Soil erosion in East Africa: an interdisciplinary approach to realising pastoral land management change
Published: 03 December 2018
Environmental Research Letters,
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Implementation of socially acceptable and environmentally desirable solutions to soil erosion challenges in the Global South is often limited by (1) fundamental gaps between the evidence bases of different disciplines and (2) an implementation gap between science-based recommendations, policy makers and practitioners. We present an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to support co-design of land management policy tailored to the needs of specific communities and places in degraded pastoral land. Hydrological and sedimentary evidence shows that, in a northern Tanzanian study region over the past two decades, severe drought and increased livestock have reduced grass cover leading to surface crusting, loss of soil aggregate stability, and lower infiltration capacity. Infiltration excess overland flow has driven (a) sheet wash erosion, (b) incision along convergence pathways and livestock tracks, and (c) gully development, leading to increased hydrological connectivity. Stakeholder interviews in associated sedenterising Maasai communities identified significant barriers to adoption of soil conservation measures, despite local awareness of problems. Barriers were rooted in specific pathways of vulnerability, such as a strong cattle-based cultural identity, weak governance structures, and a lack of resources and motivation for community action to protect shared land. At the same time, opportunities for overcoming such barriers exist, through openness to change and appetite for education and participatory decision-making. Guided by specialist knowledge from natural and social sciences, we suggest a participatory approach that enables practitioners to enact practice change and become local policy-makers. This approach provides a valuable conceptual model to tackle wider soil erosion challenges in the Global South.