Journal Article

Desiccation and domination: science and struggles over environment and development in colonial West Africa

Published on 1 January 2000

Concern about desiccation–the effects of deforestation on climate and soils–was an early and pervasive theme in colonial science, present at the onset of West Africa’s colonial era and with roots in previous centuries. As a set of scientists’ ideas linked to soil and forest conservation policy, the impact of desiccationism was initially muted, struggling unsuccessfully in nascent administrations with more pressing political and administrative agendas. But by the end of the colonial period it can be argued that anxiety about desiccation had become a cornerstone of development practice and state penetration. This article uses a case study to consider the transformation of the status of the ‘science’of desiccation within colonial development agendas, the responses this transformation eventually provoked and its enduring legacy.


Publication details

Fairhead, J. and Leach, M.
Journal of African History