Indigenous views of soil erosion at Fandou Béri, southwestern Niger:Ethnopedology

Warren, Andrew and Osbahr, Henny and Batterbury, Simon and Chappell, Adrian (2003) Indigenous views of soil erosion at Fandou Béri, southwestern Niger:Ethnopedology. Geoderma, 111 (3). pp. 439-456. ISSN 0016-7061

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Soil is being eroded from the village lands of Fandou Béri, in southwestern Niger, at rates of over 30 t ha−1 year−1, as measured by the 137Cs method. These figures exceed those that were used to label the Sahel a “hot spot” for soil erosion. The response to these data in international agronomic research organisations has been to make large investments in soil erosion research, but this contrasts with the meagre relative commitment to the problem by local Djerma (Zarma) and Fulani farmers. Farmers are more concerned about the loss of fertility than the loss of soil, per se, a viewpoint that embeds decisions about land use and conservation in a much broader decision-making process. Practices like paillage (laying of millet stalks) could be interpreted as tacit acknowledgement of erosion, but they have many other purposes. We ask, who is correct in their assessment of erosion—the villagers or the agronomists? By comparing scientific evidence, local views and measurements of erosion, we conclude that the farmers' opinions are a valid contribution to a complex argument that consists of short-, medium- and long-term issues. Short-term effects are acknowledged by both farmers and scientists. They include sand blasting of young crops, the burial or exposure of crops by floods or windstorms, and the removal of organic matter and nutrients. However, the amounts and values of the losses incurred in these ways are difficult to establish. In the medium term, significant losses of water- and nutrient-holding capacity only occur where erosion has drastically reduced soil thickness, but this affects very few fields. We believe that most of the soils in Fandou Béri are deep sands that can withstand many years of erosion before they lose significant production capacity. The longer-term issue is whether farmers should be asked to conserve soil for some abstract and distant purpose? The negative effects of erosion, at whatever scale, must be balanced against the maintenance of a community that depends on a holistically conceived system of risk-avoidance agriculture in which erosion may be unavoidable, given the current constraints of labour and the imperative to get a crop each year in the face of variable and unpredictable rainfall. The imposition of a rigorous system of soil conservation might threaten the cohesion of the community. Only a more open and productive debate between the scientific community, the state, and farmers can reach a more satisfactory framing of the ‘erosion problem’.

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22 Jan 2019 14:40
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21 Sep 2023 02:32