Ecological and social science research

In Chapter 5, we developed a schematic framework to describe the responses of proxy environmental indicators to intensification of land use, in terms of either the equilibrium or disequilibrium hypothesis. Among the agronomic experiments we investigated were those concerned with loss of soil sediments, and river and storm discharges that invariably related to soil loss from the watershed. The experiments—mostly at plot scale, and a few at landscape scale—showed the importance of vegetation cover in soil conservation. However, considering that none of the experiments were conducted on farmers’ lands, it is impossible to relate the findings directly to indigenous land use.

In addition to land use, rainfall variability is a critical factor that deter- mines the amount of soil lost from a watershed. Rainfall (as described by the disequilibrium hypothesis) plays a crucial role in soil moisture, in that the number of soil moisture days has a direct impact on crop yields. Many of the experiments conducted at the time ignored this important ecological variable and explained changes only in terms of land use. It was also part of the hypothesis that indigenous systems of land use were linked to a decline in soil fertility. Although the application of commercial fertilizers and cattle mature caused temporary improvements in soil fertility, the lower soil fertility was attributable to the environmental factors as opposed to intensifications of land use. In terms of soil conservation and fertility, we found that the evidence does not support the environmental crisis hypothesis, while the alternative hypothesis is applicable.

In grazing experiments, without exception, all the experiments demonstrated superiority of the indigenous methods of grazing over the rest and rotational systems. In all the grazing systems, rainfall variability, and not grazing, was decisive in influencing rangeland productivity and range restoration. Environmental restoration was possible only when rainfall was plentiful. Other trials, such as reseeding experiments, also showed the critical role played by variable rainfall in restoring degraded lands. We were able to finally show that none of the experiments supported the environmental crisis hypothesis.

The outcomes of social science research (Chapter 6) show interesting trends in relation to the African peoples’ behavior in terms of whether they accepted or rejected development programs. The colonial authorities made several suppositions. First, their opinion was that social responses to development are predetermined by groups’ socio-ecological and economic specializations. Second, anthropologists had predicted that, according to their social behavior, communities might be arranged on a continuum, ranging from those who were quick to accept changes, to those who resisted. Along the continuum, it was supposed that agro-pastoralists were more adaptable to change than pastoralist herders who were predicted to be more resistant to change. These assumptions caricatured African social behavior towards development initiatives. On the contrary, the African societies showed flexibility in their responses, readily accepting those projects that benefited them and rejecting those that undermined their indigenous economic production systems.

The main obstacle was colonial policies that fixated on the intensification of economic production, without adequate knowledge of prevailing ecological and social conditions. Our comparative analyses have shown that African societies responded positively to development changes, although acceptance varied across space and time. Acceptance was much greater when development plans incorporated social cultural institutions and indigenous knowledge. Such transformations enabled the communities to participate in the market economy, by changing their systems of animal husbandry and crop cultivation in acceptable ways.

We get glimpses of these changes and responses from the case studies presented in Chapter 7, which investigates the implementation of administrative science. The case studies illustrate the preference of colonial authorities, particularly administrators, for expert knowledge in planning and implementing development projects, as opposed to scientific research-based findings. We investigated dialogues between officials in technical departments and provincial administration on matters that influenced the welfare of African societies, the security of indigenous land tenure and African communities’ participation in development projects.

The administrative authorities, who were responsible for implementing government policies, also worked and supported the Africans whom they administered—some of the time. But—depending on pressure from the colonial government—they often relaxed their support to local communities and acted decisively to implement government policies. The local communities, who did not participate in the dialogue, often used representatives or hired lawyers to intervene on their behalf. An interesting aspect of the dialogue is the role played by the Crown Courts in settling land disputes. As the first case study shows, if the officials had violated the statutes, the courts—in the true spirit of British justice—overturned the decisions of the lower courts and returned the land to the Africans.

The second and third case studies are concerned with agricultural and soil conservation and settlement schemes. The colonial officials used ordinances with strict requirements to force compliance by the African peasants, even though some of the ordinances were impossible to comply with. Evidence shows that the Europeans running technical departments did not themselves understand the rationale of African indigenous methods of soil conservation and soil fertility. They continued to blame African peasants for the erosion of hillsides and loss of soil fertility. This is despite—as acknowledged by some colonial officials—the communities having excelled in the practice of their indigenous conservation methods. Yet, the policies promoted clearing of large areas of natural vegetation to control tsetse flies, while at the same time blaming the African peasants for their ‘unwise’ use of the land. There was no evidence that the ordinances succeeded, and soil conservation along the lines recommended by the officials took a long time to work—and when it did work, it was only when the peasants did what they knew best in terms of working their land.

Disease vectors and pest control programs

Chapter 8 analyzed the tsetse fly (Qlossma species) which was responsible for displacing populations from vast areas that in turn resulted in underdevelopment of the affected regions in East Africa. The flies’ natural hosts that supply them with blood meals are small mammals, birds, reptiles, large mammals, cattle and people. From ancient times, the African peoples have known about the vector and practiced some indigenous control methods. This did not, however, stop the outbreak of the pandemic.

For five decades, starting in the early twentieth century, the East African colonial governments embarked on large-scale control of, and research on, tsetse flies. Several methods were applied. The most drastic were extensive destruction of the tsetse habitats through bush clearing and extermination of wild game, in the hope of breaking the trypanosome parasite life cycle. There were disagreements between researchers who conducted small-scale experimental trials and administrators who preferred large-scale clearing of bushy vegetation to be replaced by agricultural and grazing schemes. The challenge was that none of the methods provided a long-term solution. Tsetse control, more than any other imperial scientific research method, was therefore responsible for the destruction of vegetation from vast areas of East Africa.

Chapter 9 examines six aspects of locust research and controls: ecology of locusts, outbreak areas, economic impacts, international collaboration, regional controls, control methods and monitoring. The pest’s life cycle varies from solitary to gregarious, with breeding phases significantly influencing control methods. Locust swarms demonstrate behavioral changes, which also reflect morphological changes in relation to climatic conditions and food supplies. Knowledge of rainfall and seasonality are crucial in gleaning information on the breeding success of locusts.

From the outbreak areas swarms of various generations of desert locusts were arriving head-to-tail in destinations in East Africa. In some years, as many as 50 separate swarms might arrive, requiring prompt responses before they devoured all agricultural produce in their path.

The economic impact of locust invasions has few comparisons—they were more frequent than other natural disasters, and the damage to agricultural production was in millions of British pounds. From the few available estimates, the impacts on grazing lands, though least investigated, were equally serious. In order to combat locusts, regional control campaigns were organized on a massive scale, year after year. The story was always the same—when one series of swarms was extinguished, other swarms were arriving. Were it not for international participation in the locust swarm controls, no single country would have had the resources to meet the massive challenges.

During the post-war years, the British donated military vehicles and aircraft for locust control work. The vehicles and planes were refitted with sprays. Until the late 1960s, research and monitoring were combined to deal with the locust plagues; however, despite the huge amounts of funding expended, the methods met with little success. Although laboratory experiments for producing and testing pesticides made important contributions to locust control, the fast-moving events did not allow for long-term field research. Finally, and most importantly, in the context of the African environmental crisis hypothesis, the damage to the environment by locusts exceeded what humans had accomplished. This conclusion is significant considering that the originators of the hypothesis only considered human agencies as the causal factor.

Our work would be incomplete without attempting to understand the trajectory of science for development during the first three decades of post- independence which is discussed in the epilog.

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