Is ‘Development’ Good For The Third World?
Over the years, magazines like The Economist have promoted the idea that financial growth is ‘development’ and that this ‘development’ is good for the Third World. However, this sort of growth is not ‘development’ — it is more often than not destruction of the environment, the livelihoods and the cultures of Third World communities.
What is referred to today as ‘development’ is actually ‘maldevelopment’. It is designed and driven by external forces for the profits and control of external agents and actors. The World Bank generates $3 of business for western companies for every dollar it lends to the Third World for ‘development’. ‘Development’ allows $500billion to flow out from the Third World to the rich West in interest and debt payments and low prices for Third World products, while $50billion goes in the opposite direction as development aid.
‘Development’ is a trick played on the people of the Third World, especially rural communities, to rob them of their resources and wealth, and leave them dispossessed and in debt. While the people of the Third World are supposed to be ‘developed’ by this process, they are instead uprooted and displaced. Their resources are snatched from them, converting them into ‘development’ refugees. Two hundred million people have been forcibly removed from their homes, ecosystems and cultures in the name of development. The tribals in India’s Narmada Valley, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and Papua New Guinea and the coastal communities along India’s 7,000km coastline do not view the giant dams, superhighways, mines, ports and industrial aquaculture that uproot them as ‘development’. For them, these activities spell disaster, which is why they are resisting.
One of the most ominous commercial developments of the past decade has been the merger of chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and seed companies to create what are called ‘Life Sciences’ corporations. A more accurate name would be ‘Death Sciences’, because these are the bodies that produce genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant seeds which lock farmers into dependence on chemical inputs, destroy biodiversity and render agriculture more vulnerable. For farmers, the shift from open-pollinated plant varieties to hybrids, genetically engineered crops and sterile ‘terminator’ seeds, is not a symbol of ‘development’ but of debt, dependency and destitution. For seed corporations, forcing farmers to buy seed every year implies bigger markets and faster growth. But this increase in corporate profits is based on the destruction of nature and her processes of renewal and abundance, as well as a destruction of local economies.
This destruction of nature’s economy and peoples’ economies is never taken into account by modern economics, and hence processes that lead to ecological destruction and poverty and deprivation for millions are presented as ‘growth’ in national accounts and the global economy. However, it is not growth when assessed in terms of the health of ecosystems and societies. This contrived pseudo-growth camouflages the destruction it unleashes on the lives of Third World communities.
A good example of such pseudo-growth is in Third World agriculture. The shift from a ‘food first’ to an ‘export first’ agricultural policy in India is justified on grounds of food security, because export earnings are supposed to pay for food imports. In fact, export-oriented agriculture has reduced food security by encouraging a shift from small-scale, sustainable local production to large-scale, non-sustainable industrial production. It also brings changes in ownership over natural resources and means of production, from small autonomous producer/owners to large corporate interests. Peasants are displaced from farming, while commercial interests take over land for production of export commodities. These enterprises often have negative environmental impacts, creating further hardship for local communities.
Meat, vegetable, shrimp and flower exports, for example, have costs that often far exceed the earnings generated. Large-scale meat exports have an external ‘shadow’ cost that is 10 times higher than export earnings. This is due to the former ecological contribution of livestock in small-scale agriculture, now on the wane.
Particularly in developing countries, livestock is not just meat on legs. Livestock in India helps produce $l7million-worth of milk and $1.5billion-worth of food grain; they also provide $l7million-worth of energy. If the animals are slaughtered, all these benefits are lost. In the case of one export-oriented slaughterhouse alone, meat exports earned $45million, whereas the estimated contribution of the slaughtered animals to the economy if they had been allowed to live was $230million.
Multidimensional, multifunctional economies based on mutuality are being systematically destroyed by a development model which is unable to take diversity, reciprocity, complexity and sustainability into account. It is time to ask the basic questions: growth of what? Development for whom? It is time to move beyond the fictions and illusions of economic growth which siphons wealth from the poor to the rich, and take into account the reality of ecological catastrophes and social disintegration that have been unleashed by ‘development’ processes and which leave the poor poorer.
Hoping that the new millennium will bring new economic thinking based on principles of inclusion rather than exclusion.
[The Ecologist, April, 2000]