Act locally, solve globally?
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CTA. 1999. Act locally, solve globally?. Spore 83. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Policy makers everywhere are rushing to empower local communities to manage natural resources. It will not work, not unless they change the world first.. When he opened an Internet service on environmental affairs in October 1998, the Mauritian...
Policy makers everywhere are rushing to empower local communities to manage natural resources. It will not work, not unless they change the world first.. When he opened an Internet service on environmental affairs in October 1998, the Mauritian Minister for Environment, Dr. J B David quoted a Persian proverb: 'God will not seek thy race, nor will He ask thy birth. Alone, He will demand of thee 'What hast thou done with the land that I gave thee?'.' Today, farmers are being urged to take special care of the land they tend, as if 'natural resource management' (NRM) was a totally new idea, rather than just a new name for the wise stewardship practised by farmers through the ages. The recent focus on NRM, reflected in its adoption in 1996 as one of CTA's five priority themes, stems from a new awareness of environmental damage. At community level, environmental degradation is destroying the natural systems on which people depend. The results of overgrazing, overfishing and aggressive cash crop farming, plus nonagricultural activities such as tourism and open mining, are well known in most ACP countries. Forests and other natural milieus continue to be cleared for cultivation. The United Nations Environment Programme predicts that Africa's agricultural land area could nearly double by 2050, at great cost to the natural environment, unless there is greater investment in agricultural management and technology on existing cropland. In June 1999, The Economist magazine reported in a matter-of-fact way that West Africa's rainforest will have disappeared by 2020. That is already the case in Haiti, where 98% of the country's forests have been irrevocably consumed, and which is now referred to as a 'Caribbean desert'. Hauntingly, a 1998 study for the Carnegie corporation on future regional conflicts caused by environmental breakdown declared that 'Haiti may be the Easter Island of contemporary times: it has lost much of the fertility of its soils. In a somewhat analogous predicament centuries ago, the Easter Islanders had no place to go, and perished. The Haitians are moving to the United States.' Where there's a will... Much is being achieved in community-based natural resource management. Partnerships between government and non-formal sectors in park management are now commonplace in several countries, such as Kenya, Cameroon, Mali and Burkina Faso (see Spore 79). In Zimbabwe, the Association of Land Use Systems shares the experiences of NGOs in training, off-farm employment and research. Such examples of participatory management are often seen as effective tools for the sustainable use of natural resources. They represent a three-pronged thrust towards sustainability : they promote proper livelihoods, help to reduce poverty and conserve biodiversity and the integrity of nature. Many community-based organisations have found themselves pushed into a role of providing services for NRM: they are well placed, but not so well equipped, to do so. The international community is now responding to their needs for clear guidelines and capacity building. The World Conservation Union (IUCN), together with the Bureau of the Ramsar Wetlands Convention and the World Wide Fund for Nature, is planning to establish an advisory service on participatory natural resource management. What's it worth to you? No matter what the world's bodies of governance say about NRM, when push comes to shove at the community level, people will not find it desirable to conserve natural resources when, in the words of IUCN, 'it does not economically benefit them to do so'. Amidst all the talk, perhaps the most encouraging measures are in the shape of incentives. Economic incentives, through direct payment, subsidies and fiscal measures, are helping people to minimise those activities that degrade the environment and to focus instead on productive, yet protective, activities. In the natural woodlands of Kibwezi, Kenya, incentives to farmers include training in woodland management, assistance in adding value to woodland products such as refined honey and medicinal products, and support in marketing. The shift towards incentives underscores the need for government support to community-based activities. However, much environmental damage results not from the poverty and immediate needs of local communities in ACP countries. Rather, it results from the impact of the industrialised and industrialising worlds on the physical environment of rural communities in the South. It is widely believed that pollution from industrial activities, and associated transport, are major contributors to climate change, which in the South, as in the North, is visibly changing landscapes and agricultural patterns. More radically, some believe that Northern and Western consumption and lifestyles, which are now spreading to major slices of the world's population, notably in Asia, are also changing those same landscapes. Rapidly growing urban demand for Southern food products offers new possibilities for conquering markets, and thus improved cash revenues for farmers. But there is a cost to the environment, and thus to the future. So yes, by all means, empower the local community, ennoble the grassroots stakeholders, and develop participatory partnerships. But remember that natural resource management will only make sense when the footprint of the North bears down less on the grassroots of the South. Towards Sustainable Land Use - furthering cooperation between people and institutions - volumes I & II, H. P. Blume, H. Eger, E. Fleischhauer, A. Hebel, C. Reij, K.G. Steiner, Catena Verlag GmbH, 1998, 1560 pp. ISBN 3 923381 42 5 CTA No. 887, 200 credit points
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