Land degradation assessment in southern Africa: Integrating local and scientific knowledge bases

L. C. Stringer, Mark Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


Recent attempts to address land degradation have seen calls for greater integration of scientific expertise with local knowledges. In this paper we investigate the potential for such combined understandings to enhance the accuracy, coverage and relevance of land degradation assessment. We followed a participatory approach, using methods from a variety of disciplines, to elicit potential land degradation indicators from communities in Botswana and Swaziland. These indicators were then assessed according to local and scientific understandings. We noted a significant overlap between scientific and local knowledges about land degradation in most instances. Where discrepancies occurred, the integrated participatory approach we used allows appropriate explanation to be reached, supporting the case that such an iterative process can lead to both accurate and relevant monitoring of land degradation. However, the incorporation of integrated knowledges into national policy has not been widespread in either country, suggesting that much greater efforts are required to institutionalise participatory land degradation assessment methodologies. Powerful, often neo-Malthusian narratives of degradation continue to dominate policy discourse and limit the extent to which hybrid combined local and scientific knowledges can enhance land degradation assessment on a national and regional scale. Copyright (c) 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-116
Number of pages18
JournalLand Degradation & Development
Issue number1
Early online date7 Aug 2006
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2007


  • land degradation
  • southern Africa
  • indicators
  • participation
  • knowledge
  • science
  • policy
  • multicriteria analysis
  • chihuahuan desert
  • vegetation change
  • rangeland health
  • arid zone
  • livestock
  • dynamics
  • Kalahari
  • Kenya
  • soil


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