Environment and access to resources in Africa
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This article has been written as a contribution to the future orientation of a research programme on the agrarian crisis in Africa. The aim of this article is to provide an agenda for research on the environment and access to resources in Africa. This article starts with the proposition that many issues of environment and access to resources are clouded with uncertainty. This arises out of a lack of reliable data, particularly on environmental change; ideological and technical problems of definition and measurement; the inability to identify reliably human agency in environmental change (rather than, for example, climatic change); a wide range of contradictory interpretations of the impact of land degradation (Does it matter? To whom? Why?); different levels of abstraction and scale involved in analysis; and the 'atomisation' of theories linking environmental and social change. These sources of uncertainty are briefly rehearsed, and then a set of responses in terms of future research agenda is proposed. A central part of this set is a dynamic resource access-environmental change model linked to a decision-making model which focuses on land users' responses to environmental change. These two models provide a clearly specified context and anchoring point for a number of theoretical issues in African agrarian studies which hitherto have not been linked together. This article argues for a more 'place-specific' approach to the issue of land degradation which can at the same time pick up both the major changes in agrarian political economy which operate at national and international scales and the detail of 'household'/group making in land use and management. It is a research agenda which is based upon an overall model of changing control over resources and land-use decisions linked to another which identifies the decision-making process in the face of land degradation. It is a challenging agenda since it links political economy with quantitative modeling more associated with positivistic social science and normative agricultural economics. In the author's view, this contradiction is a false one, since the models presented here and the theory behind data collection (categories, labels, choice of quantitative intervals, etc.) are sufficiently flexible to accommodate an ideologically explicit but quantitatively verified approach to social and environmental change in Africa.