Population and environment debates regarding Africa, whether Malthusian or Boserupian in nature, focus on population levels as the driving force behind the relationship between environment and society. This article argues, instead, that how people adjust to their rise in numbers is more important than are population levels. It focuses on the role of local informal institutions, such as land tenure systems, but also on customs, norms, and networks, and their change over time in mediating the relationship between people and the environment. The article is based on fieldwork conducted between 1995 and 1998 in the Sahelian and Sudano-Sahelian zones of Africa, as well as on a review of colonial documents pertaining to the area written in the first half of the twentieth century. The article concludes that adaptations made to local, informal institutions within the past century have enabled an environmentally sustainable land use within the context of a rising population and growing scarcity of natural resources.
|Publication status||Published - 2002|