Wednesday, April 25, 2012


cc:, batterbu@spot.Colorado.EDU
date: Fri, 5 Jun 1998 15:04:07 -0600 (MDT)
from: Batterbury Simon <Simon.BatterburyatXYZxyzorado.EDU>
subject: Sahel comments
to: andrew <>, Judy Longbottom <>,,,

I have received the following intriguing set of comments from Gerti and
Han at Leiden about the Sahel meeting. I agree with a lot of what was said
and I apologize for not including the Bank in our discussions and
guestlist (although I did try). I have highlighted a couple of points
where they might be incorrect. And of course IIED is working on the land
tenure issue right now, as Mike M is doing on the agriculture point. I am
still deep in
trying to write up the meeting and will try and accommodate some of this.
Any response needed from Mike (Hulme) on the climate issue? They are
trying to push for future research areas, and see climate as important as
a major issue where we need to more work.

Simon B


Sahel conference remarks -
Han van Dijk
Gerti Hesseling
Leiden - African Studies Centre

The first day of the conference a kind of state of the art overview was
given of past and current research on the Sahel. It gave a broad overview
of high level and local level perspectives, and of agro-ecological to
socio-economic approaches. However, what was missing in this overview was
a very important stakeholder in research and development, the World Bank.
The world Bank is very efficient in picking all kind of new trends and
buzz words, developed in the research community, flavouring them with
World Bank jargon, and baking new concepts into a new World Bank
neo-classical economic cake. In fact the World Bank is more important for
setting the research agenda than any of us present at the conference.
In the first place World Bank concepts are dominantly normative
instead of analytical, e.g. sustainability, equilibrium, carrying
capacity, social structure, food security. These concepts indicate norms
and describe reality as far as it deviates from the norms. The problem is
that we cannot even think of ever reaching a situation in which life in
the Sahel is adequately described by these norms. So, they are not useful
for an analytical perspective, and even not from a policy point of view,
i.e. if policy is meant to solve problems instead of encapsulating and
perpetuating them. There is thus an urgent need to develop concepts with
which we will be able to describe more adequately the extremely dynamic
situation in semi-arid zones. The lessons learnt from the new range land
ecology need to be translated into social science concepts, economic
concepts, legal concepts. We should not focus on static indicators, but
process indicators, which enable to analyse the drivers behind the
dynamics of the Sahel. One of these process indicators we have not
addressed is culture and the dynamics of ethnicity and inter-ethnic

What is lacking then at present is a consistent and complete picture of
how climate instability relates to all kinds of societal process at micro
and meso-level. If we want to generate information that is useful for a
more adequate reaction on calamities we need to focus on the interactions
between nature and society from the perspective of instability, e.g. on:

The relation between climatic instability and resource management;
The reactions of regional economies to rainfall fluctuations;
Climate instability, resource conflicts and administrative
Changes in social relations with respect to social care and food

Looking back at 25 years of research on the Sahel we have not done very
well in this respect. We still lack insight into the fluctuations of food
and livestock markets, though we have enormous piles of data. There is
still an enormous lack of knowledge on decision-making of farmers and
herdsmen in relation to the complex realities that they have to face. Our
micro-economic models are getting better everyday, but we need also a
large number of empirical research under real-life (thus unstable)
conditions), done by very devoted observers. We have no idea of the role
of micro-variability of soils, topography, and rainfall in agricultural
production. [note from SB - they are incorrect here]. How to develop a new
agronomic paradigm and a new kind of statistics to study these extremely
complicated man-environment interactions. We have far too little studies
on how people adapt rules of land tenure and regulate access to pastures
under conditions of resource scarcity and how these local-level
adaptations of rules and procedures interact with policy initiatives and
state law. In particular we know too little about how people structure
negotiations and what procedures they have developed for the transfer of
rights of access to resources. Is security of tenure the only answer or do
we need to focus on more dynamic arrangements of resource tenure? In view
of pending (or non-pending) climate change it might be worthwhile to
devote attention to migration of farmers and herdsmen and the factors
which govern their decision-making. In particular we know very little
about rural-rural migration, because these people escape all censuses and
seem to disappear in the bush. [note from SB - they are incorrect here
The urban question has been addressed many times in a quite
positive perspective. This is fully justified if we look at the urban
centres and the rural growth centres and if you focus on the
entrepreneurial class, which thrives with political liberalisation.
However, if we look at the polarisation between the northern and southern
part of the Sahel, the picture is less positive. Market integration stops
at the fourteenth parallel, let's say the frontier of the climatic Sahel,
where no cash-crops can be grown and. Bad luck for the +12 million people
living north of this line. There are indications that relatively speaking
these areas are getting poorer. Literacy rates and child mortality rate
are not improving here. Donor attention for these areas is declining.
Rather they gamble on high-potential areas further south to go for fast
success, to satisfy public opinion in the North. Political tension in
these areas is on the increase again, and civil unrest may arise again.
Within cities there is also a polarisation between the big mass of
angry young men and women and the entrepreneurial class. Even in
democratic countries like Mali corruption is on the increase again, and
mismanagement of public resources continues. How are we going to integrate
all these young people into the economy, so that they can lead a decent
life? At present young people are postponing marriage and remain dependent
on elders because there are no possibilities to get settled as their
parents once were. This will inevitably lead to tensions and discontent,
not only against the elders, who block their careers, but also against
those in power.

So three points have to be made
The dominance of normative prescripts, born out of World Bank ideology
encapsulating normative science;
The need for better and more process indicators for the analysis of the
relation between climatic instability and social and economic dynamics;
Attention on polarisation as a threat to social and political instability
in the long run


Simon Batterbury
visiting lecturer
Department of Geography
Campus Box 260
University of Colorado, Boulder
CO 80309-0260 USA

tel. 303 492 5388 fax. 303 492 7501

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