This paper discusses the role of soil and water conservation (SWC) practices in sustainable livelihoods and presents preliminary findings from case studies conducted in Tanzania and Uganda. Ultimately the question addressed in this paper is: What factors and conditions lead to households choosing to invest in SWC? The conditions under which households choose to invest in building or maintaining SWC practices are described within the framework of local livelihood strategies, together with the policies and structures which influence these strategies.
In the Tanzania case study the majority of farm households practised SWC techniques, with those households most dependent on crop production for their livelihoods investing more in SWC. At the macro level, changes in the wider political environment of Tanzania have been critical – the post-Independence period has seen a major decline in the promotion and adoption of SWC. More recently, however, the liberalisation of the Tanzanian economy has improved access to markets and increased producer prices, stimulating investment in SWC at household level. In contrast, many households in the Uganda case study have diversified away from crop production in order to generate cash income and, as a result, SWC has been neglected. In Uganda those farmers with limited access to land and work oxen are seen to be more likely to invest in SWC, perhaps reflecting a greater need to invest in soil fertility maintenance where a lack of draught power limits the options for opening new land.
The findings presented suggest that there are important differences between and within communities with respect to the contribution that SWC makes to livelihoods. The decision to invest in SWC relates both to the assets available to households and the attractiveness of agricultural intensification as a livelihood strategy. This is also affected by wider policy and institutional issues that are beyond the immediate control of households.