In her recent contribution the Beirut-based Portal 9‘s “Forest” issue, Rosetta S. Elkin, assistant professor of landscape architecture, explores the history and usage of the term “desertification,” with a particular lens to the Middle East and Africa.
In her essay, “Desertification and the Rise of Defense Ecology,” Elkin cites botanist André Aubréville as the originator of the term: “He described how, under the pressure of human influence, tropical rainforest can be transformed into savanna, and savanna into desert. … Quite outside the assumptions of standard colonial forestry, Aubréville’s narrative of environmental ruin would become a controversial claim within colonial forestry. His message—that nature was not a divine and endless gift—was disagreeable to French forestry officials, who initially refuted Aubréville’s claim as an attack on their scientific practices.
Elkin analyzes the term through the lens of field work, practice, and a deeply embedded colonial and postcolonial history.