Some Fundamentals of Conservation in South and West Africa

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2014


Aldo Leopold’s draft essay “Some Fundamentals of Conservation in the Southwest” from 1923 (first published in the introductory volume of Environmental Ethics in the 1979) shows that his initially expressed moral concerns were primary to his view of conservation. In addition, this early essay also challenged dominant perceptions of environmental degradation in the southwestern United States in the 1920s. For these reasons, it provides a framework for examining conservation as a moral issue in South and West Africa, especially in the nations of South Africa and Ghana, building on J. Baird Callicott’s summaries of Yoruba (Nigerian/West African) and San (southern African) environmental ethics in Earth’s Insights (1994). In the context of poverty, traditional community taboos may have already supplied the social norms of conservation that Leopold desired, but they are marginalized by modernization. As in Leopold’s essay, mainstream perceptions of environmental degradation viewed through the lens of political ecology suggest that international market forces may be more ecologically disruptive than traditional peasant agriculture. Land ethics similar to Leopold’s are implicit within the political philosophies of two of the regions’ most respected recent leaders, Nelson Mandela (South Africa), who promoted land reform, and Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), who promoted pan-Africanism over neocolonialism. Community-based solutions to conservation issues illustrate the successes, failures, and the challenging complexity of modernization in these subregions.


Forbes, William, Kwame Badu Antwi-Boasiako, and Ben Dixon. "Some Fundamentals of Conservation in South and West Africa." Environmental Ethics 36, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 5-30.



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