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Past, present and  future: perspectives in landscape dynamics as seen from two case  studies in Tanzania
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Ecology and Evolution, Ecological Botany.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social and Economic Geography.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social and Economic Geography.
2009 (English)In: Turning Science Into Action: biodiversity Conservation and Natural Resources Management in Africa, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2009Conference paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Landscapes bear witness on past and present natural and societal processes on many different temporal and spatial scales. Major changes of the physical landscape are related to land-forming events, usually followed by continuous processes like weathering, soil formation and erosion. Observed, short-term changes in the physical environment might therefore be adjustments to past events, or the passing of thresholds, rather than reflecting present social and environmental processes.

The different perspectives will be discussed with examples from two Tanzanian villages. In the first example we show how a combination of geological observations and later spatial information from maps and satellite data, field observations, information from villagers and archive studies has increased the observation period and made it possible to map, analyze and explain the natural and human influences on the distribution pattern of miombo woodland in Tanzania and to relate present landscapes to natural events and human decisions in the past, still making their footprints on the present day environment.

This village forms a pocket of apparently sustainable landuse amidst a matrix of more or less degraded land. Another such pocket is found in the Mbulu highlands in northern Tanzania, where it has been explained as a result of intensification of agriculture. In our case we see rather a gradual expansion of the area under shifting cultivation in an area where land is not limiting.

A historical explanation for this development is the fact that this village was little involved in the colonial economy and the villagization program during the 1970s (the “Operation”). Therefore, the population has remained comparatively homogenous and there is continuity in governance. As also population growth has been moderate, its population has been able to continue its traditional landuse in a sustainable way. Today, however, the situation is rapidly changing. Strong economic interests from outside tend to marginalize the influence the villagers have on their own forest resources. External forces are now more important than the internal resource use.

With the concept “simple reproduction squeeze” Henry Bernstein pointed out declining terms of trade for agricultural products as one driving force of agricultural change, requiring constantly increasing production to maintain the income. In most of Africa there is now a negative spiral of land degradation and poverty, and it seems unlikely that industrialisation or the service sector will grow sufficiently to provide livelihoods for the rising numbers of people who no longer can find a livelihood in the traditional agricultural sector. Hence, rural economies must develop and diversify its use of local resources. Our second example is a village where local initiatives could possibly form a basis for an escape from Bernstein’s squeeze. It is important to study closely how such initiatives could develop within a framework of sustained environment and biodiversity. Although alien words like “sustainability”, “development” and “biodiversity” are unlikely to be well understood in the village, they are nevertheless likely to be discussed locally in people’s attempts to escape from the “squeeze”. Therefore, as scientists we need a better knowledge of people’s motives for acting the way they do and of their perceptions of development and sustainability, i.e. an understanding of the local development discourse.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2009.
National Category
Biological Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-120231ISBN: 978-1-59221-728-1OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-120231DiVA: diva2:302911
1. International Research Conference on Biodiversity Conservation and Natural Management Kigali Rwanda July 23-25, 2007
Available from: 2010-03-10 Created: 2010-03-10 Last updated: 2013-11-14Bibliographically approved

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