Academic journal article Africa

Constructing Locality: The Terroir Approach in West Africa

Academic journal article Africa

Constructing Locality: The Terroir Approach in West Africa

Article excerpt


This article examines the origins and evolution of the terroir approach as an organizing idea in development planning in West Africa. We consider the evolving meaning of the terroir concept in three distinct periods: as a research approach crafted in a French geographical school; as a site for research-development programmes, and, most recently, as a tool for conservation planning, territorial restructuring, and land privatization. An important shift in the meaning of the terroir concept is apparent in its evolving uses. For the terroir school, the terroir came to represent the socio-natural heritage of a group in which its social organization and pattern of resource use became inscribed in the landscape. The concept took on new meaning in the late-1980s as an appropriate location for on-farm research by agricultural development planners. The terroir became both an alternative research site and a setting for mobilizing rural populations to adopt new land management and farming techniques. The meaning of the concept shifted again in the 1990s with the advent of the gestion des terroirs approach. In the hands of conservation and development planners, the terroir was conceived of as a scale of intervention for a host of government, aid donor, and NGO programmes. In summary, a significant change in the meaning of the concept has taken place from one in which the notion of local heritage was dominant to one that emphasizes territory and boundary clarification.


Cet article examine les origines et l'evolution de l'approche du terroir en tant qu'idee structurante de la planification du developpement en Afrique de l'Ouest. L'article etudie l'evolution de la signification du concept de terroir a trois periodes distinctes : en tant qu'approche de recherche faconnee dans une ecole geographique francaise, en tant que site de programmes de recherche et developpement et, plus recemment, en tant qu'outil de planification de la conservation, de restructuration du territoire et de privatisation des terres. On observe un changement important de la signification du concept de terroir dans l'evolution de son usage. Pour l'ecole du terroir, le terroir avait fini par representer l'heritage socionaturel d'un groupe au sein duquel son organisation sociale et son modele d'utilisation des ressources s'etaient graves dans le paysage. Le concept a pris une nouvelle signification a la fin des annees 1980 en tant que lieu adapte a la recherche dans les exploitations agricoles par les planificateurs du developpement agricole. Le terroir est devenu a la fois un site de recherche alternatif et un cadre de mobilisation des populations rurales pour qu'elles adoptent de nouvelles techniques de gestion et d'exploitation des terres. La signification du concept a de nouveau change dans les annees 1990 avec l'avenement de l'approche de gestion des terroirs. Entre les mains des planificateurs de la conservation et du cleveloppement, le terroir etait concu comme une echelle d'intervention pour un grand nombre de programmes de bailleurs de fonds, gouvernements et ONG. En resume, la signification du concept a connu une evolution importante : d'une signification dominee par la notion d'heritage a une signification mettant l'accent sur le territoire et la clarification des limites.


The term terroir is a French word that does not have an exact English equivalent. Moreover, the word's meaning has significantly changed over the past thirty years in France. The objective of this article is to clarify the shifting meaning, for Anglophone audiences, of terroir as the term is used in French academic and development planning literature. Our thesis is that the meaning of terroir as a socio-natural heritage has been replaced by one that views the terroir as a mode of governance that facilitiates the control of people and resources within its boundaries. This article's perspective is the outcome of the productive encounter of two research traditions spanning two continents: the terroir approach in French academic geography (Boutrais, Blanc-Pamard) and the political ecology approach in anglophone academic geography and environment-development studies (Bassett). …

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