Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Conservation in Malawi

The latest issue of Environment and History (not to be confused with Environmental History; the former has a more European orientation while the latter's is more American) has a few book reviews of note.

Elias Mandala reviews Wapulumuka O. Mulwafu, Conservation Song: A History of Peasant- State Relations and the Environment in Malawi, 1860-2000 (White Horse, 2011) (the book was also reviewed here and here). The book seems to join a significant body of literature that shows colonial conservation efforts being shaped by misunderstandings of the environment and motivated by the desire to save the environment from the supposedly destructive practices of native peoples.

This approach ran into local resistance, as Mandala writes:
The state threatened peasants’ livelihoods when it blocked forests of firewood and game and undermined their autonomy when it imposed laborious and time-consuming mechanical methods of farming, such as contour-ridging, box-ridging, bunding and terracing, forcing growers to assume all the risks of the untried techniques. Moreover, women in matrilineal communities were frightened at the prospect of losing their rights to land.
The book also joins other works arguing for the ineffectiveness of colonial conservation efforts. Mandala:
The regime was... too poor to formulate its own bylaws; it copied, word for word, the anti-erosion legislation of Southern Rhodesia. Not surprisingly, it only promoted those agricultural techniques that did not require government expenditures, measures that, in another sign of the rule of the feeble, were applied uniformly on every piece of land regardless of the kind of degradation affecting it.

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