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Environmental change and dryland management in Machakos District, Kenya, 1930-90: Tree management

Working papers

This Working Paper is part of a study which aims to relate long term environmental change, population growth and technological change, and to identify the policies and institutions which are conducive to sustainable development. The first stage, published in these Working Papers, is to measure and assess as precisely as the evidence allows the changes that have occurred in the study area, the semi-arid Machakos District, Kenya, over a period of six decades. Degradation of its natural resources was evoking justifiable concern in the 1930s and 1940s. By several measures it is now in a more sustainable state, despite a five-fold increase in population. A long-term perspective is essential, since temporary factors, such as a run of poor rainfall years, can confuse analysis of change if only a few years are considered. The study is developing a methodology for incorporating historical, physical, social and economic data in an integrated assessment.

The purpose of this paper is to review woodland management during the period 1930-1990. The central paradox confronted in such a review is that while, in the 1930s, the Ukamba Reserve was held to be severely degraded, perhaps irreversibly, and that a major aspect of this degradation was the loss of tree cover, now after six decades and a six-fold increase of the population, the position appears to have improved.

Michael Mortimore