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Critical Literature Review: Ecologies of the Colonial Present: Pathological Forestry From the Taux De Boisement to Civilized Plantations


While the role of environmental governance and responsible policies is generally recognised, some current initiatives still reflect the negative influence of postcolonial environmental practices. Moreover, such issues are not adequately addressed by the majority of modern policy experts, contributing to the further accumulation of such risks. The present paper provides the critical review of the article “Ecologies of the colonial present: Pathological forestry from the taux de boisement to civilized plantations” (2018) by Davis and Robbins. The authors’ main arguments will be specified and critically examined in detail. Davis and Robbins (2018) are correct in specifying the implicit impact of the colonial past and its perspectives on environmental governance that negatively affect both environmental outcomes and local people. At the same time, the article lacks specific recommendations that may contribute to the optimal allocation of available resources and implementation of environmental initiatives.

Reconstruction of Authors’ Argument

Davis and Robbins (2018) claim that the currently widespread afforestation goals constitute the manifestation of neo-colonial governance that includes arbitrary targets of 30%-33% forest cover without any adequate scientific support. The authors demonstrate that such an approach originated in France in the 19th century and applied to colonial territories declared as being largely deforested. In addition to the French influences, similar policies were implemented by Germany in Africa and Britain in India. Davis and Robbins (2018) evaluate the concept of a taux de boisement in the context of its current implementation in India and their countries, illustrating the evident contradictions that still exist in this sphere. However, the actual role performed by such policies appears to be opposite as they contribute to disinheriting forest-rooted populations. The afforestation efforts also imply the further extension of state power through categorizing and counting functions. Tree-planting often neglects the objective environmental concerns of different regions of the world as well as threatening the living conditions of indigenous peoples (Davis & Robbins 2018). Therefore, such policies should be perceived as a form of biopolitics with the consistent opposition from all people and agencies interested in finding the most sustainable environmental solutions.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Authors’ Argument

Davis and Robbins (2018) are correct in comprehending the inadmissibility of applying the same arbitrary and unsupported afforestation rates to different areas and geographical regions. Lepczyk et al. (2017) confirm the critical role of biodiversity in planning urban green spaces in modern cities. The close research should be conducted to determine the impact of green space size, connectedness, and type on the community, population, and environmental sustainability. Complex models can be created to adequately describe such influences and specify the optimal strategy to be implemented by environmental planners. The above analysis implies that the ecological function of green spaces varies among different areas and territories, indicating the need for a more flexible approach that will contribute to the systematic integration of all of the major factors affecting biodiversity and environmental sustainability (Lepczyk et al., 2017). The findings by Rinaldi (2021) also illustrate numerous problems associated with the implementation of national and international biodiversity strategies due to the lack of sufficient empirical support and improper evaluation of implicit risks and adverse long-term effects. Therefore, Davis’ and Robbins’ (2018) critical account of many environment preservation policies observed globally is supported by the recent studies and research in this field.

The findings by Joshi et al. (2011) confirm the presence of colonialist influences in the formulation and implementation of current environmental and ecological policies in developing countries such as India. Moreover, such policies systematically neglect the objective differences in the natural forest coverage of these areas, thus, contributing to the growing inconsistencies in the implementation of environmental policies and conflicting interests of different stakeholders involved. The long-term effects of such policies’ implementation also appear to be opposite to the initial declarations (Joshi et al. 2011). According to Chang et al. (2021), the participation in afforestation programs leads to the unequal distribution of forest farm income. Moreover, participants tend to have the lower average income (at the level of 18%) compared with non-participants. Such statistics illustrates that such programs are not properly designed, and they do not contribute to the more effective resource allocation. The ineffective forest farm operations prevent them from maintaining the optimal environmental balance in the long term, causing additional environmental concerns in the future. In other words, the traditional postcolonial rhetoric does not contribute to the actual improvements in the state of environment and related social aspects.

Davis and Robbins (2018) are also effective in specifying the major negative implications of colonialism that continue shaping the dominant policies implemented by many governments of developing countries. Mulcahy (2017) confirms the adverse effects of colonialism experience in the identity formation of many developing countries. In particular, asymmetrical relationships between the “centre” and the “periphery” may exist with corresponding implications for the formation of their culture and economic independence. Thus, such countries as India continue to reproduce the policy measures designed by colonial powers with the goal of maintaining their dominance over oppressed populations. The conditions experienced by indigenous populations appear to be the most problematic in this context due to their high dependence on a traditional lifestyle and operations (Davis & Robbins 2018). The recognition of negative implications caused by colonial environmental policies may constitute the first step toward designing more responsible and efficient interventions that will re-establish the balance between ecological and population interests. For this reason, many traditional environmental practices and regulations that are not supported by the objective data and research should be critically reconsidered by national and international experts.

Although the above strengths are considerable, the analysed article still has some limitations related to the lack of precise recommendations and policy initiatives that may be immediately implemented in developing countries to escape the post-colonial pressure. For instance, Tambe et al. (2021) suggests that stakeholder engagement practices should be revised to increase the effectiveness of environmental policies in such countries as India. Strong civil society coalitions may be effective in forming “policy spaces” that will contribute the objective discussion of the existing environmental initiatives that can be implemented in the country. The specification of the major benefits and risks associated with different environmental policy measures may be highly helpful for resolving the existing conflicts between nature conservation, forest-based livelihoods, and corporate interests observed at different levels (Tambe et al., 2021). As a result, developing countries will tend to reorient from the policy priorities imposed on them by the former colonial powers to their strategic interests that will adequately reflect the dominant interests of their populations and objective environmental conditions. On this basis, environmental assessment practices in India and other countries may be proportionally adjusted to better predict potential long-term environmental consequences of various policy initiatives (Parikh, 2020). The sufficient amount of empirical data should allow testing the application of various theories and models and determining those spheres that require urgent adjustments to ensure the consistent progress in environmental efficiency.

Although Davis and Robbins (2018) briefly mention the relationship between economic and environmental factors, they do not formulate realistic approaches that may allow overcoming the current contradictions without compromising the independence of developing countries. Thapar et al. (2016) state that the promotion of higher effectiveness of renewable energy policy instruments may be important for balancing economic and environmental effectiveness. In this manner, developing countries may become able to increase their economic independence as well as achieve the set environmental targets. The higher green power input may also be important for restoring the biodiversity and environmental equilibrium without introducing any arbitrary and post-colonial indicators. Nath and Rosencranz (2020) suggest that comprehensive legal instruments may be helpful for determining environmental compensation in such countries as India. In this manner, traditional environmental policies can be strengthened by the introduction of additional incentives that may positively transform the behaviour demonstrated by various population groups. Such measures may also assist in protecting indigenous groups from undesirable interventions. Overall, the outlined specific measures and interventions may allow minimising the identified limitations of the analysis provided by Davis and Robbins (2018) and harmonise the major theoretical and practical considerations in the environmental field.


The provided analysis indicates that post-colonial influences may constitute the major obstacle toward the implementation of optimal environmental policies in developing countries. The analysed article by Davis and Robbins (2018) outlines the key problems associated with the post-colonial pressure and utilisation of arbitrary targets and indicators in policy-making. The authors are also successful in explaining the limitations of most current environmental policies that cannot reach the set objectives due to the negative long-term implications for the environment and indigenous populations. At the same time, the analysed article does not provide clear recommendations and policy solutions that may allow overcoming such issues within the minimum time frame. The recent research confirms the possibility of involving various stakeholders and using renewable energy policy instruments for increasing the effectiveness of environmental policies. The emergence of “policy spaces” and innovative legal procedures may also be helpful. Thus, the article by Davis and Robbins (2018) provides the solid foundation for the critical re-examination of environmental policies in many developing countries.

Reference List

Chang, H., Lee, B., & Hsieh, Y. 2021. Participation in afforestation programs and the distribution of forest farm income. Forest Policy and Economics, 129, 102505.

Davis, D. K., & Robbins, P. 2018. Ecologies of the colonial present: Pathological forestry from the taux de boisement to civilized plantations. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 1(4), 447–469.

Joshi A. K. et al. 2011. National forest policy in India: Critique of targets and implementation. Small-Scale Forestry, 10(1): 83–96.

Lepczyk, C. A., Aronson, M. F. J., Evans, K. L., Goddard, M. A., Lerman, S. B., & MacIvor, J. S. 2017. Biodiversity in the city: Fundamental questions for understanding the ecology of urban green spaces for biodiversity conservation. Bioscience, 67(9), 799-807.

Mulcahy, K. V. 2017. Combating coloniality: The cultural policy of post-colonialism. International Journal of Cultural PolicyCP, 23(3), 237-253.

Nath, R., & Rosencranz, A. 2020. Determining environmental compensation in India: Lessons from a comparative perspective. Environmental Policy and Law, 49(4-5), 246-252

Parikh, M. 2020. Critique of environmental impact assessment process in india. Environmental Policy and Law, 49(4-5), 252-259.

Rinaldi, A. 2021. Biodiversity 2030: A road paved with good intentions: The new EU commission’s biodiversity strategy risks to remain an empty husk without proper implementation. EMBO Reports, 22(6), e53130-e53130.

Tambe, S., French, L., Wyborn, C., Scarlett, L., Defries, R., Nagendra, H., Kulkarni, H., Srivastava, P., Agrawal, N. K., Rathore, B. M. S., & Kinhal, G. 2021. India’s environmental policy standoff: Reimagining stakeholder engagement spaces. The International Forestry Review, 23(2), 219-229.

Thapar, S., Sharma, S., & Verma, A. 2016. Economic and environmental effectiveness of renewable energy policy instruments: Best practices from India. Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews, 66, 487-498.


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