Understanding natural resources management requires an interdisciplinary approach. Through a number of case studies from the West African Sahel, this book links and explores natural resources management from the perspectives of three distinct but interrelated spheres (politics, property and production) and within a broad and empirically based political ecology. Natural resources management is first of all profoundly political. Seen from above, it is constantly the object of planning efforts where one 'master-plan' follows another, each sponsored by one of the major international donors. Policies and plans are again informed by global discourses of 'decentralisation', 'disengaging the State', 'democratisation' or 'desertification'. Seen from below, natural resources management is always the object of power struggles and politicisation linked to property rights to land. Property may in fact be one of the most comprehensive, yet at the same time most elusive, concepts in the natural resources debate. To say that someone has a 'right' to land is to summarise in one word a complex and highly conditional state of affairs. African and Sahelian land tenure is a field where property relations are multifarious, overlapping and competing. The prospects for African and Sahelian production systems and their influences on the environment are also contested. The conventional belief says that these systems are marked by agricultural stagnation and environmental degradation, but this is increasingly being questioned or qualified. Under certain policy environments production systems and resources seem to follow more optimistic paths. Such emerging experiences which cut against the grain of conventional perceptions of the Sahelian environment should encourage us to rethink both Sahelian research and policy formulation.
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The Nordic Africa Institute