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Reimaging Resource Constraints and Affordances: Smallholder, Environment and State Dynamics in Wello, Ethiopia Open Access


Other title
Coping strategies
Land tenure
Sociocultural chnage
Soil erosion
Land conservation
Relief aid
Environmental interaction
International cooperation
Crop production
Food insecurity
Indigenous knowledge
Land degradation
Agricultural extension
Livestock rearing
Environmental history
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Debalke, Mulugeta G.
Supervisor and department
Nuttall, Mark (Anthropology)
Examining committee member and department
Thompson, Guy (History and Classics)
John Parkins (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology)
Lowrey, Kathleen (Anthropology)
Willoughby, Pamela (Anthropology)
Vallianatos, Helen (Anthropology)
Department of Anthropology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
In this dissertation, I explore and analyze smallholders’ perceptual and cultural understandings of environmental opportunities and constraints regarding land, soil, rain and trees in mixed-crop-livestock agriculture among rural communities of Wärräbabbo in Wello, northeast Ethiopia. Also, I identify, examine and analyze their responses mainly to drought, de-vegetation, soil erosion, land scarcity and food shortage. Based on a processual ecological anthropology, I argue that their understandings and responses are informed not only by their culture and their immediate environment but also by the external environment existing beyond their direct knowledge and experience. Thus, inasmuch as they do not live in isolation from regional, national and international contexts, I argue that conditions largely beyond local influences and experiences like land tenure and relief aid need to be considered. Based on these findings, I discuss the ongoing shift from a traditional “ecocentric” to an anthropocentric valuation of the environment and its resources and constraints, including changes in the notion of resources from given to investible entities. In this regard, I demonstrate that small farmers’ perceptions, adaptive thoughts and cultural behaviors, including traditional ecological knowledge, though still distinct in many ways, yet are partly and slowly changing and converging with that of the state-model. Nonetheless, I stress that such a convergence does not necessarily result in better or ecologically superior resource management practices. In all cases, my work verifies the theory that, in the long run, consciousness and knowledge alone are not sufficient to diagnose and respond to environmental constraints and opportunities unless what is considered ‘normal’ is kept on a constant doubt. Combining history not only with ethnography but also some aspects of linkage to higher level organizations, I discuss how environmental resources and constraints are not just empirical experiences but also matters of social construction. I underline that the need to be ecological in the human-environment relation has to be an intrinsic value of our environmental ethics or our sense of being human rather than a mere time-framed project. Over the years, the communities I studied have been combining survival and sustainability, potentially affecting existing approaches of understanding environmental affordances and constraints.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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