The University of Arizona

Political ecology of asymmetric ecological knowledges: diverging views on the eucalyptus-water nexus in the Taita Hills, Kenya

Johanna Hohenthal, Marinka Räsänen, Paola Minoia

Abstract


Environmental resource management policies worldwide have long insisted on the need to involve local communities and their diverse ecological knowledges in management planning and decision-making. In SubSaharan post-colonial countries, however, formal resource management is still largely dominated by bureaucratic governance regimes that date back to colonial power structures and that rely mainly on professional or formal knowledge. In this study, we use a political ecology approach to analyze disputes over eucalyptus plantations in the Taita Hills, Kenya. The approach recognizes the plurality of socially constructed and powerladen perceptions of environmental resources. We found that local people regard eucalyptus plantations not only as a threat to local water resources but they also highlight historical injustices and the loss of control over, and cultural relationships to their land. Bureaucratic resource management institutions, however, support the planting of eucalyptus to meet national demands for commercial forestry. Management officials also plead a lack of "valid" evidence for the negative impacts of eucalyptus on local water resources, diverting attention away from the formal environmental governance system which has unequal sharing of benefits, unclear policies, and internal incoherence. Recognition of historically rooted asymmetries of knowledge and power provides a step towards social transformation, ending a long-standing reproduction of subalternity, and promoting environmental justice and pluralism in decision-making.

Keywords: bureaucratic knowledge; environmental justice; eucalyptus; Kenya; knowledge asymmetries; local ecological knowledge; political ecology; resource management


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2458/v25i1.22005

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