M. Bollig, A. Linstädter

Environmental degradation and desertification are salient subjects in research on arid and semi-arid rangelands in various sciences. The close interrelationship between the strategies of mobile pastoralists and rangeland degradation necessitates the collaboration of social scientists and natural scientists. It has been demonstrated frequently that neither social sciences nor natural sciences can describe the complex phenomenon on their own.

Taking the varied rangelands of Kaokoland as an example the study group works on an interdisciplinary and historically embedded approach to environmental degradation. Changes in the environment are analysed from the perspective of geography (e.g. soil erosion) and ecology. The agropastoral economy of local Himba is described in relation to changing environmental resources. Possible causes for different stages of environmental decline are elucidated, and a generalised model for degradation is presented. There is little doubt that the exploitation of savannas by large herds of domesticated herbivores change specific features of the ecosystem at an early stage: a loss in biodiversity and a shift in vegetation structure are observable early on. These changes seem to be of little concern to local herders as long as the production of palatable biomass does not decline profoundly. At this stage the system is stabilized by elaborate management rules which ensure a sustainable management. Only if further stress is put to the system it degrades rapidly with the likely perspective of a total collapse. While local knowledge is adapted to a secondary ecosystem, it does neither offer solutions for a system in its natural stage nor for rapid environmental decline.


Link: Publications Study Group Degradation