Does the Sahelian smallholder’s management of woodland, farm trees, rangeland support the hypothesis of human-induced desertification?

by M. Mortimore, B. Turner,

Drylands Research, Cutters’ Cottage, Glovers’ Close, Milborne Port, Sherborne DT9 5ER, UK

bIndependent Consultant, The Green, Litton, Near Skipton, N. Yorks BD23 5QJ

Journal of Arid Environments

63, Issue 3, November 2005, 567-595,


A simple theory of ‘desertification’ is found inadequate for understanding the complexity, diverse patterns and flexibility of farmers’ responses to change in environmental conditions and population growth in the Sahel. These include long-term transitions in farming practices, in management of natural resources and in income diversification. This paper reviews evidence relating to deforestation, woodland and rangeland degradation to show that in certain areas, a transition to intensified land use, although initially involving a loss of woodland, has led to the planting or protection of useful trees on farms and maintained biomass levels. Livestock numbers have been maintained, despite declining rainfall and loss or apparent degradation of rangeland, by development of more integrated livestock, arable and marketing systems. The possibility of these trends having impact on Sahelian ‘greening’ is discussed.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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