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Environmental Discourses and the Ivorian Savanna

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The African continent is portrayed in development texts as experiencing environmental crises of staggering proportions. Despite a lack of reliable data, the World Bank considers environmental degradation to be so widespread that the ‘business’ of environmental planning and regulation is now seen as a global affair. It currently requires low-income countries receiving its financial assistance to develop National Environmental Action Plans (NEAPs) which, in assembly-line fashion, are being produced according to a blueprint. Taking the West African case study of Côte d'Ivoire, this paper argues that the planning process, specifically the identification of environmental problems, is based on a poor understanding of the nature and direction of environmental change. We confront this data problem by contrasting the image of a deforested savanna landscape found in the Côte d'Ivoire NEAP with the more wooded landscape experienced by farmers and herders and confirmed by our analysis of aerial photographs. Our second objective is to address the policy implications of two geographical issues rising from this paper: the disjointed scale problem between local/regional environmental-change patterns and global environmental discourses, and the human-environmental consequences of ignoring actual versus imagined environmental problems. A third goal is to contribute to the growing convergence in cultural and political ecology around the use of multiple research methods to explain environmental-change dynamics. Our discussion of environmental change is informed by intensive data collection in two rural communities in the Korhogo region of northern Côte d'Ivoire. Research methods included focus-group discussions and household surveys to record local perceptions of environmental change. Aerial photo analysis, GIS mapping, and vegetation transects were used to interpret land-cover changes. Finally, interviews with individuals involved in the NEAP process in the Côte d'Ivoire government, World Bank, and NGOs illuminated the received ideas and institutional interests of various players in environmental planning.
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Keywords: African savannas; World Bank; cultural and political ecology; environmental discourses; national environmental action plans

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of Illinois, USA, 2: Institut de Géographie Tropicale, Université de Cocody, Abidjan

Publication date: 2000-03-01

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