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Keywords:

  • desertification;
  • development volunteers;
  • environmental narratives;
  • Mali;
  • West Africa

ABSTRACT. Environmental narratives in Africa have been examined in a flurry of publications since the mid-1990s. In this article we seek to offer insights into the role and motivations of volunteer development workers in perpetuating environmental narratives. We examine the factors that led to the questioning or nonquestioning of environment-development discourses and their influence, if any, on the actual work undertaken by volunteers. As former development volunteers, we also explore the role that the development-volunteer experience subsequently played in shaping our own research as academics. Our analysis is based largely on our tenure as U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Mali from 1987 until 1989 and our later experiences as academics. We draw on our memories, interviews with former colleagues, and training materials to describe how volunteers were introduced to, and encouraged to act on, environmental problems in the West African Sudano-Sahel. We adopt a reflexive approach to explore briefly how our experiences as volunteers influenced our research and writing as academics.