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Soil conservation policy in South Africa, 1910-1992 : the human dimension.

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The overwhelming focus of documentary sources indicate that traditional approaches to land degradation and soil erosion in South Africa have focussed on the physical dimension of the problem and the development of practical solutions to its reduction. This study was undertaken from the viewpoint that this emphasis has resulted in the neglect of other (for example, socio-political) aspects of soil erosion and that such neglect has exacerbated the soil erosion problem manifest in South Africa. An examination of the 'human dimension' of soil erosion in South Africa was therefore undertaken through an analysis of soil conservation policy and legislation promulgated to effect policy objectives between 1910 and 1992. Acknowledging that the policy environment is influenced by factors within the economic, political, historical and perceptual (all human) environments, as well as the natural environment, this study attempts to integrate information relating to each of these parameters within the overall framework of South African soil conservation policy. Particular emphasis is placed on the role of environmental perception in the decision-making process, together with the critical influence of intervening variables found to be operative within the perceptual environment as represented in the South African context. In the absence of substantive empirical data, this study posits a number of a priori assumptions regarding the extent and causes of soil erosion, support for which was initially derived from the extensive literature sources reviewed for the study. The basic premise of this study is that soil erosion persists in South Africa, and despite considerable government and public inputs and participation, and the existence of a legislative machinery created specifically to address the problem, progress in promoting soil conservation through implementation of specific measures has been slow. Following a review of soil conservation policy and legislation up to 1992, it is further submitted that factors other than legislative inadequacies could account for this problem and therefore warrant particular and thorough investigation. To this end, this work firstly describes the physical context within which South African soil erosion occurs, followed by a brief appraisal of socio-economic and political variables which together have shaped contemporary perceptions regarding the nature, extent and causes of soil erosion in the country. A comprehensive review of relevant policy and legislation in the period 1910-1992 was then undertaken by reference to published and unpublished sources. The evolution of soil conservation policy in the country was charted through reference to relevant legislation and parliamentary debate. The temporal variation in the relative success of the policy and legislative enactments was measured by reference to relevant indicators. The adequacy of South African soil conservation (as indicated by four key legislative enactments formulated to specifically address soil erosion) was evaluated using key elements of the World Soils Policy as a baseline. Analysis of the Forest and Veld Conservation Act of 1941, the Soil Conservation Act of 1946, the Soil Conservation Act of 1969 and the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act of 1983, revealed a clear evolutionary progression in which successive acts sought to build upon successes and minimise the weaknesses of previous efforts. This analysis reveals marked temporal variability in the extent to which each element is addressed and explores the multi-environmental (political, social, historical, economic and perceptual) constraints on attainment of all goals. This assessment permitted the compilation of, what the author has termed the South African Policy Environment Model, which takes the form of a working hypothesis. This hypothesis was subsequently tested utilising the 103 responses obtained from a postal questionnaire survey directed at 242 scientists, policy developers and extensionists (representing a 43 per cent return), that is, those persons who either currently or during the study period, were actively involved in the development of soil erosion research and/or the implementation of conservation policy objectives. In spite of the apparent effort by the South African government to address soil conservation, contemporary opinion (according to documentary evidence) suggests that the policies formulated have failed to attain soil conservation goals and reduce the manifest extent and rate of land degradation in the country. This study broadly concludes that such inefficacy of policy may be ascribed to: 1. lack of importance ascribed to soil 2. national level control 3. non-uniformity in application of law 4. inadequacies in the implementation of policy 5. paucity of information on real nature and extent of problem 6. perceptions in an uninformed environment. The study furthermore submits that images concerning the realities of soil erosion are shaped by perceptual filters and the value systems of individuals active in the soil conservation arena, or more specifically, key players' perceptions regarding the causes, extent and nature of the soil erosion problem, are what underpin and ultimately give rise to the relative effectiveness of soil conservation strategies. This study identifies a multiplicity of factors which operate within five dynamically interative environments (the political, economic, historical, perceptual and natural environments) considered influential in shaping the temporal (and spatial) variation in the policy environment represented in this study. This examination of the multidimensionality of soil erosion has led to the conclusion that in addition to the problems broadly outlined above, soil erosion is also a problem of: 1. accountability; 2. focus; 3. priorities and government commitment; 4. situational incompatibility; 5. misinformed perceptions; and 6. timing. It is submitted that lack of recognition of these inter- and intra-environment dynamics could account for the relative inefficacy of soil conservation policy to promote the sustained adoption of conservation practices. Such factors will in the past have been overlooked due to the neglect of the 'human dimension' of the problem in South Africa in the period under review. It is believed that the measure of consensus derived from the results of this study, reflects contemporary realities concerning the status of soil conservation in the country, at least amongst those individuals most intimately involved in the development, formulation and administration of soil conservation policy. As such it provides an appropriate foundation upon which to base future policy decisions and more importantly, to derive optimum compliance with conservation norms and standards of practice amongst land users. Only by recognising the multidimensionality of the soil conservation policy environment and its components, can the past inefficacies be overcome. It is submitted therefore that for South Africa to meet its challenges of the 21st century concerning the conservation and sustainable utilisation of soil, the priority of policy developers must be - the expedient adoption of a multi- and interdisciplinary approach to agricultural resource management, with particular emphasis on its 'human dimension' .


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1996.


Soil Conservation--South Africa., Theses--Geography.