Imperial Gullies: Soil Erosion and Conservation in Lesotho

Article excerpt

GEOGRAPHY, ENVIRONMENT. DEMOGRAPHY Kate B. Showers. Imperial Gullies: Soil Erosion and Conservation in Lesotho. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005. xxix + 346 pp. Photographs. Maps. Figures. Tables. Diagrams. Bibliography. Index. No price reported. Cloth.

Kate Showers's book on soil erosion in Lesotho has been in gestation for twenty-five years. It has now emerged as a work of mature scholarship that sets a benchmark. Showers is a soil scientist by training, not a historian. In 1978 she went to Lesotho for a two-year stint to investigate soil erosion at a small research site. Unafraid to question accepted wisdom-even that which lay at the heart of her discipline-she sought answers that were fundamental to understanding the processes of erosion for which the Lesotho landscape is so notorious. Her inquisitive mind and increasing familiarity over almost three decades with the people, the history, and the land that is Lesotho has resulted in an all-embracing environmental history which she rightly describes as "holistic" and which maximizes the outcomes of fieldwork, archival research, and oral history. Her book thus offers a "comprehensive perspective [on]... the interactions among very different cultures, land use systems, ideologies, and a changing environment" (281). Indeed, Imperial Gullies is a most useful history of Lesotho because it takes as its starting point the crux of the human-landscape interface: the relationship with the soil.

Showers has a number of previous publications on the theme of soil erosion in Lesotho and first came to the notice of this reviewer with her article "Soil Erosion in the Kingdom of Lesotho: Origins and Colonial Response, 1830s-1950s," published in 1989 in a special issue of the Journal of Southern African Studies. In a manner similar to the work of James Fairhead and Melissa Leach (Misreading the African Landscape; Society and Ecology in a Forest-Savanna Mosaic, 1996), Showers delved behind the scientific and political rhetoric to discover a relationship between people and land that was far more complex than had been postulated and indicated a more active African conservation response. These many threads constitute this book, a longer and definitive study that is also written in an extremely accessible style.

Imperial Gullies is divided into three sections, followed by useful appendixes on climate, special soils, and methodology. A long list of references and a fascinating bibliographical essay complete the book, which is also replete with photographs, figures, tables, maps, and diagrams. …