People, plants and practice in drylands: socio-political and ecological dimensions of resource-use by Damara farmers in north-west Namibia

Sullivan, S (1998) People, plants and practice in drylands: socio-political and ecological dimensions of resource-use by Damara farmers in north-west Namibia. PhD thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Current discourse regarding the use and management of natural resources in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa is inspired by three issues: 1) the growing emphasis on strengthening 'community-based' management of natural resources as a means of combining resource conservation with improvements in livelihoods; 2) continuing debate concerning the replacement of communal forms of land management with systems of private tenure; 3) and the widespread assumption of environmental 'degradation' and 'desertification' caused by the land-use practices of African livestock farmers. The way these areas of debate are interpreted affects policy and development intervention relating to the management and conservation of dryland natural resources. In relation to these issues, this thesis has two primary aims: 1) to analyse patterns and determinants of natural resource-use and management by Khoe-speaking Damara farmers in and north-west Namibia; 2) to assess the ecological implications of this resource-use in the context of the unpredictable variations in primary productivity characteristic of dryland environments. A combination of quantitative and qualitative anthropological and ecological techniques are employed to meet these objectives. The use of gathered non-timber products for food and medicine was monitored in 7 repeat-surveys over an 18 month period for a sample of 45 households comprising 2017 individual 'diet-days'. Statistical analysis suggests that food resources are consumed when abundant rather than as dry season supplements, that wealth is a poor predictor of gathered resource-use and that the use of natural resources is remarkably resilient given the disruptive effects of land alienation during this century. The utilisation of timber for fuel and building-poles was quantified at the household level and compansons with equivalent data from rural societies in more humid environments suggests conservative use of these resources. Qualitative data emphasise the continuing relevance of culturally-informed management practice relating to the use of natural resources. With regard to the second research objective, woody and herbaceous vegetation datasets were compiled, the former comprising 2760 plant individuals in a stratified sample of 75 transects and the latter consisting of 48 qradrats, half fenced to exclude livestock, in which herbaceous vegetation was monitored over two growing seasons. A number of standard ecological variables, including patterns in community floristics, diversity, cover and population structure, were used to explore the prediction that concentrations of people and livestock cause measurable impacts on vegetation around settlements. Statistical analysis suggests that effects of settlement are extremely localised and are within the range of variability shown by these measures over larger spatial scales, and that between-year variability in herbaceous vegetation dominates that measured both between- and within-sites. The research results indicate that current understanding of local resource-use practices in northwest Namibia is constrained by two conceptual influences: 1) a misleading colonial ethnography which continues to inform debate and interventions regarding the use and management of natural resources, operating to deny the present-day validity of local ecological knowledge and practice; 2) a temperate-zone ecology which focuses on density-dependent interactions between the biotic components of ecosystems, and plays-down the role of unpredictable abiotic factors, particularly rainfall, in driving a continuing dynamic of non-equilibrium variability in arid environments.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Date Deposited: 28 Jul 2017 15:20
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2024 16:16
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