Some see composting as just a pile of rotting manky old vegetables. They are correct really, but it is actually so so much more. It represents the wonderful fluidity and sustainability of nature. The process is so perfect. Everything living – plant matter, animal matter, waste – will eventually become the decayed organic matter present in soil, from which plants take their nutrients and sustain a whole new cycle of life.

I love composting. I have built two composting areas divided into kitchen waste (nothing cooked though!), garden waste like lawn cuttings, branches, and leaves. It is not as easy as some make out though. You have to ensure that there is the right balance of green and brown organic material present, the right balance of water, and the right circulation of air. Too wet and it will become sticky and smelly and the air cannot flow. Too dry and it seems some of the critters that speed the process up will die. The airflow is critical and difficult to attain when you generally need to keep the compost bin closed off to pests like rats. Without the right balance it will take a long time to degrade enough to produce the beautiful black stuff of decayed organic matter. When it returns to the soil you can eat vegetables fed by your old vegetables; a beautiful dynamic system which leaves you feeling very smug. A word of caution though, ensure that if you have to buy compost, you get peat free organic compost. Peat bogs are in sharp decline due to the compost industry.

       So composting is representative of a wider ecosystem at work, which sadly it is must be said, we seem to be collectively so apathetic towards, especially in the context of soil. Globally, It has been argued we are degrading our topsoils to the point of collective suicide. According to the UN we only have 60 harvests left. Modern industrial agricultural methods carried out farmers locked into a short-term profit oriented economy include intensive ploughing, fertilisers, pesticides, and the deforestation of vast swathes of forested area to make way for it all has the reverse effect of decreasing both the richness and the sustainability of the soil. The constant cycle of ploughing, which obviously destroys the way the soil has been bound by plant roots, can kill of layers of vitally important fungal matter called Mycorrhizae, which act in a symbiotic relationship with plants. When the rains come, the ploughed topsoil can be swept away into rivers. The decreasing fertility of soil requires fertilisers which act as a short term stop gap but in the long term further kill off the vital bacteria and Mycorrhizae in the soil. Pesticides obviously kill off insects, which has deep consequences down the food chain. Deforestation destroys the natural habitat of many life forms and can increase the likelihood of flooding. It is no coincidence that flash floods often happen in intensively farmed and deforested areas.

      My point is, once you take part in making a compost pile, you see nature in action, you see the natural balance of the ecosystem being upheld and you are using it to your benefit to feed yourself. By seeing this I have realised just how out of balance we are with nature, how little we understand about the food on our table and the way that it is produced.



14690860_10154031861352817_3524774210482633712_nOur garden is a kind of nature reserve. We live nestled deep in a hidden valley, and our garden is our gateway connection to the natural world, our little parcel of planet earth. I know many people who would spend thousands of pounds to travel to see big game in Africa or Asia, but care very little about wildlife in Britain. I was similar; I would watch David Attenborough and say I loved nature, but I didn’t know my voles from my shrews. I couldn’t really identify many trees in Britain, apart from the obvious ones: oak, willow and… ‘Christmas’. It was this realisation on moving to the countryside that introduced a bit of an epiphany in me, that actually, aside from a few select animals that were glamorous or unique, I knew very little about the wider ecosystem – how every little thing plays its part, and if you lose one you can lose the whole.

So I spent time in nature, observing my surroundings as well as reading and researching. You don’t have to have a degree in ecology to understand it, or appreciate it. Once I began to see a component of this wider eco-system in play, like a barn owl serenely hunt a field-mouse while navigating gale-force winds, I realised it can be just as interesting – if not as viscerally dramatic – as watching a big cat in Africa. I suppose the point I am trying to make is that our obsession with collecting and observing only the most exotic forms of wildlife isn’t particularly helpful in terms of fostering a collective love and appreciation of nature. I’m convinced if we all found a value in nature beyond exploitation we wouldn’t do all the unsustainable and degrading things we do to the planet.

Our garden is therefore a snapshot into our natural world. It is flanked by fences overrun with ivy, holly, trees of heaven, ash and brambles; left alone. There is grass, of course, and beneath the grass a whole world of earthworms, fungi, and bacteria. The grasses, like all other plants take their nutrients from the soil, but they also put nutrients back into the soil (called ‘exudates’). Plant life binds the soil so if it rains the rich organic matter of the topsoil retains in the soil rather than running off into the river. We left a portion of the grass on our lawn alone, letting it grow wild. The results were startling: crowds of finches would congregate here, finding grass seeds and cover from predators.

In the centre there is a giant apple tree. It is like the market square of a village, so frequented by an assortment of birds. Finches (chaffinch, bull and gold), the tits (blue, great and coal), and robins are the most common. Nuthatches are frequent too, skipping, as they do, down the trunk. Pheasants sleep in the compost heap, and partridges occasionally bob manically through the garden. Fieldfares, thrushes and blackbirds scoured the grass for apples, seeds and the occasional bit of stale bread, hollowing out fallen apples leaving only the skin. We had a nest of spotted flycatchers right next to the front door – unfortunately displaced by the constant stream of humans. A tawny owl hoots us to sleep, and come the summer house martins and swallows provide hypnotising aerial displays. All this small bird life attracted a stunning deep purple sparrow hawk, with the steadfast gaze of a killer. In the distance, we can see buzzards circling, crows in the pasture beyond, grey herons, kestrels and albino pheasants skirting the brutality of the shotgun.


When we moved in we didn’t have a lawnmower, so we borrowed our neighbours’ Exmoor horn sheep and three lambs. They were very sweet and in the mild April weather, they were so inquisitive they came through our open front door right into our front room. While they were admirable companions, I had to pick up so much sheep shit! But in the end I’m sure it contributed to good compost. Speaking of the compost, we had a small invasion of common rats, digging holes and opportunistically eating the offerings. Once I had moved the compost into a secure bin, and got Puffin the Jack Russell to dig it up – they soon moved on.


In the clay-soil we have grown a variety of vegetables and fruits, using the grass cuttings as mulch to retain moisture and not expose the topsoil. It has been fascinating to learn about growing plants, and like anything you learn best from your mistakes – a lot of vegetables went to seed quite quickly as I had packed in seeds to seed trays thinking only one might germinate. Yet all germinated and left the plants stressed and desperate to propagate. I’ve tried to encourage the garden hedgehog by providing cover – they are great predators of slugs and snails that ravage vegetables. I would love ducks or toads, but I’m not sure we have the space. Once we found a frozen shrew lying on its back on top of a stone slab on top of a piece of tall equipment, outside of our front door.It looked liked a sacrifice lying on a high altar. We were perplexed as to how it got there.  It was unlikely it ran up the glossy legs, and there it lay, with a regurgitated solitary seed casing for company.

British gardens represent a land area roughly the same size as Somerset. It would be easy to concrete it to create space for parking, it would look ‘neater’ and neighbours might approve. But, even in the smallest of gardens, so much would be lost.


untitled-4Simon Keily observes the rangeland in Wajir County, Northern Kenya. Simon trains pastoralists in East Africa in the techniques of holistic planned grazing which aims to recover grassland in areas of semi-arid desert. As such the training has potentially far-reaching ramifications for sustainability, climate change and the fortunes of pastoralist communities worldwide.

Sharcott Farm, an organic blueberry farm tucked away safely in a valley in Exmoor National Park, is perhaps an unlikely location to discuss the process of reversing desertification in East Africa but it is the UK home of Simon Keily, a British-Kenyan who trains nomadic pastoralists in the techniques of holistically managed grazing in East Africa. After a brisk walk up a potholed track, arched by ash, beech and rowan, more in keeping with road conditions in East Africa than sleepy Somerset, I meet Simon, tall, wiry and bearded with the rangy gait of a Maasai warrior.

“In our traditional (Western) way of looking at things, we tend to focus on parts. One of the key tenets of holistic management is that nature works in wholes”. He begins as I ask him about his work.

Holistic planned grazing, I learn, has evolved in sync with holistic management, which is the brainchild of Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean farmer who observed that the standard narratives explaining the change from grassland to desert were not necessarily correct.

Simon explains that “a third to a half of the land on earth is arid to semi-arid grassland and is generally agreed that most of it is either already desert or turning into desert”

Kenya is no different, where former grasslands are gradually being replaced by bare, barren land, suitable to only the hardy nomadic pastoralists of whom the Samburu, Maasai and Somali tribes are perhaps familiar to Western readers. In terms of environmental sustainability, the problems of desertification are manifold:

“First of all, when it rains, the bareness allows water to run across the surface unimpeded, and away rapidly into rivers, causing flash flooding, erosion and other damage to life. This is then followed by absence of water in the landscape soon after the rain that brought it. This is already a major impedance to life in these areas, and devalues what little rain does fall. In addition, the run-off is exacerbated by inability of rain to enter the soil because the surface is so hard. This is again due to early stages of bareness, when the heavy tropical raindrops strike the newly naked soil heavily, breaking its healthy crumb structure down into fine particles that settle tight and dry into a hard layer, sealing the surface of the soil like concrete, and cutting off ingress of both air and water essential for healthy life below the surface. This is a major brake on the cycle of life, which is rapidly starved to a halt, as up to 75% of the life-mass, essential in the cycle of healthy grassland, is below the surface, and this now either goes dormant or – in time – dies. This constitutes a major loss of incorporated soil carbon, and more with erosion. Finally, the sun beating directly on these hard surfaces heats them up rapidly, and a great deal of heat radiates back through the day, and often into the early hours of the morning. This 20hours a day of radiation must logically have a significant effect on temperatures over such a large area of the land surface, which, in such areas of Kenya for example, is typically without rain for 9 months of the year. Such high temperatures combined with lack of local moisture do not encourage clouds to cool and drop their rain in these areas, thus adding to the downward spiral of death in bare lands”.

The implications for climate change and sustainability for local communities are obvious: more heat and carbon dioxide is emitted, fewer plants absorb the carbon dioxide, the water cycle diminishes, and starvation below and above ground takes hold, with life itself becoming more scarce, ultimately impacting human beings there.

In a tragedy of the commons scenario, desertification was traditionally thought to be caused by too many animals, and this came to be confused with, and synonymous to, “overgrazing”. Ostensibly, the solution was simple: destocking, which means reducing the number of animals on the land, or taking them away altogether for indefinite periods, or even permanently in some conservation regimes, with the idea of letting the land recover. However, as Allan Savory observed in Zimbabwe, the process of desertification actually intensified. Simon explains why this is the case:

“When [destocking] happens, grass goes unbitten by heavy herbivores, so you get plants growing and then when dry season comes, left standing with dead material on them. As a result of destocking the dead material does not get eaten or trampled by herds so that their nutrients return to the soil. This represents a halt, a break, in the nutrient cycle. With no moisture to sag them down to the soil, the leaves remain standing rigid above the soil. As each year passes with no stock, more material accumulates in this dead end. Breakdown is by oxidation over a long period, followed eventually by wind-shatter and the nutrients are literally blown away. Furthermore, a grass plant has its growing points low. And they do that because they have evolved in response to getting bitten by herds. When the grass has grown and the dry season comes and the dead material stands there, after the rainy season, the new shoots don’t get enough light, and grow weakly, depleting root reserves until eventually even the roots die. This type of loss is the second cause of bare land, along with uncontrolled grazing. Uncontrolled grazing leads to selective, random biting by cattle, sheep and goats, and multiplies both types of loss several times over in a negative synergy, as unbitten plants age and become less palatable, while the flushing re-growth on recently bitten ones simply attracts the biters back to the same plants again. ”

Simon explains that the Maasai Mara and Serengeti national park area, with their seasonal growths of lush grassland and teeming with life, represents an example where high population of animals (there thought to  be 1.5 million Wildebeest in the area) does not cause desertification via “overgrazing”. Rather, the seasonal migrations of Zebra and Wildebeest naturally allow the grass to recover, while the large numbers trample down and mulch old material as well as encourage and fertilize new growth by impacting the soil with their hooves, allowing rainwater in, and defecating en masse. Simon adds:

“The health of this system – and its large numbers of animals grazing densely – point up the mistake in the notion of overgrazing being synonymous with quantity of animals. Overgrazing, properly defined is: ‘the depletion of a grass plant’s root reserves that occurs when a plant is bitten again before it has fully recovered from the previous loss of leaf and root reserves’ – even once. This is the only useful definition of overgrazing, and when used rigorously is the key that enables a regime that helps bring grassland back to health. Overgrazing once is damaging, but relentless repeats of this lead to death. This is what happens in poorly managed grazing regimes, which sadly are the tragedy of the commons. With the moving rainfall pattern of Mara-Serengeti, and encouraged by the dense defecation regime, the wild herds move on and stay away long enough for full recovery – lots of animals, no overgrazing!”

Much like permaculture, holistic grazing is a methodical, inclusive approach to mimicking and reproducing the “many hands of the ecosystem”. Indeed, holistic planned grazing is:

“[A] process of managing the grazing such that you respect and use the ecosystem processes, as well as focusing on the grass roots and plants recovery. You monitor grass growth rate and you time densely bunched herds. There’s a phase [of grass growth] where if you don’t eat too much of the grass, its got enough leaf left to take off again quickly. It’s a system to ensure that you plan your moves around the grazing so that you only return to the grass that has been eaten before, when the grass is truly, fully, recovered”.

 Before discovering the holistic approach, pastoralist cattle have increasingly come to move indiscriminately around the rangeland, targeting only the flushest new growth, and not moving around in dense bunches like the Zebra or Wildebeest. In Kenya, the herders, not helped by their political and spatial marginalisation by successive governments, have been unwittingly destroying the environment they depend upon for survival.

Simon reminds me that they are not the only ones – misunderstanding the brittle rangeland grass ecosystem, and the role of the heavy herbivore in it, has led to “tremendous losses around the world, including North America, where the loss of bison and replacement with crop production led to the dustbowls of the early twentieth century, and more recently, sand-dunes invading towns in Texas which have been abandoned due to the ecosystem crash caused by lack of awareness of these factors”.

As a consequence, in his work in East Africa, Simon’s role is to “bring an understanding of the grassland ecosystem processes, as well as the integral importance of social and cultural health and livelihood to the tribal people in their environment”. The tribes Simon has worked with include the Maasai, Samburu, Dasanech, Hamar in Ethiophia, Turkana, Borana, and Somalis as well as commercial ranches. The minimum land area of any of the single interventions among these was ~22,000 acres (9,200 Ha), the largest 958,400 acres (391,200 Ha).

In this role, Simon has worked with Veterinaires Sans Frontieres, FAO, Mercy Corps, Laikipia Wildlife Form, Africa Wildlife Foundation and various large commercial ranches. He says his “classroom and blackboard are the land, the tools are the animals, the ecosystems and the herders are the enactors”. Put simply, he teaches bunched grazing, partly a process of shepherding but also understanding the delineation of land areas designed to give areas of grass time to recover but also ensuring that the soil is significantly broken up, allowing rainwater to penetrate, and fertilized by their manure, allowing the grass seed to germinate.

There are some significant examples of the benefits that can be created by holistic planned grazing in Kenya. For example, in Laikipia County, the uptake of holistic thinking led the separate Maasai community ranches, together with commercial ranches, to start seeing themselves as parts of a greater whole, and an unprecedented co-operation arose, resulting in the formation of an integrated grazing plan across 2 county divisions, involving 22 such ranches, sharing grass with a coordinated grazing strategy.

However, holistic planned grazing has been met with some criticism in the mainstream media. George Monbiot, the famed environmental journalist, has criticised holistic grazing for being “implausible” and not backed up by scientific evidence. In the article, Monbiot’s main criticism assumes that Allan Savory is calling for an increase in cattle, which, given the environmental problems associated with beef and dairy production could be deeply unsustainable. I ask Simon his thoughts on Monbiot’s criticisms.

“First of all, Mr Monbiot’s response sounds like a common reactive opinion-statement we see a lot of. It is rooted in quite old thinking, and when threatened it triggers without considered analysis. It’s not a matter of ‘Savory wants an increase in cattle’; if we are going to cover the land, not only is that good for pastoralists who are a highly threatened community, but their land is highly threatened. Most of the richest remaining grassland wildlife is in pastoralist owned land, and it is still there only because of the pastoralists’ centuries-long attunement to their environment, so strong and robust, it has survived into the 21st century with little change, despite being ‘cheek by cheek’ with the most modern developments in Africa. Recovering the land would restore a lot of security for those people, the water systems, the ecosystems and we think it would have a massive impact on climate change. So… when you improve that land, which is not as productive as it used to be and is desertifying, you are going to get more grass, so you will need more animals to maintain the health of that grass. This is a demonstrated fact, both on Savory’s ranch in Zimbabwe, and in my experience in Laikipia and other areas of Northern Kenya and the Mara ecosystem. Monbiot is entitled to declare opinions, but frankly to say it is implausible from such a shallow inquiry is an insult to real experience and commitment, whatever his theories may be.”

Despite Monbiot protesting otherwise, there are examples of robust scientific research that explains the multifaceted environmental benefits of holistic planned grazing systems. Findings include significant levels of soil carbon sequestration in holistic planned grazing systems and holistic planned grazing has been shown to improve the levels of soil-water content. It has also been scientifically shown to improve grass density, soil bulk density, standing crop biomass, and soil organic matter. This is not to mention the mass of anecdotal and first-hand experiences of holistic planned grazing improving the condition of grasslands. Examples go beyond East Africa and crop up around the world. For example, Patrick Holden, the Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, wrote an open letter to Monbiot explaining how a planned grazing system has improved the sustainability of his Welsh dairy farm.

Nevertheless, Simon explains that there can be significant problems when scientifically testing holistic planned grazing systems. The first problem is that life can be extremely harsh on the pastoralist communities Simon has worked with – hyena and lion attacks on herders and cattle can happen and raiders armed with AK47s are relatively frequent. He muses that “unfortunately the niceties of kneeling on the ground with tape measures, clipboards and pencils to record the changes as they happen tends to get bypassed”. Another problem is methodological, in that “a ‘test’ site has virtually no hope of measuring something which takes place at landscape scale in a complex system”.

I see Simon’s point. Holistic grazing takes place on a vast scale, spread across thousands upon thousands of acres. Managed ecological change happens over many years and can be responsive to many variables including weather, geography, politics, culture and economics, which reductionist forms of scientific data collection might miss.

For scientific data to be collected accurately, Simon explains that you need to:

“Repeat a transect detail-record at least once a year later in the same season/growth states, and really you need to do it over 3-4 years, wet/dry, wet/dry each year, and you need to do it in several places, and have controls for each too”.

Past scientific efforts in Kenya have been sporadic at best including a researcher who first came in the wrong season and then returning the following year and completing transects, discovered afterward that they had all along been done in an area not selected for holistic grazing. The grazing plan the researcher was meant to be recording was then disrupted as raiders killed two herders involved in the plan, triggering a conflict no-go zone.

Nevertheless, in Kenya, “those who have observed pastoralism at first hand are generally deeply impressed with both the environment it has preserved, and the productivity achieved by these people in such harsh conditions”.

Finally, I muse that it would be great if we could sit back and watch wild herds of Zebras and Wildebeest do the work for us, and that it is sad that it seems as though we must use cattle. Simon, though, to his credit, deserves the final word:

“Actually, they end up following after the cattle, moving on from land where they have been sedentary, and enjoying the improvements! They are factored in to the grazing plan too – by design, with their own forage allocation. We work to a goal of a happily abundant and rich ecosystem – at the communities’ request. And tourists soon follow… It’s an upward spiral.”

Here is a link to my published report I co-wrote with the excellent Geoffrey Payne. It’s a rapid evidence assessment which is a kind of systematic literature review which ranks and rates the relevant research studies on a particular topic. It’s much more than that; it is the synthesis of years of research and years of expertise. It is about the various policies or interventions that have partially or completely fostered legitimate land tenure and property rights globally, and as such really useful for policy makers, researchers and economists worldwide. Enjoy.

The thing that matters is that performance analysis, coaching and tactics in cricket (and in life) should be about encouraging individual responsibility and expression rather than fostering dependence and insecurity 

There is a seemingly entrenched conflict in cricket coaching and analysis. On the one hand you have data-driven cricket tactics and performance, where hordes of backroom statisticians and ‘Moneyball’ devotees find patterns in the endless stream of data that a game of cricket can produce. Peter Moores and Andy Flower are the apparent disciples. On the other hand you have more intuitively driven coaching and tactics, based on gut feeling and hard-won game time experience. Darren Lehman, who seeks to ‘keep the game simple’ and Geoffrey Boycott, with 60 years experience of playing with proverbial stick of rhubarb, are the alleged opposites.

In the aftermath of a comprehensive defeat by Bangladesh at the World Cup in Australia, 2015, which knocked out a poorly performing England, Peter Moores was derided by the media for saying that he’ll have to “look at the data”. The data was pretty obvious: England were defeated by 15 runs. Although he defended himself by saying that he actually said “I’ll take a look at it later”.

Anyway, it seemed to represent the tip of an iceberg of a coaching and tactical structure entirely dependent upon statistics – of pitch maps, wagon wheels and formulaic decision making. When the back room team unearthed the (obvious) pattern that England were struggling to score the benchmark score of 300 they drafted in (a vastly out of form) Gary Ballance to augment their resources. It displaced a performing James Taylor and was a tacit acknowledgement that the management didn’t trust the batting line up. While the decision was taken in good faith it destabilised the confidence of the batters and had a disastrous effect, with the fear of failure latent in every shot.

Similarly, Graeme Swann was highly critical of Andy Flower’s stewardship of data-driven cricket. He recalls:

“I’ve sat in these meetings for the last five years. It was a statistics-based game. There was this crazy stat where if we get 239 we will win 72% of matches. The whole game was built upon having this many runs after this many overs, this many partnerships, doing this in the middle, working at 4.5 an over. I used to shake my head thinking: ‘This is crazy’.”

Likewise, Jonathan Trott was congratulated by the backroom staff for scoring 86 from 115 balls in the first innings of England’s World Cup Quarter final in 2011 to get a benchmark score of 229 which gave England a statistical likelihood of victory according to past games. Sri Lanka romped to victory with 11 overs to spare.

If a manager tells a player – or worker for that matter – to hit particular targets, the player who is insecure of their place in the side might focus on that to the detriment of the team and the game. The problem with statistics in cricket (and social science, economics and life in general) is that it can foster a culture of dependence where players are at the behest of arbitrary performance measurements designed to make the role of performance analysis easier but not necessarily improving performance.

Alternatively, any use of statistics or data analysis in cricket should be used to encourage the player to express himself or herself and take individual responsibility for their game. Too often it is the ego of the data-driven coach or manager that stands in the way of players expressing themselves. The player with no fear of failure can perform better in highly pressurised situations because they can express themselves and act naturally. When Glenn McGrath was bowling best he was not running in thinking ‘I need to hit zone X 85% of the time to be effective’, he was humming a tune to relax himself.

However, to say that players would be better informed if they were to listen to people with experience – those who have played and watched a lot of high level cricket – is probably off the mark. If experience of cricket leads to insight – is that not just an expression of visually based statistics? You don’t need a computer programme to tell you that Alistair Cook had a problem outside off stump, but then again that insight is gained by empiricism; by watching Cook either repeatedly nick off or play and miss.Staunch anti-statisticians may well be using a form of empiricism (probability) to trust their gut. They have seen Cook play and nick a set number of times and therefore conclude one should bowl outside off stump.

Such an enlightening proposition should suggest my support for statistical analysis to improve performance in cricket. Not necessarily. It is the inherent unpredictability and irrationally of the human brain and its constantly fluctuating and emotionally charged analysis of its environment that limits the use of statistics. This is not to mention the all important nuances of weather, culture, grass, dust, balls, and micro-climates that all have a discernible effect on our beautiful game.

The former Nottinghamshire spin bowler Paul McMahon argues that the confusion between correlation and causation ‘clouds the debate about the real value to be gained by data analysis in elite cricket’. He cites the example of understanding the probability of what a bowler might deliver at any given moment. For example, if you are batting in a T20 match and the statistician has showed you that the bowler follows your offside boundary with an off-cutter slower ball 95% of the time.

On the surface this is useful information. The player can more effectively predict the next ball. Even if it does not prove a causal link, at its essence it relies on a causal assumption that humans are rational actors presupposed to logical and ultimately repetitive decisions. From ancient philosophy to modern neuroscience, we understand that humans are not rational but are rather governed by emotion and fluctuating decision-making procedures. Indeed, in the aforementioned situation what happens if the ball is wet? The bowler, from experience (admittedly itself a form of empirical statistic), would know a slower ball would be risky. The computer-generated statistic in this case may be irrelevant as how the bowler reacts to his or her environment is not incorporated into the formula.

The ultimate point is that statistics and intuition are not diametrically opposed. But nor should the use of often-arbitrary and artificial statistics define coaching, management or tactics. Likewise any intuitive or external ‘gut-feeling’ needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Rather, any information or directive needs to come with a caveat, you can take this on board but you are the decision maker and you, like the great ancient Greek aphorism, need to ‘know thyself’. As the eccentric yet perspicuous Indian cricket commentator Navjot Sidhu Singh said: “Statistics are like miniskirts. What they reveal is tantalizing, but what they hide is crucial.”

Between 2013 and 2014, villagers of Bahi Makulo, in many ways a typical central Tanzanian village, were exposed to chemicals used in the uranium exploration process. It has reportedly caused physical harm and poisoned their crops. Villagers and activists point the finger of blame at the mining companies, who they say do not have a right to prospect on their land. Yet, digging deeper into the issue reveals that the companies receive a right to prospect in the area from the central government, a decision often taken from away from the area in air-conditioned government buildings in Dar es Salaam. The result is that an area of land used in the early prospecting stage of the mining production cycle can have many different claimants upon it, from small-scale miners, farmers, and protected natural parks. Ultimately this breeds discontentment and social conflict, which can massively inflate operational cost and exacerbate risk for investors, including examples of complete shutdowns.

This type of occurrence is not isolated to Tanzania or Africa in general. It is a global phenomenon. For example, in a recent study of Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Liberia, Mozambique and Peru by the Munden Project, it was observed that 93-99% of natural resource concessions (ranging from timber to mining, oil and gas) already had people both occupying and/or claiming the land as theirs. Small natural resource firms do not necessarily have the capital or capacity to understand the full social picture of their concession and the government, often mired by inefficiency and corruption is prone to take a laissez-faire attitude. Recent efforts by the World Bank to map all concessions in a particular national territory are welcome, but they do not show pre-existing claimants and the potential for conflict from pre-existing communities. To mitigate increased risks for investors globally in an uncertain and finite sector, greater transparency and long-term perspective is needed.