Applying the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Africa : scientific and land user dimensions of environmental degradation
This study takes an integrated approach using theories and methods from both the natural and social sciences to examine western scientific, government, NGO and local land user understandings of land degradation in Swaziland. Of key importance in the research is the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which itself marks a new, integrated approach to sustainable development, promoting concepts of community participation and local level decision-making. Grounded in the theory of political ecology, these concepts are examined in the Swazi context. Local knowledges are integrated with western scientific understandings of land degradation to create hybrid understandings of environmental degradation and to examine issues such as how far, under what conditions and for whom land degradation is problematic. Understandings of soil fertility, drought, changes to woodland areas and soil erosion in three case study villages are critically assessed, as local inputs into policies addressing land degradation are evaluated and reasons behind both individual and collective actions to combat degradation are considered. Issues of access and power are found to dominate natural resource management in Swaziland, as the majority of the power is concentrated in the hands of the minority of the population. Using a community land rehabilitation project as a case study, it is discovered that concepts such as community participation and local level decision-making by democratically elected village committees can cause conflict to develop between new and traditional institutions, as new institutions challenge the traditional balance of power. It is concluded that until changes are made to broader scale governance structures, concepts advocated by the UNCCD will not be implemented to their full potential in Swaziland and this could have important social and ecological implications.