Open Access
1 May 2008 Where the land is greener—case studies and analysis of soil and water conservation initiatives worldwide
Sandra Brown
Author Affiliations +

Where the land is greener—case studies and analysis of soil and water conservation initiatives worldwide, edited by Hanspeter Liniger and William Critchley. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA, UNEP, FAO, and CDE, 2007. xi + 364 pp. US$ 45. ISBN 978-92-9081-339-2

* * *

Extensive and comprehensive in nature, this book provides a broad coverage of soil and water conservation (SWC) technologies and approaches globally, but with a local focus. SWC technologies are defined as “agronomic, vegetative, structural and/or management measures that prevent and control land degradation and enhance productivity in the field.” SWC approaches are defined as “ways and means of support that help introduce, implement, adapt and apply SWC technologies on the ground.”

As a typical reader, I started in the case studies of Part 2, and delved immediately into cases of interest. The map-based table of contents, together with titles and short descriptions on the next few pages, provide the reader with the ability to quickly navigate to technologies, approaches, or locations of interest. The case studies cover conservation agriculture, composting, vegetative cover, agroforestry, water harvesting, gully rehabilitation, terraces, and grazing land management. The consistency in format, use of color, symbols, tables, charts, diagrams, and photographs enhances the readability and comparability between technologies or approaches. Readers can gain an understanding of who is doing what and where, and how challenges have been faced in various parts of the world. By highlighting local achievements in a systematic manner, where the land is greener brings these success stories to soil and water conservation specialists, planners and decision-makers at the field and planning levels.

Each case study is summarized in 4 pages, starting with photographs, a sidebar containing location and metadata, and a concise text description of the technology or approach. Technologies are classified by the land use problems they address, the specific land use of interest, climatic conditions, type of soil degradation, and relevant SWC measures. The natural and human environments are summarized in a series of ranked charts including data on climate, topography, and cropland per household, along with point form descriptions of soil characteristics, land ownership, market orientation, and off-farm income. A detailed technical drawing of the technology is shown. Activities to establish and maintain a technology including equipment, timing, energy, labor, and materials are provided—including total costs and the proportion of costs met by the land user. The section on assessment of adoption offers an indication of the acceptability, eg in percent of households adopting with or without incentives. Impacts are ranked + and − for production, socioeconomic, sociocultural, ecological, and offsite benefits and disadvantages. A “Concluding statements” section summarizes strengths and weaknesses.

For approaches, a list of the main problems addressed and a description of the principal objectives of the approach are given. The section on constraints provides guidance on the challenges and constraints faced (eg financial, religious, labor) and options that the approach offers to overcome these. The target groups and donors are listed, including the proportion of costs met by the local community. The roles of user groups, land users, GOs, NGOs, and national and international specialists are summarized, and community involvement is described through all phases of the approach. An organogram is provided for most cases, illustrating the relations between social organizations, private and public institutions, and other stakeholders. Two text sections cover extension and promotion, as well as incentives. Monitoring and evaluation is tabulated, and the methods and indicators used are listed. The impacts of the approach are organized by changes resulting from monitoring and evaluation, improved soil and water management, adoption and sustainability. Similar to the technologies, a “Concluding statements” section summarizes strengths and weaknesses for the approach.

The 42 case studies provide consistent and detailed information on local-scale technologies and approaches. The ways in which data are tabulated, synthesized and evaluated are unique in comparison with other compilations of success stories. I found the format straightforward and yet comprehensive.

Part 1 of the book describes land degradation at the global level, and the goal of WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) to focus on achievements at the local level, the documentation of case studies using standardized questionnaires, and the development of a public domain knowledge base. An analysis of the technologies and approaches compiled is presented. As might be anticipated, the compilation of costs associated with the establishment and maintenance of systems is difficult—and it is even more difficult to compare between regions where costs, particularly of labor, vary dramatically between countries. However, the editors do a credible job discussing the challenges in assessing costs and benefits in both the short and the long term, and present a series of comparative charts and graphs, including livelihood and ecological impacts for each SWC technology group. An interesting discussion of incentives, funding, and participation is included, as well as the relation to short- versus long-term returns to land. The authors' assessment of land use rights appears to be influenced by the selection of case studies, which overwhelmingly fall under individual rights, and, while not the focus of the book, their deduction that security rather than ownership provides a greater incentive to undertake SWC may be an oversimplification.

Readers may find that a soil and water conservation case study with which they are familiar is not included. However, the WOCAT team have undertaken a momentous task in assembling a range of technologies and approaches from some 23 countries. The documentation of local knowledge in a standardized format, quality assurance, and the associated database pulls together dispersed information and provides positive experiences that can be drawn upon for future SWC project implementation. The authors' suggestions for improved monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and further research are supported by the weak M&E and noncomprehensive research components of many case studies. Prevention and mitigation are promoted over costly rehabilitation despite less visible results. Combined SWC measures, either superimposed, spread over space, or phased over time, are supported through their versatility and effectiveness.

The bulk of the book—300 of the 364 pages—is devoted to case studies, providing practitioners with systematic information and additional references and contacts. While not a light read, where the land is greener fulfils its goal of documenting, standardizing, evaluating, and disseminating SWC technologies and approaches.

Sandra Brown "Where the land is greener—case studies and analysis of soil and water conservation initiatives worldwide," Mountain Research and Development 28(2), 180-181, (1 May 2008).
Published: 1 May 2008
Back to Top