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Crisis in policy, policy in crisis: understanding environmental discourse and resource-use conflict in northern Nigeria

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This article explores the emergence and persistence of crisis narratives in the policy environment of twentieth century Nigeria. It finds that environmental crisis narratives have a well-established and traceable historical lineage, initially, as continuity between colonial and post-colonial policy discourse, but more recently with donor agencies gaining increasing importance in influencing and shaping debate. Counter-narratives are identified, but these lack historical ‘legitimacy’, and often sit uncomfortably alongside donor-funded initiatives. In light of weak governance systems that impede the development and maintenance of robust data-sets, the article argues that flawed ‘conventional wisdom’ regarding environmental processes and people–environment linkages will combine to produce a policy environment that could actually constrain rather than enable the improvement of rural livelihoods.

Keywords: Nigeria; conflict; crisis narrative; environment; farmer; pastoralist; policy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Styrbordsgatan 15, 12065 Stockholm, Sweden, Email: 2: University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9001, New Zealand, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2007


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