Title: Dam[ned] landscapes: re-visioning the Volta River Project's Unsettled Territories
Authors: d'Auria, Viviana ×
De Meulder, Bruno #
Issue Date: Nov-2011
Publisher: European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools
Series Title: Journal of Landscape Architecture vol:6 issue:2 pages:54-69
Abstract: As was the case for several other nation-states emerging from colonialism, Ghana’s ‘auspicious start’ as an independent country relied on growth prospects resulting from large-scale infrastructure projects. Dams and hydro-electric equipment, railways and roads, mechanization of agriculture and industrialization formed the basic ingredients of a recipe promising modernity, development and nationhood. For Sub-Saharan Africa’s first independent country, such components would be combined under the aegis of the Volta River Project (VRP), which foresaw the radical restructuring of the territory accompanying the creation of the world’s largest man-made lake.

Within such framework, this investigation reflects on how landscape’s double role as both medium and message of the VRP was and is being played out. It re-traces the main gestures aiming to master the novel water body and its effects on the surrounding territory, intended as a salvific rationalization of cropping, irrigation and re-framed livelihoods. Landscaping, hydraulic engineering and town planning intertwined in the salient spaces along the Volta River. Large-scale dams, model resettlement villages, cooperative farming and industrial new towns were projected and realized. These interventions supposedly paralleled the nation’s re-birth from the ashes of colonialism, but were rather key tools for camouflaging a neo-colonial enterprise performed under a nation-building guise.

In terms of agriculture and productive landscape management, the VRP was therefore considered a unique opportunity to induce the shift from famers’ “wasteful, fragmented system of agriculture to a settled and improved pattern of farming”. Land classification maps and cropping patterns reflected the ambition to maintain soil fertility without reliance on the bush fallow system. Migrating, shifting and dynamic uses of the landscape were replaced by a national agricultural policy emphasizing large-scale mechanized farming, facilitated by the regrouping of the displaced population from 740 villages into 52 townships. By 1968 however, over 60 percent of the resettled farmers had migrated away from state cooperatives and farms to explore other development opportunities created by the Volta Lake.

After almost five decades of inhabitation, the VRP’s realized components have engendered widespread contestation and appropriation by the 80,000 resettled people. Indeed, the Ghanaian territory is still suffering from both the VRP’s underestimation of social and environmental aspects, and from the overestimation of the interventions’ effects on overall development. Novel dynamics, based not only on survival strategies but also on a creative adaptation to the new cultural and productive landscapes engendered by drawdown agriculture and potential irrigation schemes, form both a threat and a challenge to environmental management. Today the informal practices of migrant fishermen and livestock farmers continuously confront the normative approach of the Volta River Authority (f. 1961) and clashes with both ethnic and administrative boundaries.

By mapping the considerable mismatches between endogenous landscape logic and inhabited VRP components, and by confronting historical plans with current environmental dynamics in three relevant samples around the lake, this contribution reflects on the “multi-purpose” nature of the project attempting to combine economic, social and human factors and the consequent expansion of the landscape’s uses. The research intends to offer a complex reading of the VRP’s hereafter by integrating, enriching and multiplying the urban and landscape imaginaries at play in the intervention’s re-articulation. It directly questions the tensions between technical and normative efforts to regulate the Volta Lake’s existence and the dynamic appropriations of its landscape.
ISSN: 1862-6033
VABB publication type: VABB-1
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IT
Appears in Collections:Research Group Urbanity & Architecture (OSA) (-)
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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