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Collapse and Recovery in Sahelian Agro-pastoral Systems: Rethinking Trajectories of Change

Laura Vang Rasmussen, Department of Geography & Geology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Anette Reenberg, Department of Geography & Geology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark


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We discuss the adaptive cycle heuristic as a potential platform for describing the functioning and directions of change in Sahelian land use systems. Specifically, the aim is to go beyond the simplified narrative of a vicious circle of land degradation and land expansion prompted by population pressure and low rainfall and to develop conceptual means to account for system recovery and adaptation to exposures. We use a village study from northern Burkina Faso as an empirical point of departure. On the basis of information obtained from extensive interviews and surveys at the group and household level, the different phases of the adaptive cycle—exploitation (r), conservation (K), release (Ω) and reorganization (α)— are characterized by indicators of “potential” and “connectedness”. The main traits of an adaptive cycle trajectory are identified, yet deviations are also observed. It is, however, apparent that the traditional picture of a unidirectional process of land degradation and system collapse in Sahelian agro-pastoral systems is a simplification of more complex realities. The adaptive cycle heuristic provides insight into the possible importance of , for example, connectedness in terms of village groups. This may have implications for the policy discourse and may contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of trajectories of change in Sahelian systems.

Key words

adaptive cycle; connectedness; potential; Sahel; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087