Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Soil Conservation, Political Ecology, and Technological Change on Saint Vincent

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Soil Conservation, Political Ecology, and Technological Change on Saint Vincent

Article excerpt

Most government-inspired soil-conservation programs of developing countries have met with limited success (Blaikie 1985; Edwards 1995). Indeed, in sub-Saharan Africa, programs catalyzed resistance and armed struggle against colonial regimes (Anderson 1984; Beinart 1984; Anderson and Grove 1987; J. McGregor 1995). The case of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Eastern Caribbean [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] stands in marked contrast to the experiences of most developing countries. Many researchers have commented on the impressive achievements in controlling soil loss in this small, island nation (Fentem 1961; UNESCO 1982; Ahmad 1984, 1987). A recent assessment reflected on the heyday of the Vincentian conservation effort:

In the later 1930s and earlier 40s St. Vincent's agriculture was the pride of tropical agriculturists. St. Vincent was the show-piece of the most prestigious institute for the teaching of tropical agriculture - the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture based in St. Augustine, Trinidad. The College authority brought students from South America, Africa, Asia and other parts of the Caribbean to see the sort of cultivation that made deference to contour planting an integral part of the cultivation technique. Pilots diverted their flights to show their passengers the beautiful effect of planting on the contour. (Vincentian 1989)

The relationship of soil erosion, conservation, and the peasantry on Saint Vincent is particularly interesting. First, the environmental context is highly conducive to erosion, and peasants cultivate in the areas that are most susceptible to soil loss. Second, the development literature has ignored conservation activities on the island. Indeed, soil conservation in the Caribbean region generally has received little attention, except for a few technical (Hardy 1939; Carson and Tam 1977; Gumbs 1987, 1993; D. McGregor 1995) and socioeconomic (Blaut and others 1959; Blustain 1985; Barker and McGregor 1988; Horner 1994; Edwards 1995) studies. Certainly, the Caribbean region is underrepresented in the conservation literature, compared with sub-Saharan Africa (Anderson and Grove 1987; Leach and Mearns 1996). Even Piers Blaikie (1985), in his well-known discussion of the political economy of soil erosion, ignored the Caribbean area. Third, Caribbean researchers have failed to realize that the conservation efforts on Saint Vincent and elsewhere in the region that began there in the late 1930s were far from isolated occurrences; they were part of a British Empire-wide program (Stockdale 1937; Masefield 1978; Clarke 1987).

Political ecology focuses on the relationships among the environment, patterns of resource use, and political-economic forces (Grossman 1998). Relevant to this study is the concern of political ecology with how political-economic conditions influence susceptibility to soil erosion and the viability of soil-conservation programs (Blaikie 1985; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Hershkovitz 1993; Zimmerer 1993). Researchers have identified several forces that affect efforts to control soil loss: inequality in control of land, labor shortages in agriculture, and insecurity of tenure (Eckholm 1976; Blaikie 1985; Blustain 1985; Collins 1987; Zimmerer 1993; Edwards 1995). These conditions are evident in Vincentian agriculture as well as in the wider English-speaking Caribbean (Mintz 1989), so their significance for erosion and conservation on the island will be examined.

A recent concern in political ecology is the nature and significance of environmental discourses, which represent the ideologies held by groups of individuals and institutions (Rocheleau, Steinberg, and Benjamin 1995; Jarosz 1996; Leach and Mearns 1996; Peet and Watts 1996; Zimmerer 1996). These studies tend to present official colonial discourses on peasant-related soil erosion in homogeneous terms. The literature portrays colonial officials as uniformly blaming peasants for erosion because of their inappropriate technology, mismanagement of the environment, and overpopulation; the political-economic forces that contributed to erosion were not considered. …

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