Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Desertification: Past, Current and Future Trends

"Desertification, which is generally regarded as a special case of land degradation, has been an issue of global concern for decades. Some would even suggest that the international environmental treaties, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (UNCBD), have their roots in the desertification crisis of the Sahel in the mid-1970s, in which hundreds of thousands of people and their livestock suffered. Certainly, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which was adopted in 1994, emerged out of international efforts to address the problems of land degradation in the drylands of the world, particularly those in Africa. Several books on the desertification theme have recently been published (e.g. Behnke and Mortimore 2016; Reed and Stringer 2016) with more in the offing (e.g. Glantz 2020). It is clearly a highly topical issue and this contribution, edited by Victor Squires and Ali Ariapour, is both timeous and relevant to the debate. The book is comprised of 10 chapters, six of which are either authored or co-authored by the editors. Because of their background and experience, case studies from Iran and China have a stronger emphasis in this volume than is usually the case. However, the first chapter by John Oswald and Sarah Harris provides a very useful and balanced global overview of the desertification debate, which I would recommend as necessary reading for anyone wishing to undertake research in this field. The origins, definitions and critiques of the term ‘desertification’ are discussed and the contribution that the study of desertification has made to all three of the United Nations conventions listed above, as well as the more recent Sustainable Development Goals, is up to date and helpful. This chapter also outlines clearly the indirect and direct drivers of land-cover change and provides a brief, but valuable guide to the different approaches available for identifying and monitoring desertification from remotely sensed images. South Africans will also be pleased with the inclusion of a chapter on the changing narrative on desertification and degradation in South Africa by Graham von Maltitz, Lehman Lindeque and Klaus Kellner. Their review provides a fresh perspective on the debate and is notable for the inclusion of some of the findings from the comprehensive FAO-funded, Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands (LADA) project that was initiated in South Africa in the first decade of the 21st century. What is especially useful in this analysis, is the formal inclusion of invasive alien plants and bush encroachment as key indicators of degradation, as well as a section on the South African policy framework, which has been established to address issues of desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in the region. Aziz Hirche and 13 colleagues, mostly from North Africa provide an interesting account of long-term changes in the arid steppe vegetation of the three Maghreb countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Despite the recent increase in rainfall in the region these authors argue that species richness and total cover of vegetation has declined significantly since 1978, primarily as a result of overgrazing. They suggest that their field-based measurements are at odds with the conclusions derived from remote sensing studies, which, in general, suggest that cover, and net primary production has increased in recent years. Because of the importance of the Sahel and the marginal environments of the Sahara in any desertification debate, their conclusions are worthy of greater exposure and further analysis. Another novel contribution is provided by Daniel Neary from the Rocky Mountain Research Station in the United States who outlines in some detail, the potential contribution that wildfires make to desertification at a range of spatial scales. He shows, for areas in the American south west, how the area burnt by wildfires per decade has increased by more than three orders of magnitude since 1990, and describes this impact on soil erosion and land degradation in the region. Fire is not traditionally considered a significant driver of desertification, but Daniel Neary makes the case for it to be taken more seriously by researchers and practitioners alike, especially in areas where fire is a common feature in the landscape. The remaining chapters led by Ali Ariapour and Victor Squires, outline the extent of desertification, primarily in Iran and China, and describe how local people have adapted to living in hot, dry environments. The main focus in these contributions, however, is to document the extensive efforts that have been undertaken to prevent or even reverse land degradation in these countries. Although an extensive list is provided of the large-scale, state-led actions taken to prevent or mitigate the effects of land degradation, for example in China’s Kubuqi Desert region, a deeper and more critical analysis of such interventions would have been helpful. It is difficult to assess the success and transferability of such initiatives when the narrative is so unreservedly favourable in its tone and content. There is a short vignette in the second last chapter by Victor Squires on the role of grazing ruminants in desertification processes, whereas the final chapter by the two editors provides a brief summary of the key take home messages in the book. They suggest that, although the word ‘desertification’ might have given way to the more inclusive term ‘land degradation’ the environmental problems faced by many communities in the drylands of the world, as a result of changes in both abiotic and biotic factors, remain urgent. There are a number of useful chapters in this book that summarise several of the key issues involved in desertification studies and provide access to the literature from parts of the world that have not received a great deal of attention to date. These contributions would have been enhanced, however, had greater attention been paid to grammar, style, readability and uniformity of layout, especially in terms of the figures and graphs. In addition, an analytical overview of the desertification theme, as is promised in the title of this book, would be expected to contain some geographical context. This requires clear, easily interpreted maps to inform readers of the seriousness of the degradation issues involved and how these might have changed over space and time. Unfortunately, despite the inclusion of more than 30, potentially very useful maps in the book, most are unreadable, either because of the low resolution of the text in the legends, or because it was often impossible to distinguish one shade of grey from another on the map itself. Complicated, remotely sensed images, with several different land use or vegetation cover classes can rarely be interpreted correctly using grey-scale gradations and for this reason are usually produced in colour. Authors, editors and publishers contributing to this field should be aware of this expensive requirement and, if possible, should prepare accordingly. The overall impact of this book would have been significantly improved had greater attention been given to the more technical side of its production."
References: Behnke R, Mortimore M (eds). 2016. The end of desertification? Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag. Glantz MH (ed.). 2020. Desertification: environmental degradation in and around arid lands. Boca Raton, Florida, United States: CRC Press. Reed MS, Stringer LC (eds). 2016. Land degradation, desertification and climate change. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
M Timm Hoffman
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa

Cameroon in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects. Volume 1: Governance and Businesses

“Africa is coming of age, a new reality that is perfectly exemplified by this collection of 30 essays by Cameroonian scholars on important policy issues in Cameroon. Africans are looking at their own economic performance with lucidity and rigor, charting a course for the future. This is important. We need more work of this kind.” - Marcel Fafchamps, Professor, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, USA

"This book is a masterpiece that combines very well theoretical and practical aspects on the role and consequences of institutions in Cameroon. In fact, institutions play a key role in the volume that assesses the effects of natural resources on governance and the effects of the economic policy on the business climate. Other current issues are also examined like the consequences of terrorism on trade between Cameroon and Nigeria. It leads to strong recommendations for economic policies, so that this country, called “Africa in miniature” with countless resources, finally reaches an optimal use of its potential. It also raises questions for those in charge of the economic policy and for any other citizen interested in economic issues encountered by Cameroon. The book enriches the reader on various subjects and it will certainly enlighten Cameroonian leaders, since it finally appears as a tool to help decision-making." - Henri Atangana Ondoa, Professor of Economics, Faculty of Economics and Management, University of Yaoundé II, Cameroon

“This is a timely book as improvements in governance (political, institutional and economic) and climate of doing business are crucial in addressing contemporary development challenges in Cameroon. The theoretical arguments and detailed empirical case studies present a comprehensive picture of policy directions. Policy insights into the book are centred on how the high growth potential of the country can be leveraged to address development challenges. The overarching concerns addressed by contributors to the book and corresponding policy implications are also relevant to other developing countries facing similar policy syndromes.” - Simplice Asongu, PhD, African Governance and Development Institute (AGDI), Cameroon

“Governance and Businesses is a thorough analysis of main issues and challenges faced by the Cameroon’s economy in terms of governance, business climate, globalization, and security. The analysis is carried out by Cameroonian scholars from various disciplines and offers de facto a diversity of points of view and perspectives. More importantly, the book provides clear policy recommendations to inform the decision-making process and shape the country’s economy on a sustainable growth path. I really enjoyed reading this book as it shed a new light on salient issues such as governance, the dependence on natural resources, the widespread of informality, and the threat of insecurity to trade.” - Urbain Thierry Yogo, PhD, University of Yaoundé II, Cameroon

“The case of Cameroon in this 30-chapter volume book entitled “Cameroon in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects” covering “Governance and Businesses” and “Environmental and People”, is a true reflection of key and specific issues among many countries in Africa. Each chapter covers the subject matter in style. These issues are some of the motivational factors behind the recent formation of the African Federation of Operations Research Societies (AFROS) as an OR regional umbrella body under auspices of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS), which is the global body. As President of AFORS, I would like to recommend this book to academicians, researchers, policy makers and all stakeholders, interested in development of Cameroon and Africa at large.” - Charles Malack Oloo, PhD, First President, African Federation of Operations Research Societies (AFROS), Nairobi, Kenya

For more information about this book, please click here.

The Economic, Social and Political Impact of Mining on Akyem Abuakwa from the Pre-Colonial Era up to 1943

“In this volume, Emmanuel Ababio Ofosu-Mensah considers the history of the area associated with the Akyem Abuakwa Kingdom and presently, known Akyem Abuakwa state, in southeastern Ghana. While the kingdom was disadvantaged by its inland location, it benefited greatly from its mineral wealth-in both gold and diamonds. However, the ambiguous benefits of gold are well-known, as is told in the myth of King Midas and his greed for gold that almost led to the death of his beloved daughter. These aspects of gold were evident in Akyem Abuakwa as labor-intensive traditional gold mining was supported by the king and his sub-chiefs.

Through their division of the profits from gold nuggets, they amassed great wealth which enabled them to purchase European firearms and to display gold regalia during festivals, thus reinforcing their political power. Yet they were dependent on the labor of slaves and pawns, which ended in the Gold Coast Colony after 1880. With the British occupation of Asante in 1896, several European mining firms sought to obtain gold-mining concessions in Akyem Abuakwa. This situation, which led chiefs to essentially sell land to mining firms, resulted in much land lost to foreign control. However, the traditional ruler, Nana Ofori Atta I, sought to reign in concessions by initiating a new property rights system in kingdom. The author argues that the funds accrued through this new system controlled by the king were used to benefit the community through education and to address some of the social and health problems brought about by scientific goldmining in Akyem Abuakwa.

There is a proverb associated with the Akan gold weight (used to measure gold dust currency during the precolonial era) depicting a bird with its head turned back-known as Sankofa. The proverb, “pick it up if it falls behind you,” refers to the need to learn from past and to amend earlier mistakes. Ofosu-Mensah’s detailed study of the problems associated with gold, labor, and land and the political leadership that emerged to address them provides material with which to think about the present.” - Elisha P. Renne, Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan, USA

For more information about this book, please click here.