Deforestation and Reforestation in Namibia: The Global Consequences of Local Contradictions

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Emmanuel Kreike. Deforestation and Reforestation in Namibia: The Global Consequences of Local Contradictions. Princeton, N.J.: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 2010. xviii + 224 pp. Maps, Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $88.95 Hardcover. $28.95 Paper.

In Deforestation and Reforestation, Kreike draws from his earlier work on the socio-environmental history of Ovamboland to confront modern paradigms of environmental change. Modernizationists view Western conservation science and technology, guided by state authority, as mastering world environments and overturning destructive, irrational indigenous natural resource use. Declinists argue that Western science, capitalism, and commodification have disrupted a pristine nature characterized by indigenous people in harmony with their environments, ushering in environmental decline. Inclinists place faith in indigenous knowledge and resource use to solve environmental problems, eschewing alarmist claims about environmental degradation. They all, in Kreike 's view, posit false dichotomies that separate nature from culture, wilderness from civilization, overlooking historical paradoxes that do not fit neatly into any single framework. Kreike offers historical evidence from Ovamboland, a region bisected by the AngolanNamibian border, to argue for a view of environmental change that is nonlinear, and that accepts the reality of historical paradoxes and contradictions in local environments.

Despite the title, there are few forests in this book. Yet the forestry case study perhaps best illustrates Kreike 's main argument. Nineteenth-century European explorers, missionaries, and colonial conquerors entered into a floodplain environment between the Cunene and Okavongo rivers that was densely populated and heavily forested, punctuated by Ovambo grain fields and cattle kraals. One hundred years later, Ovamboland was again heavily forested, although not in the same locales or with the same tree species of the previous century, but rather with fruit trees that had accompanied and facilitated Ovambo migration from Angola into Namibia. In the interval, Ovamboland had gone through decades of deforestation caused by the influx of refugees, who used trees to build fortified homesteads and fire to clear floodplain and bush lands for grain crops. Over time Ovambo migrants actively and passively propagated indigenous fruit trees, recreating, but not replicating, the dense forest environment of the previous century. This is a familiar argument in recent African forest history. Depending on the point at which evidence is sought, Kreike argues, one will find "dramatic deforestation" or "spectacular reforestation" in the same landscape, challenging linear views of environmental change.

Other chapters present similar paradoxes. While many histories see colonialism as integrating African societies into modern international commodity networks, Kreike argues that before colonialism began, Ovambo people were already well-integrated into "global" commodity networks by supplying tens of thousands of cattle to regional and Atlantic markets. …