide inadequate tenurial security and that these systems are not conducive to the introduction of modern agricultural technology and market-oriented agriculture. They also witnessed the erosion in customary laws and practices regulating land use that occurred as a result of significant rural-rural migration, changes in social values and customs, and ambiguities created by the overlaying of "modern" land administration systems over traditional ones. In many instances, this led to the emergence of de facto open-access systems that are not conducive to resource conservation or to private investment in soil fertility maintenance and land improvement.

Many governments have responded by nationalizing the ownership of land—and then allowing customary rules to guide the use of some land, while allocating other land to private investors and public projects. Often, the well connected have used their influence to wrest land from its customary owner occupants. The result has been reduced, rather than improved, tenurial security. In most cases, this has accelerated the breakdown in customary land management and the creation of open access conditions, especially in forest and range areas. In open-access conditions, settlement and exploitation by anyone are permitted and environmental degradation is invariably rapid. Where governments allocated individual land titles—as in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Cd'Ivoire—this generally ignored the prior existence of customary tenure arrangements, and more often than not, the actual results have differed considerably from the stated intent. Local community and individual land resource management has been discouraged, while political and economic elites have succeeded in alienating the land from its traditional owners and users. This has skewed land distribution and intensified the exploitation of land resources for private short-term gain.

Forest and Woodland Exploitation

Me heavy dependency on wood for fuel mud building material has combined with rapid population growth to contribute to accelerating forest and woodland destruction. This is particularly severe around major urban centers where it has led to the appearance of concentric rings of deforestation. Fuelwood has generally been considered a free good, taken largely from land to which everyone has the right of access. This has impeded the development of efficient markets for fuelwood. Urban woodfuel prices reflect primarily transport costs, not the cost of producing trees, and there will be no incentive to plant trees for fuelwood production until transport costs to urban markets become high enough to justify periurban planting This is beginning to happen around some cities and in very densely populated areas, but the scale of such planting is very inadequate. Alternative fuels, such as kerosene or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), are mare costly to obtain and not available in open-access conditions, and are therefore not replacing woodfuels in significant quantities.

Commercial logging has significantly contributed to deforestation. Although directly responsible for no more than 20 percent of forest destruction in SSA as a whole, it has been considerably more destructive in some countries, such as Cd'Ivoire. Moreover, logging usually leads to a second phase of forest destruction: logging roads provide access for settlers who accelerate and expand the process of deforestation that the loggers have begun. Logging concessions rarely take into account the traditional land and forest use rights of forest dwellers. These rights, once eroded, are disregarded by new settlers penetrating along the logging roads.

The degradation and destruction of forests and woodlands accelerate soil degradation and erosion, eliminate wildlife habitat, lead to loss of biodiversity, and have severe implications for local and regional climates and hydrological regimes. Deteriorating climatic and hydrological conditions negatively affect agriculture. The worsening fuelwood situation forces women and children to walk farther and spend more time to collect fuelwood. Closely related, and increasingly of concern, is the fact that animal dung and crop residues are being used as fuels. fender conditions of shortening fallows, characteristic of much of SSA, the economic utility of dung and crop residues is far greater when they are used to maintain soil fertility. People also must walk farther and/or pay more for building materials and the many important nonwood forest products they depend upon for medicinal purposes, home consumption, and traditional crafts and industries. For forest dwelling people, forest destruction threatens not only their lifestyles and livelihood systems, but their very survival.