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Re-Examining the 'More People Less Erosion' Hypothesis: Special Case or Wider Trend?


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"Recent research into natural resource rehabilitation based on in-depth case studies has highlighted situations where population growth and agricultural intensification have been accompanied by improved rather than deteriorating soil and water resources. Drawing on new case studies in six countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda), this paper examines how widespread are the prospects for positive outcomes of the 'more people, less erosion' type."
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Natural Resource
Number 63, November 2000
This series is published by ODI, an independent non-profit policy research institute, with financial
support from the Department for International Development (formerly the Overseas Development
Administration). Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of either ODI or DFID.
DFID Department for
Policy conclusions
Charlotte Boyd and Tom Slaymaker
Recent research into natural resource rehabilitation based on in-depth case studies has highlighted situations where population
growth and agricultural intensification have been accompanied by improved rather than deteriorating soil and water resources
(e.g. Tiffen et al., 1994). Drawing on new case studies in six countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and
Uganda), this paper examines how widespread are the prospects for positive outcomes of the ‘more people, less erosion’ type.
There are few examples of reversal of natural resource degradation and no evidence of a wider trend towards environmental
recovery. In most cases, ‘success’ involves the adoption of soil and water conservation (SWC) practices designed to raise yields of
high value crops on selected parcels of land.
SWC practices are likely to be adopted where agriculture is important in rural livelihoods, and agricultural land is in short supply,
and/or where SWC has the potential to increase yields of high value crops.
Policies for SWC should therefore be designed to provide tangible benefits to the individual household or community. The
emphasis should be on SWC in the context of raising agricultural productivity, food security and income, against the background of
wider livelihood strategies, rather than on controlling land degradation
per se
A policy framework which provides for market access and attractive producer prices is essential to SWC.
Social and economic support for rural populations to prevent the collapse of social structures and encourage labour to stay in rural
areas is important, especially where labour-intensive techniques are necessary for natural resource regeneration.
Where local authorities are expected to play a role in promoting good SWC practices, strengthening local institutional capacity to
design, implement and monitor new policies is imperative.
Recent research into natural resource rehabilitation based on
in-depth case studies has highlighted situations where
population growth and agricultural intensification have been
accompanied by improved rather than deteriorating soil and
water resources (e.g. Tiffen et al., 1994). This paper
investigates the scope for replicating these successes, by
examining the policy measures and underlying environmental
and socio-economic conditions that support households’
incentives and capacities to invest in soil and water
conservation (SWC).
The research reported here was initiated through regional
and country literature reviews. Drawing on these literature
reviews, a case study methodology was developed and tested,
(Box 1), and case studies were carried out in semi-arid regions
of six countries in sub-Saharan Africa, (Table 1).
The research demonstrated that the key sets of conditions
which underlie decisions to invest substantially in SWC are:
the importance of agriculture in rural livelihoods,
combined with a shortage of agricultural land; and/or
the potential of SWC to increase yields of high value crops.
The case studies include one example of successful reversal
of natural resource degradation. Farmers in Bantieniema in
Burkina Faso have successfully reclaimed abandoned land in
a region where agriculture is the mainstay of rural livelihoods
and there are few alternative opportunities. In Pankshin in
Nigeria, farmers are continuing to use traditional, labour-
intensive techniques to farm land which would otherwise be
considered unsuitable for cultivation in a region of high
agricultural potential. In both cases, the importance of
agriculture in rural livelihoods and the shortage of agricultural
land are driving investment in SWC. The availability of rural
labour in the context of high population density and relatively
limited off-farm diversification and migration has also played
a role. In Senegal and Tanzania, and in the other Nigerian
study site, the potential of SWC to improve yields of selected
high-value crops has led to significant investment concentrated
on small plots. In Ghana and the other Burkina Faso study
site, both areas of low agricultural productivity, interest in
investing in agriculture and SWC is lower, although some
SWC practices are applied. A similar outcome has occured in
Uganda, this time in the context of continued livelihood
insecurity and market collapse. In all three cases, off-farm
diversification and/or rural out-migration have become
important alternative livelihood strategies.
The importance of agriculture in rural livelihoods and
strategies such as intensification and commercialisation play
a primary role in influencing decisions to invest in SWC.
These factors, together with alternative strategies such as off-
farm diversification or migration, are discussed in the first
section of this paper. Once households have decided to invest
in SWC, household characteristics, in particular access to land,
Table 1 Case Studies
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airegiNawugebmaP-airaZ dnaelgnairtanudaK fosaeranihsknaPeht etatSuaetalP
smetsyS-ocE tnempoleveD noitasinagrO
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adnagUiwkataKadnagU-diAnoitcA )tcejorPiwkataK(
labour, equipment, financial resources, knowledge and
awareness influence the specific SWC practices adopted, (Box
2). For example, in Burkina Faso, the main reason for adoption
of several SWC techniques was given as impact on yields and
the environment observed by farmers. While investment in
SWC often occurs in the absence of direct intervention from
government or NGOs, macro-economic policy and agricultural
policy and support services play an important role in influencing
household decisions to invest.
Livelihood strategies
Investment in SWC is most substantial where crop production
plays an important role in livelihood strategies, (see Box 3 for
an illustration from Burkina Faso).
In all the study areas, agriculture has historically played a
central role in livelihoods, but this role is changing under the
influence of changing environmental and socio-economic
conditions and evolving livelihood strategies.
Land availability and productivity
Environmental context, in particular land availability and
productivity, is an important component of conditions under
which households will invest in SWC. There is generally
greater interest where there is a shortage of land – as in
Bantieniema in Burkina Faso, and in Nigeria – unless soils
are very unproductive – as in Tolepsi, Burkina Faso and in
northern Ghana. In Senegal, where there is no shortage of
land but soils are unproductive, SWC is concentrated on small
parcels producing high-value horticultural crops. There is also
generally less interest where soils are productive – as in
Tanzania and Uganda, – unless there is a shortage of land –
as in Nigeria.
Most case study areas are characterised by growing
demographic pressure. The relationship between population
growth and SWC is complex. In some cases increased
population growth has led to rapid degradation of soil and
water resources, as in Senegal where migrants from
neighbouring regions have little understanding of the unique
local environment. In Burkina Faso, by contrast, reduced
availability of land associated with population growth has
provided an important motivation for investment in SWC.
Population density data was not available to the study teams
at a sufficiently local scale, but estimated population densities
were particularly high in the Nigerian and Burkina Faso study
sites and this may contribute to higher rates of investment in
SWC in these cases.
Soil characteristics and the potential of soils to be improved
through SWC is potentially important, but it has not been
possible to collect cross-country comparative data on these
variables during the course of this study.
Households are more likely to invest in SWC under certain
climatic conditions. Water conservation is often of primary
importance in semi-arid areas where annual precipitation (and
available moisture) is low, and especially where it is unevenly
distributed across seasons and subject to high annual variation.
Total annual rainfall varies between case study areas. In
Burkina Faso (average 400-650mm/yr), Ghana (800-1000mm)
and Tanzania (400-600mm), it is a significant constraint on
agricultural production, and water conservation techniques are
given priority. For example, in Ghana and Tanzania stone bunds
are used to trap and channel surface water. In the Uganda
case, where rainfall totals are higher, water conservation is not
practised but flash flood control is more important to prevent
soil erosion. Seasonal distribution of rainfall is key. In Nigeria
farmers have developed highly sophisticated techniques using
residual soil moisture to grow crops during the dry season.
Topography also plays an important role. Households are
Box 2 Examples of SWC practices in the region
Basic SWC practices, common to most case study farmers:
crop rotation
Additional SWC Investment often associated with improving yields
of high value crops:
ridging and weeding
deep tillage
bunded basin
stone bunds
other organic fertilisers
Investment in preventing or reversing land degradation and/or
bringing otherwise uncultivable land into production:
stone barriers
contour bunds
live barriers, quickset hedges, windbreaks
drainage ditches for flash flood control.
Box 1 Note on methodology
A key principle underlying the research approach was that partners
in sub-Saharan Africa (NGOs and applied research organisations)
should conduct the literature reviews and case studies with
guidance from ODI on the selection of case study sites and
research hypotheses to ensure that a broadly comparable
methodology was applied in each case. The focus of each country
study reflects the particular interests and objectives of partner
organisations. For example, in Nigeria, the emphasis was on
indigenous knowledge systems and exploring the socio-economic
factors underlying the adoption and continued use of two different
types of practice, with the objective of understanding the potential
for replication in other areas within the same rainfall zone. In
Burkina Faso, the study compared the agro-ecological and socio-
economic characteristics of two villages, and investigated reasons
for different levels of adoption between them. In Tanzania, the
study examined the relationship between household socio-
economic characteristics and adoption of SWC practices at the
household-level, and the effects of NGO support on levels of
For these reasons cross-country comparative analysis is inevitably
problematic. Nevertheless, an end-of-project analysis workshop
involving researchers and policy makers concluded that there
was sufficient evidence to assess the conditions under which SWC
practices are likely to be adopted, and to indicate the relationship
between household investment strategies and the policy and
institutional environment.
Box 3 Gnagna region, Burkina Faso
The Burkina Faso case study presents an example of successful
reversal of natural resource degradation farmers have been able
to reclaim some land that had been abandoned for years, through
the application of erosion control techniques, afforestation and
use of organic fertilisers. Nearly 50% of households studied use
more than three SWC techniques. This level of investment in SWC
reflects the importance of agriculture in rural livelihoods,
environmental constraints, shortage of land, and the lack of
alternative economic opportunities, but there are marked
differences between the two study sites. In the study villages, the
main source of income is livestock products (for 43.5% of
households) followed by sale of cereals and groundnuts (for 16%
each). However, a higher proportion derive their first and second
sources of income from cereals in Bantieniema than in Tolepsi,
reflecting a better land endowment with more productive soils.
Trade is more important in Tolepsi than in Bantieniema, with a
quarter of all households owning a small business. Investment in
SWC is considerably higher in Bantieniema than in Tolepsi. High
dependence on agriculture at the national level means that SWC
is afforded high priority by policy and decision-makers at all levels.
: Bandre & Batta (1999).
more likely to invest in areas where erosion is a recognised
problem, in particular where the terrain is generally characterised
by steep slopes. For example, SWC investment in Tanzania
declined following the study communities’ move from the
uplands to the plains. The most significant investment in SWC
in the Nigerian case study occurs on the steep slopes of
inselbergs. Where farmers have access to a range of field types
and only low-priority crops are grown on steeper slopes,
investment in soil conservation may be low despite the
topography. Where land-use plans which define land uses
appropriate to different elements of landscape – such as no
cultivation on steep slopes or close to rivers – are adhered to
or successfully enforced, as in the past in Tanzania and Uganda,
the need for SWC may be seen to be lower.
Intensification and commercialisation
As rural households have become integrated into market
systems, the increased value of certain crops has created strong
incentives for investment in agriculture in some areas. The
most substantial investment in SWC analysed in the study
occurred in Burkina Faso and in Nigeria. In Nigeria, large urban
centres provide buoyant markets for agricultural products. While
the study site in Burkina Faso is far from major urban centres,
it is only 10km away from the largest market in the province,
and there is intense commercial activity in the area. However,
differences in agricultural productivity rather than market access
appear to explain difference in adoption rates between the
two sites in Burkina Faso.
More strikingly, some of the most intensive and distinctive
SWC practices are associated with specific high-value crops
often produced in the dry season and targeted at urban or
export markets. New market opportunities have stimulated
increased investment in SWC targeted at raising the productivity
of green beans, potatoes, onions, cabbages, aubergines and
peppers in Senegal, onions, tomatoes and cabbages in Tanzania
and tomatoes, peppers and chillies in Nigeria.
In Tanzania, market liberalisation has led to increasingly
attractive producer prices and greater commercialisation. In
Nigeria, expansion of horticultural production through the
adoption of a residual moisture system was a rapid and
innovative response to the dwindling supply of these crops
from land with pump systems as energy prices rose.
In contrast, the collapse of markets for cash crops and general
reduction in commercial activity in Uganda has proved a major
constraint to investment in agriculture and consequently SWC.
Off-Farm Diversification and Migration
The two study sites in Burkina Faso differ in terms of both
their agricultural potential and off-farm diversification. Lower
adoption rates in one site are explained primarily by lower
agricultural potential but this is correlated with higher off-
farm diversification. In Senegal, diversification into off-farm
activities has enabled many households to avoid investing in
SWC, except for selected high-value crops. Agricultural
intensification has occurred at the same time as off-farm
diversification and out-migration, indicating increasing
differentiation in livelihood strategies.
In Ghana, around half of sample households are engaged
in seasonal or permanent migration, (Box 6). Migrants, –
mainly men – are an important labour source for SWC.
However, local people do not view migration as a key
constraint for SWC, largely because it occurs in the dry season,
although much land improvement and preparation
traditionally occurs at this time. Practices most affected are
labour-intensive practices such as stone bunding. In Burkina
Faso, recent reductions in migration opportunities to Côte
d’Ivoire have stimulated new investment in SWC.
Social cohesion
Social cohesion, at the family and community level, is an
important mechanism for mobilising labour. In Pankshin in
Nigeria, social cohesion remains strong as families tend to
migrate as whole units and influential community-based
organisations maintain community networks. Whole family
migration is a response to macro-economic policies which
promote urban job creation. In many other areas social
cohesion is breaking down, under the threat of increased
differentiation, migration and other factors. Household
disintegration has limited the capacity of decision makers to
access and claim key resources such as land and labour. At
the community-level, this breakdown has contributed to the
erosion of shared labour systems and social conventions which
have traditionally supported investment in SWC – including
restricting cultivation and protecting vulnerable areas.
Livelihood security
Overall livelihood security – including security of access to
land, resources and markets – is a pre-condition for investment
in longer-term SWC practices. For example, investment in SWC
is currently not a priority in the Teso region of Uganda for a
number of reasons, dominated by the continued atmosphere
of livelihood insecurity and the need to concentrate on meeting
short-term livelihood objectives, (Box 8).
Household characteristics
Most farmers in the study consider their land tenure to be
secure, whether it is owned according to customary law or
they have long-term use rights. However, in northern Ghana, it
is often argued that clan-based communual land ownership
contributes to excessive degradation in the study region. Formal
land policy has had limited influence on SWC investment. Nearly
half the respondents practise SWC on only one plot, mainly on
compound farms. Investment and maintenance of previous
investment only occurs on land actually in use.
Access to water influences decisions on SWC in both Senegal
and Tanzania. In Senegal, salt water intrusion into the water
table influences differential access to freshwater between
households and is a constraint on agricultural production and
Box 4 Western Pare lowlands, Tanzania
In Tanzania, there is a strong correlation between the importance
of agriculture in livelihoods and the level of investment in SWC.
The case study presents an example of increased investment in
SWC for a few selected crops, such as onions and other
horticultural crops, demonstrably linked to new market
opportunities created by the liberalisation of producer prices. SWC
investment for other crops is less significant, partly reflecting the
relatively good natural endowment in terms of land availability
and productive soils. The Tanzanian case study also demonstrates
the importance of traditional and local authorities in restricting
negative practices, such as cultivation on steep slopes and on
river banks.
: Hatibu et al., (2000).
Box 5 East Mamprusi District, Ghana
The Ghana case study presents an NGO intervention successfully
promoting the adoption of improved techniques, but with limited
impact on soil characteristics as farmers reduce investment in
traditional techniques. While semi-subsistence agriculture is the
main activity, farmers are less interested in investing in agriculture
than elsewhere and actively pursue off-farm opportunities through
diversification into petty trade and out-migration. Reductions in
fertiliser subsidies have led to an increase in the use of organic
substitutes, but the legacy of past policies has created a culture in
which farmers view subsidised agricultural inputs as the solution
to their natural resource degradation problems.
: Kranjac-Berisavljevic et al., (1999).
consequently investment in SWC. In Tanzania, investment in
certain forms of SWC is designed to complement investment in
irrigation, access to which again varies between households.
Access to labour depends on family size and cohesion,
shared labour systems – linked to social cohesion – and scope
for hiring labour. It also depends on opportunity costs in
terms of other agricultural activities and off-farm opportunities.
For example, in Pambeguwa in Nigeria, labour is a major
constraint, but is more accessible in the dry season when
residual moisture cultivation takes place. Access to labour
may be less important where SWC measures are concentrated
on relatively small plots, as in Senegal and Tanzania. It can
be an important constraint to adoption of more labour-
intensive techniques, such as stone bunding in Ghana. In
both examples of substantial investment in SWC (Bantieniema
in Burkina Faso and the Pankshin hills in Nigeria), labour is
relatively abundant in the context of limited out-migration.
In the Burkina site with lower adoption rates, off-farm
diversification is more common and social cohesion is weaker.
Limited access to equipment and other inputs may exclude
lower income households from adopting certain techniques,
although, where social cohesion remains strong, households
which do not own these inputs may be able to access them
indirectly, for example by exchanging labour for draught power.
Essential equipment mentioned in several case studies includes:
transport equipment – especially for stone structures;
draught power and plough;
light agricultural tools;
manure and other organic fertilisers;
other raw material – such as stones.
Financial resources are necessary to hire labour where
necessary, to purchase equipment and other inputs, and for
complementary investments – such as irrigation. For example,
in Burkina Faso, low income households apply SWC
techniques on a smaller-scale, and use techniques which
require little or no labour or equipment (e.g. deadwood or
millet stalk barriers). The better-off use techniques such as
manure from their own livestock, as well as zai – which
require light equipment – and low stone walls – which are
labour intensive and require transport equipment. Households
may be more willing to invest financial resources in SWC
designed to improve yields of cash crops, although this raises
questions of cash flow and credit. Lack of credit is a frequently
mentioned constraint to investment in SWC.
Farmers’ perceptions of degradation are generally realistic.
In Burkina Faso, farmers’ awareness of land degradation as a
problem and SWC techniques as the solution is a key factor
in influencing household decisions to invest in SWC. Adopting
farmers believe that SWC techniques improve harvests and
soil fertility and reduce land degradation. Awareness of SWC
as a potential solution is reinforced by demonstration and
experience of improvements. In Ghana, farmers still perceive
fertiliser subsidies as the quick solution to their soil
management problems, as a result of former policies
promoting subsidised inputs. In Pambeguwa in Nigeria,
residential moisture cultivation is viewed as an innovative
technical solution to environmental constraints which enables
exploitation of profitable dry season markets.
The situation in Pambeguwa in Nigeria, where farmers
apply highly-developed context-specific traditional techniques
with marked success, contrasts with the situation in Senegal
where recently arrived migrants have no traditional knowledge
of the unique local environment. In Burkina Faso, the most
widely adopted techniques tend to be based on traditional
practices. More than 80% of households stated that lack of
knowledge and technical support explained their non-
adoption of certain SWC practices prior to the intervention of
Voisins Mondiaux.
Contrary to partner expectations, education had a negative
impact on investment in SWC in Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda.
This finding may reflect improved off-farm opportunities
associated with higher education levels, rather than a direct
causal link.
Policy and institutional issues
Local institutional capacity
Especially in East Africa, traditional and local institutions have
a significant role to play in land-use planning, developing
and enforcing locally appropriate rules or bye-laws – such as
restrictions on cultivating on steep slopes and river banks,
and on uncontrolled burning; and promoting locally
appropriate solutions through coordinated policies and field-
level extension staff. However, in Tanzania there are questions
over how far the ‘modern’ state can substitute for traditional
authority in this, and in Uganda, local councils are charged
Box 8 Katakwi District, Uganda
In the Uganda case study region, investment in SWC practices
has declined in the context of severe livelihood insecurity and a
reduction in market opportunities. Prior to conflict and escalated
cattle-raiding in the region, livelihoods were based on a
combination of cattle husbandry and cash cropping with a high
degree of crop-livestock integration. Livestock ownership has since
been devastated, and marketing systems for key cash crops have
collapsed. Agriculture is now largely subsistence with low
investment and declining fertility associated with lack of draught
power to open new land.While the national policy framework is
supportive of SWC, many policies are new and have not yet had
significant impact on the ground. Local institutions still lack the
capacity and motivation to implement these policies.
: Makumbi & Okubal, (2000).
Box 7 Pambeguwa and Pankshin, Nigeria
The Nigeria case study presents two very different examples of
investment in SWC in the absence of support from NGOs or
government. In Pankshin, where population pressure is particularly
high, farmers have traditionally used boulder cultivation and
terracing to expand the area of land for cereal cultivation.
Households are able to mobilise labour to support these labour-
intensive techniques because of low migration rates and strong
social cohesion at both household and community levels. In
Pambeguwa, innovative farmers have recently adopted residual
moisture techniques which enable them to exploit high dry season
prices for tomatoes, peppers and other horticultural crops. These
techniques can generate significant cash surpluses in some years.
: Ahmed et al., (2000).
Box 6 Les Niayes, Senegal
As in Tanzania, the Senegal case study demonstrates an increased
investment in SWC closely associated with agricultural
intensification and commercialisation. Increased adoption rates
are concentrated on small plots used to produce green beans,
aubergines, potatoes, cabbages and other horticultural crops for
export to Europe. This intensification has occurred in the context
of an influx of migrants seeking economic opportunities in the
study region, and increasing salinisation which has forced
farmers to abandon some land. On other types of land,
investment in SWC has been undermined by the diversification
of rural economies and new off-farm opportunities. The case
study demonstrates the importance of the macro-economic
environment, in this case an export-oriented economy with a
competitive exchange rate, in creating economic opportunities
in agriculture and incentives for SWC.
: ENDA Pronat (2000).
with implementing national policy on SWC, but lack the
capacity, resources and motivation.
Support to the agricultural sector
SWC interventions need to be integrated into programmes to
improve crop production and marketing where these form
key components of households’ own livelihood strategies,
(see Box 9). Where agriculture is important to rural livelihoods
and agricultural land in short supply, farmers will invest in
SWC to increase crop yields even in the absence of public
sector or NGO support. Government and NGOs can stimulate
and support farmers’ own efforts by ‘brokering’ knowledge
on SWC between areas and demonstrating the potential of
different techniques to improve yields, and by supporting
farmers to analyse and articulate their specific needs and call
down agricultural support services. Technical support should
encourage a range of techniques to suit the needs of different
households. Investment in SWC has ‘public’ as well as ‘private
good’ aspects. Governments should concentrate on addressing
market, government and information failures – such as
inadequate transport infrastructure, controlled prices and poor
information systems) which prevent farmers from achieving
‘privately optimal’ levels of investment. When the conditions
outlined in this paper and summarised in Box 10 are not met,
external support will not generate sustainable investment in
reversing natural resource degradation. Past government
interventions to promote ‘socially optimal’ levels of SWC
investment, for example through prescribed cultivation
practices or subsidised inputs, have failed where farmers have
not seen this investment as in their private interests.
Coordinated sectoral policy
Policies in a number of other sectors can be strengthened to
support investment in SWC. In particular, there is a need for
coordinated – or at least coherent – land, livestock, forestry
and environmental policies. It is essential that land policies
support rather than undermine farmers’ land tenure and
traditional land use management systems, where these are
still effective. Livestock policies need to support crop-livestock
integration while addressing conflicts between livestock
owners and crop farmers. In forestry policy, the main issues
for SWC are providing secure tenure and usufruct rights to
encourage planting and protection of trees by farmers.
Multipurpose species have been more readily adopted than
species which are only useful for improving soil fertility and
controlling erosion. Other sectoral policies, including health
and education policy, influence SWC investment decisions,
primarily through their impact on population growth and the
rural labour supply.
Macro-economic and marketing policies
At the macro-economic level, a policy framework which
enables farmers to access markets and obtain attractive prices
has proved important. In Senegal, Tanzania and Pambeguwa
in Nigeria, increased investment in SWC has been driven by
new market opportunities for specific crops. Tanzania and
Nigeria both illustrate the significance of attractive producer
prices in unregulated domestic markets, while the advantages
of competitive exchange rates and an export-oriented
economy for producers of export crops in Senegal has
stimulated investment in SWC. Economic policy stability –
often underpinned by government stability, – is necessary to
generate incentives for long-term investment.
Policies which provide support to rural livelihoods,
revitalising rural economies and balancing investment between
rural and urban areas and reducing pressures for out-migration,
can play a role in maintaining a viable rural labour force and
Box 9 Contribution of SWC to livelihood objectives
Household livelihood objectives and the contribution of SWC
may differ from those assumed by external observers:
Household objectives are to improve livelihoods rather than
increase food production as an end in itself, so SWC activities
need to fit with other livelihood activities;
In Burkina Faso, SWC is a vital element of agriculture-based
livelihood strategies, whereas in Tanzania and Senegal and in
Pambeguwa in Nigeria, it is an optional investment to increase
productivity and exploit specific market opportunities;
SWC is often viewed as an additional agricultural input to raise
yields, or as investment to reclaim degraded land or expand
the area of cultivable land, rather than as a means of controlling
soil erosion;
SWC can be part of a strategy of avoiding migration - enabling
farmers to stay on the land of their birth by bringing degraded
land back into production.
Importance of agriculture in
rural livelihoods
Market access and attractive prices for
increased production
Box 10 Conditions for reversal of natural resource degradation
Access to labour
SWC regarded as the solution to the
degradation process
High population denisity
Shortage of agriculture land
Livelihood security
Key conditions
Limited diversification/out-
Underlying conditions
Environmental conditions
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social cohesion, both important factors in reversing natural
resource degradation. In particular, support to the development
of off-farm opportunities in rural areas may relieve pressure on
natural resources without placing excessive constraints on the
availability of labour for key agricultural activities.
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The paper is based on the findings of the research study.
natural resource degradation
in sub-Saharan Africa
led by the
Overseas Development Institute in collaboration with research
partners in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It was funded by
the UK Department for International Development but the views
expressed here are those of the authors alone.
ODI contributors
Roger Blench Research Fellow.
Cate Turton Research Fellow.
Annie Dufaut Research Associate.
Pippa Chevenix-TrenchResearch Associate.
Liz Drake Research Assistant.
African Research Partners
Peter Okubal Action Aid Uganda, Katakwi.
Med Makumbi Action Aid Uganda, Katakwi.
Frederick Mwesigye Action Aid Uganda, Kampala.
Nuhu Hatibu Sokoine University, Tanzania.
Filbert Rwehumbiza Sokoine University, Tanzania.
Danielson Kisanga University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Selbut Longtau Ecosystems Development, Nigeria.
Ben Ahmed Ecosystems Development, Nigeria.
Gordana Kranjac- University Development Studies, Ghana.
Paul Bandre Voisins Mondiaux, Burkina Faso.
Fatoumatta Batta Voisins Mondiaux, Burkina Faso.
Mamadou Sow ENDA-Pronat, Senegal.
Bob Nakileza University of Makerere, Uganda.
Charlotte Boyd is a Research Fellow at ODI, 111 Westminster
Bridge Road, London SE1 7JD, UK.
: +44 (0) 20 7922 0363
: +44 (0) 20 7922 0399
Tom Slaymaker is a Research Assistant at ODI, 111 Westminster
Bridge Road, London SE1 7JD,UK.
: +44 (0) 20 7922 0323
: +44 (0) 20 7922 0399
... Soil erosion has been identified as a major constraint in generating enough food to feed the world's escalating population (Charlotte and Slaymaker 2000). In Sub-Saharan Africa, the increasing population and diminishing land sizes coupled with the need to produce more food for the growing population has led to further land degradation through accelerated soil erosion and runoff (Ahmed et al. 2000). ...
... Although sale of farm produce contributes only 11% of household income, farming is still the major activity in this area. This is an important pointer to which SWC will be used as was demonstrated by Charlotte and Slaymaker (2000). Charlotte and Slaymaker (2000) stated that when agriculture is the source of livelihood, and investing in SWC has the potential to increase yields, then the possibility that farmer will invest in SWC measures is high. ...
... This is an important pointer to which SWC will be used as was demonstrated by Charlotte and Slaymaker (2000). Charlotte and Slaymaker (2000) stated that when agriculture is the source of livelihood, and investing in SWC has the potential to increase yields, then the possibility that farmer will invest in SWC measures is high. Casual labor and business have the highest contribution to household income and this is an important factor in SWC investment. ...
Full-text available
Land degradation is both an effect and driver for climate change. Climate change increases the frequency of flooding and heavy erosive events which increases loss of soil and crucial soil nutrients. As a driver of climate change, deforestation and over grazing lead to increased greenhouse emissions. Climate change increases poverty, disease loads, frequency of flooding, droughts, and food insecurity. Majority of Kenya’s population is smallholder rain dependent farmers. The success of rain-fed agriculture depends on actual rainfall (amount and distribution) whose variability is projected to increase as a result of climate change leading to reduction of crop yields by about 50% by the year 2020. Over 40% of Kenyans are classified as resource poor and about 80% of land mass is arid and semi arid land (ASAL) and this may have a significant impact on the quality of life. Furthermore as the impact of climate change is felt, the activities of the poor inhabitants may further exacerbate land degradation through anthropogenic activities related to unsustainable agricultural practices. Therefore, governments should develop policies in relevant sectors that promote Sustainable Land Management (SLM) alongside adaptation and mitigation to climate change. Key among these sectors are: payment for ecosystem services, promoting drought resilient techniques and innovative financing of SLM activities. This paper highlights selected financing mechanisms and policies and their implication for SLM in Kenya.
... 17 Soil and water conserving practices common in Sub-Saharan Africa include mulching, manuring, crop rotation and intercropping. Other less common SWC practices including stone bunds, contour bunds, terracing and other organic fertilisers (Boyd & Slaymaker 2000). 18 These latter two options correspond to farming systems associated with a shifting cultivation production strategy and a Green Revolution strategy, respectively. ...
... 14 of reversal of natural resource degradation (Boyd & Slaymaker 2000). Still other findings (Siedenburg 2003) suggest that the successes reported may be exaggerated, although still encouraging. ...
Full-text available
In rural districts of Sub-Saharan Africa, livelihoods often centre around peasant agriculture and herding. While historically effective, changing resource constraints associated with rapid population growth and resource degradation have put these livelihoods under strain. Dramatic recent shifts in agricultural policy and farm input prices have not helped. Together, such changes amount to a set of destabilising influences and a relative paucity of advantageous opportunities. One key question is whether locals successfully adapt their land-use strategies to these changing circumstances. 'Sustainable agriculture' technologies such as agroforestry practices offer clear options to adapt to change in low-potential areas, which largely lack access to purchased farm inputs. Yet despite the promise these technologies have shown in farm trials, their adoption by farmers has often been hesitant and limited. This has been widely interpreted as evidence these technologies do not effectively address the needs of such communities. Based on a household survey from Shinyanga District, Tanzania, this study explores the possibility that some households adapt more effectively than others, with some adopting advantageous available technologies while others do not. Its focus is on the differing knowledge and perceptions informing decisions about tree management. The study posits then tests a theoretical model problematising local knowledge. It finds that integrating local knowledge variables into regressions of tree management practice greatly increases their explanatory power, suggesting these variables do not simply reflect incentives, as suggested by contemporary theory. The implication is that problematic local knowledge may sometimes constrain livelihoods in areas facing dramatic change. Diverse associations with observed knowledge patterns are also considered, suggesting ways to build on this work.
... The neo-Boserupian perspective, on the other hand, is clearly enviro-optimistic. (However, intensification does not necessarily lead to sustainable resource use, e.g., Templeton and Scherr 1999;Boyd and Slaymaker 2000;Reardon and Barrett 2001). The neo-Boserupian perspective also tends to be livelihood optimistic. ...
... The authors conclude that the market is an essential condition, providing incentives and means to invest. Boyd and Slaymaker (2000) also deduce that markets are essential for intensification. We suggest that market conditions in places like Chivi (and the more numerous remoter locations in southern Africa) have decades to go before the development of markets that can successfully be tapped into by small-scale farmers. ...
... Despite claims to the contrary (Boyd & Slaymaker, 2000;Gibbs et al., 2010), reforestation can occur in conjunction with a growing human population and also be associated with increased agricultural productivity (Tiffen et al., 1994). For example, farmer-managed natural regeneration dramatically increased tree density and household income in Niger (Haglund et al., 2011). ...
... It is commonly believed that population increase leads directly to deforestation (Boyd & Slaymaker, 2000). However, our study demonstrated that population may grow in parallel with increased cover of perennial vegetation. ...
Full-text available
Despite global commitments to forest restoration, evidence of the pathways through which restoration creates social and ecological benefits remains limited. The objective of this paper is to provide empirical evidence to generate insights on the relationship between forest cover change and key provisioning ecosystem services and reforestation pathways. In Southern Ethiopia, three zones along a gradient of decreasing land cover complexity and tree cover were examined. The land cover change was assessed using satellite remote sensing and complemented ground-based tree inventory. Perceptions of land cover and ecosystem services change and farmer responses were evaluated through three Participatory Rural Appraisals and eight Focus Group Discussions. Since the 1970s, a landscape shift from a forest-grassland to a cropland mosaic was associated with increased food production, improved food security, and higher incomes. However, this shift also coincided with reductions in livestock, construction materials, fuelwood and water availability, prompting reforestation efforts designed to recover some of these lost ecosystem services. In particular, some households established Eucalyptus woodlots and encouraged natural regeneration. Natural trees, Eucalyptus woodlots, Ensete plantations (a type of plantain), and grasslands were positively associated with homestead proximity; thus, homestead establishment resulting from population increase in this predominately agricultural landscape appeared to foster a viable forest restoration pathway-that is, 'more people, more trees'. This is a reforestation pathway not previously described in the literature. A return to a more diverse agricultural landscape mosaic provided more secure and diversified income sources along with better provisioning of construction materials, fuelwood, and higher livestock numbers.
... The high TDS value of 784 mg/l in this study is above the permissible limit of ( < 500 mg/l TDS for potable water as per BIS and can cause undesirable taste and gastrointestinal irritation ( Selvakumar et al., 2017 ). The main sources of TDS include agricultural operations, domestic runoff, soil contamination caused by leaching, and point source water pollution discharge ( Boyd and Slaymaker, 2000 ). Additional sources of elevated TDS includes natural weathering of sedimentary rocks or some domestic effluents, irrigation discharge, and sewage effluent ( Okolo and Oyedotun, 2018 ; Ameen, 2019 ). ...
Full-text available
Global population growth, rapid urbanization, and developmental activities have inflicted significant pressures on drinking water supplies, thus leading to severe water scarcity. Spring is the major source of water within the mid-hill and mountain region. However, studies carried out on water quality of spring in Nepal are quite limited. The objective of the study was to access the water quality index (WQI) of spring in April, and May (pre-monsoon months) and June (monsoon month) in Tanahun district of Nepal. Discharge of water from three springs was measured at 10 am and 4 pm in two months by bucket method. Water samples from the three springs were collected with plastic bottles (a bottle of sample for each month for each spring) and sent to the laboratory for analysis of various water quality parameters. The discharge of all the springs increased during the monsoon month than the pre-monsoon month. Water quality parameters i.e. turbidity, pH, ammonia, nitrate, total hardness calcium hardness, and alkalinity were approximately under the range of standard limits by World Health Organization (WHO), National Drinking Water Quality Standard of Nepal (NDWQS) and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). However, electrical conductivity (EC), total dissolved solids (TDS), and fecal coliform (E. coli) exceeded the WHO, and NDWQS permissible limit of drinking water. The presence of fecal coliform made the water unsuitable for drinking purposes without treatment. The WQI was good in Spring II (15.76) followed by Spring III (38.65) and Spring I (61.08). Spring II has the lowest WQI among the three springs due to the application of conservation measures like plastering the spring. The variation in WQI in three springs depends on both natural factor and management of springs. Overall, application of modern technology i.e. GIS and Remote Sensing will provide accurate information on the source of springs which can be beneficial for conservation of springs globally and contribute to reducing water scarcity especially in the mountain regions.
... Preston et al., 1997;Tiffen et al., 1994), these observations have been contested in other areas where clear linkages between growing human and cattle populations and increases in soil erosion were found (e.g. Boyd and Slaymaker, 2000;Kemp et al., 2020). Finally, the linear scenario is a compromise, assuming that environmental pressure increases steadily through time. ...
Full-text available
Lavaka (gullies) are often considered as the prime indication of a currently ongoing human-induced environmental crisis in Madagascar's highlands. Yet, lavaka are known to have existed long before human arrival and account for the majority of the long-term sediment input into the highland rivers and floodplains. The role of anthropogenic disturbances in their formation therefore remains highly debated and it is unclear whether lavaka erosion has recently increased. Here, we address these questions by evaluating the dynamics of lavaka in the Lake Alaotra region (central Madagascar). An overall birth to stabilization ratio of 6.1 indicates a rapid lavaka population growth over the period 1949–2010s. Using data on lavaka development we calculated a mean lavaka population age of 410 ± 40 years and estimate that the disequilibrium started at 870 ± 430 cal. BP. Floodplain sedimentation starts to increase around 1000 cal. BP and peaks over the last 400 years, thereby independently confirming this time frame of increased lavaka activity. Lavaka population dynamics modelling shows that a strong increase in environmental pressure over the last centuries is needed to attain current disequilibrium levels. A general drying of the climate since 950 cal. BP in combination with the introduction of cattle and growing human presence around 1000 cal. BP will likely have triggered the increase in lavaka erosion. However, the recent acceleration cannot be explained by climatic changes alone and seems to be linked to increased anthropogenic pressure on the environment. As such, we offer a fresh and quantitatively supported perspective on lavaka dynamics and human impact in central Madagascar, where our methodology can be used in other locations where similar questions on geomorphic equilibrium need to be answered.
... The past few decades have recorded decreased nomadic practices, sub-division and privatisation of communally owned land and a marked conversion to agro-pastoralist land-uses (Burian et al., 2019;Jones and Thornton, 2009). Reasons for the ensuing changes are varied (Lesorogol, 2008), but increased population is a precondition to substituting extensive pastoralism with more labor-intensive land management systems (Boyd & Slaymaker, 2000). Past studies have often related common dryland resource use and management and pastoralism to overgrazing and subsequently land degradation and underdevelopment (Benjaminsen et al., 2006;Hardin 1968;Wernersson, 2018). ...
Full-text available
Land use and Land Cover Changes (LULCC) are a major cause of environmental degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) drylands and hence a serious problem to sustainable utilization and development of those lands. Involving communities in their detection and identification can empower and convince them of the importance of adopting practices that minimize their undesirable impacts. In this study, we applied a GIS assisted community participatory approach to detect LULCC, their drivers and effects in the drylands of mid rift valley Kenya. Focus group discussions, key informant and household head interviews were corroborated with three Landsat images for three periods of 1980, 1995 and 2019. Results from community interviews and focus group discussion reported increasing trends in cropland and shrubland, Declining trend were reported in livestock mobility, livestock herd size, forest land and natural grasses. The GIS analysis reported increase of cropland from 370 Ha to 2889 Ha, increase in shrubland by 4.2%, expansion of Lake Baringo by 1.4%, decrease in forest cover by 1.2% and decrease in natural grass pastures by 1.1%. Major driving forces for LULCC were identified as population growth, insecurity caused by cattle rustling, government policies and interventions,
... Even though the minimum threshold (Ostrom, 2009) of fish depletion (sufficient scarcity) that will trigger the fishing communities to invest heavily in the institutional future at the Elephant Marsh Fishery has not yet been reached (Kosamu et al., 2012), a future with rising pressures on the resource is not hypothetical, considering Malawi's national population growth at a rate of 2.8% (NSO, 2008). Boyd and Slaymaker (2000) discussed an interesting angle on the relationship between human population growth and management of natural resources. They used six case studies from Africa to show that although human population growth is always blamed for deterioration of natural resources, over a period of time, it can actually lead to improvement rather than deterioration of natural resources, especially due to locally based institutional development. ...
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