Archive for the ‘Class notes’ Category

Climate change on the agenda!

December 2, 2012

Climate change seems to be on the agenda again. The climate change conference takes place in Doha, Qatar National Convention Center from Monday 26th November to Friday 6th December. A report has been released, saying that concentration of carbon dixode in the atmosphere is up by 20% since 2000.  I asked myself the question: who is responsible for this increase? well, according to the UN environment Programme (UNep), the concentration of the greenhouse gases emitting this carbon dixode has led to this increase.

One thing that will be interesting to know  is how climate change will be resolved at this conference.


December 4, 2011

Up until our serious of lectures on the commons and the different discourses around them I wouldn’t say I was fully informed of the origin of ‘Tragedy of the commons’, its direct and indirect connotations and the magnitude of its influence in our world’s economic and environmental policies and the debates it stirred. However, since our classes and my further readings I have learned that there is a lot into it and with the growing wave of discontent of neoliberalism looming in our world today it may be the best time problematizing Hardin’s theory. I hereby share my insights.

A number of questions can be raised on Hardin’s argument and the evidence he used of the ‘pasture open to all is destined to ruin as each herdsman is compelled to increase his herd, each pursuing his own interest…’ and on his proposed best solution: enclosures/ privatisation of the commons.

There are a number of questions that may come to a critical mind:

• Is it really rational to argue commons should not exist because they will always be mismanaged? Does that mean humans are not trusted when they act in groups, in a community? Are shared resources in communities really free of regulations and therefore destined to ruin?

• Have Hardin’s suggested Enclosures rescued tragedy of the commons? Is privatization the only way to protect the commons? Can commons based solutions be considered?

Historical truth and Validity of Hardin’s theory:

During our lecture after hearing Hardin’s account the first thing I thought was it may be true within the English cultural context but you can’t generalize across all cultures that resources shared/used in common will inevitably be doomed. I am sure most of us can come up with empirical evidences from our respective countries of origin, if not other corners of the world, of communities that live or used to live on different commons such as fisheries, forest, grazing land etc. without ruining the resources they depended on.

Contrary to what Hardin’s argument may lead you to believe it was also true even in the context of England. I found it shocking really, to realize the practice of the English commoners in regard to their common land that Hardin used as evidence to substantiate his theory actually lacks historical truth.

In this regard anthropologist Arthur McEvoy, argues that the ‘Tragedy “misrepresents the way common lands were used in the archetypal case” (i.e. England before enclosure). Similarly, British historian E P Thompson criticizes Hardin’s theory as “historically uninformed” and that it fails to see that commoners were not without common-sense’. Indeed I tend to agree it is an insult on the intelligence and history of the peasant farmers. Moreover, it may also send a wrong message in believing English culture to be individualistic.

The English farmers had methods of governing livestock numbers on a common land known as “Stinting”.

Thus a common or pasture may be said to be ‘stinted’: each grazier holds a certain number of stints, and a formula adjusts their value for different livestock (e.g. one stint = one ewe with lamb, four stints = one horse, etc.). The stinting formulae vary between commons and pastures. Stinted common land or pasture was managed by a voluntary association known as Stint-holders’ association/committee.

As is evident with above English common pasture it is not always true to assume that commons will be open access and unregulated. They are governed by cultural values, norms, and standards that control where, when, and how much is used. These values impose serious sanctions on over-use of the commons which also makes them sustainable from an ecological and cultural point of view.

Enclosures or Commons based solutions ?

Have Hardin’s suggested enclosures done better in preventing the ruin of the commons or bringing social wellbeing?

Our world’s environmental perils including global warming tell us that not everything is better off under private ownership? ‘Economic market operates like a runaway truck. It has no internal mechanism telling it when to stop—it can’t stop depleting the commons that sustain it.’

Simon Fairlie in his article “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain” (Land Magazine Issue 7, 2009.): says, “Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain’s land has been privatized —currently, in our ‘property-owning democracy’, nearly half the country (Britain) is owned by 40,000 land millionaires or 0.06 per cent of the population…” which is an empirical fact that it may be more appropriate to talk about the tragedy of enclosures rather than the commons.

Is it at all logical to argue commons should not exist because they will always be mismanaged? Who would you trust better a community managing and sharing resources as a group or individuals managing it? If the later, would this not be a contradiction to the principle of true democracy?

I think today more than any time in history COMMONS-BASED SOLUTIONS which are characterized by ‘distinctive innovations and policies that remedy problems by helping people manage resources cooperatively and sustainably’ should be urged.

“I am free”

November 29, 2011

This picture was posted by a couple of my friends on Facebook recently. Although it is very populist, I decided to mention the illustration here because it reminded me somehow of contents we touched on in the class.

When we spoke about capitalism, we characterised it as a system of making profit without need. Going deeper into the issue of needs, we agreed that many people, especially in developed countries, try to satisfy a lot more desires compared to the amount of money they earn. The logical consequence is the occurrence of debts. And debts are a good way to make us accept the system as we found out. There is an essential necessity to find a job and go to work regularly in order to pay them off.

Apart from the words regarding the usual economic actions of the members of a capitalistic society, the private life of “Mr. Normal” is described in the cartoon. Normality, not individuality, seems to be the highest aim in life, together with social and (again) economic security of course.

An apathetic image is drawn of the people who are “the commons”. Humans are presented as skeletons that seem to be happy and thankful about not having to think for themselves. They appear to appreciate the possibility to follow certain “common” objectives without realising that these are actually dictated. Although I see the point in the artist’s criticism of society, I do not want to think so pessimistically. Generalisation is neither right, nor does it help. There ARE people who make use of their voice as the Occupy Wall Street movement shows.

What is your opinion about critical cartoons like this one? Do people really start rethinking the role of the commons when confronted with this kind of sarcasm or does too much exaggeration just distract from the real issue?

Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty

November 29, 2011

Historically the arrival of the Dutch in the Cape of South Africa in 1652, took land that belonged to the Africans and marked it as private land for the Europeans. Hence, a campaign group The Right to Agrian Reform for Food Sovereignty has risen out of the need to help these landless african people recognise their ancestral right and reclaim land reform for the purpose of black, emerging small scale farming.

The documentary above show the struggles of Ithemba Farming Association situated on the outskirts of Western Cape, how they fail to get Government recognition and support as a group of small scale farmers who resettled on that piece of land 21 years ago, instead they are faced with eviction. The land is being re-claimed for a ‘mixed use housing redevelopment project’ on land that in the farmers’s opinion is viable for agricultural purposes. Listening to the farmers’ accounts, it is clear that 1) through their farming activities they are able to provide for for themselves and families, they are now spending less money buying food from supermarkets as most of what they need is available on the farms. 2) some farmers are even managing to sell some of their produces and also feed neighbouring poor communities (to the other side of the farm there is an informal settlement neglected by the government as a result they are going to the farms begging for food). What  threatens these farmers’ demands for Agrarian Reform in the interests of Food Sovereignty is the lack of a market access for their produce. The food market in the Western Cape is dominated by Chemical Model farmers, and hence the small scale farmers are faced with the problem that although they produce organic produce, they are not harvested in large quantities and therefore can not compete with the commercial farmers.

The Ithemba Farming Association farmers do themselves acknowledge that at the moment they are not productive enough and not able to fit into the high stream of economic development but would like the government to support emerging farmers. Looking at the principles of Food Sovereignty one would agree with the campaign for land reform in South Africa, there is need for genuine and comprehensive land reforms that prioritise local agricultural production in order to feed people, the access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds, and credit. With examples of best practice drawn from Europe and America, one way these farmers can implement Food Sovereignty is through Community Supported Agriculture.

Charity Embraces Food and the Commons

November 28, 2011

Edinburgh Cyrenians works in partnership with the Fareshare network to reduce food waste of big corporations and supermarkets.  Diverting food from landfill, Cyrenians Good Food collects food that is near its use by date, sorts it in their small warehouse and re-distributes to organisations working with people in need.

This video presents the Cyrenians Good Food project.

Fareshare were also featured recently on the BBC news.  The report on a collection of charities distributing food in Trafalgar Square, London, highlighted the amount of food that is wasted in the UK.  This is not only bad for the environment, but is extremely wasteful when we here of so many reports of hunger and lack of food n other parts of the world.

Cyrenians also operate two other services connected with food, waste and the environment.  The Cyrenians Farm and Cyrenians COREThe farm operates as a business providing income for the organisation as a social enterprise.  However, the farm is sited within one of their communities that provide accommodation for up to 8 young people and a team of residential volunteers.  Although, residents are not obliged to work on the farm they are encouraged to.  By doing so they learn about food – from how and when it is grown to harvesting and cooking.  The residents then collectively agree menu’s and cook together.

Cyrenians CORE project fills the gap that Good Food leaves.  Taking the food that is passed its useby date or waste from restaurants Core collects this in a large lorry and delivers this to a farm where it is turned into compost.

Whose reality counts?

November 18, 2011

Its however true that we need donors, lenders, agencies and the local people in order to realize participation and partnership, a vocabulary that has been in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) especially goal 8 for already 11 years.  But the question which still remains unanswered is, Whose reality counts?.  The increasing disconnect between the donors, lenders, agencies and the local people still pose a threat to participation and partnership making it paternalistic.

There is need for those who fund participatory development to understand that, it does not requires too much or too fast onto a bigger scale (Chambers, IDS), to exert unfavorable conditions such as accountability which instead discourages participation but the prime condition should be the power relations between the poor and the donor or agency, calling for  “a win win situation”.

In participatory development approaches,  good ethical practices are paramount valuable  to avoid the intended beneficiaries  suffering from the repercussions as participation raises poor people’s expectations, generates conflicts within communities, consumes poor people time especially during consultative meeting and dis-empower or endanger the lives of the poor through the information shared among them  which can be used against poor people. There is therefore need to have  fair terms or conditions for participatory development to achieve its intended objectives and there is also need to educate those who are  in power to support this approach by ensuring a favorable environment through enhancing democratic processes in their governance systems which can give room for participation.

Carbon trading hurts the poor

November 11, 2011

The international attempt to mitigate the growth in concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) through carbon credit harms the poor more than the Greenhouse Gas concentration effects and it is the act of enclosing the common. Under the Kyoto agreement, developed nations excluding America which never subscribed to the agreement are required to reduce their emissions of certain gases by 5% below 1991 levels and if a nation cannot meet the target, it is obligated to purchase “carbon credit” through what is known as Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a scheme that identifies and funds projects in emerging economies not subject to emission limits but this seems not the best way.

Carbon trading is however an inequality approach to sustainable development in that it focuses on mitigating greenhouse gases in poor countries with lower carbon footprint (emission) as opposed to the developed countries with high emission rate. This market mechanisms which is aimed at driving the industrial and commercial processes in the direction of low emission is hurting the poor people in developing countries than the intended benefit because it is full of fraud, theft, and controversy over offsets and this might cause the booming carbon market to dry up in case a new carbon market mechanism does not take the Kyoto protocol when it expires and beside the life span of Kyoto remains at a balance with America refusing to consent to the agreement and yet it is the largest emitter, hypothesize weaknesses of the protocol.

It is however true that environmental destructive act anywhere is bad for us all and that any environmentally positive act is good for everyone but in this case of carbon trading the truth is that, poor people where once paid to destroy the forest and they are being paid again to build it back and maintain the existing once however the business has come at a time when the poor does not need trading and may be hurting the poor more than good since the world trade has been converted into a machine of destruction to the poor and unfortunately in the last decades its greed extended to the scope of diversity and the controversy is food supply and agriculture.

Food supply and agriculture is suffering in the hands of carbon credit simply because the industrialized countries, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are financing mechanism of reducing greenhouse gases in poor countries only through projects like conserving forests, wetland and tree planting but these has immense negative impact onto the poor such as; people are being forced to sell their land to the investors who have access to carbon market for tree planting projects, rural communities are being evicted from their areas of settlement in the name of conserving environment, some communities have been given tree planting projects without being informed of the side effects and these signifies that up to about 40 years for the lost of the land to the farmers because it takes around 20 years for some of these tree species to be harvested and another 20 years to reclaim the land and this indirectly means agriculture is suspended for all these years and yet it is the main source of revenue and food for the developing countries.

It becomes very unrealistic in a scientific thinking for a country like Uganda which has 25% of its land covered by water and a projected population of about 32.9 million and it is expected to explode to 130 million by 2050, a population which solely depends on agriculture and bearing in mind that land is fixed to emphasized tree planting at the expense of food production. Carbon credit is a liability more than an asset to the developing countries; beside these countries are lowest emitters for instance Uganda only emit 0.01% of the greenhouse gas. This act of converting environment into merchandise is enclosing the commons at the expense of the poor.

Biotechnology in Agriculture

December 13, 2010

Many volunteer groups, NGOs and UN-bodies address the subject of world hunger on an annual basis. While aid and food support is among the most common responses to this problem, is there another solution given to us by science? Biotechnology in Agriculture or genetically modified foods (GMF) could be an answer to not only the shortage of food in many places in the world, but also hold a key to modifying plants that can withstand extreme climates and harsh conditions.  Among others, genetically modified crops are designed to increase production and productivity, which leads to higher yields. Furthermore, some species facilitate the usage of marginal land for agriculture, which could be a solution to spreading desertification and land degradation therefore ensuring people’s nutrition and reducing  their vulnerability. In addition, a better nutrition supply could be reached by adding vitamins and iron in crops. In some Asian countries for example, an improvement in the health situation could be proven after the implementation of Vitamin A and iron in rice. Nevertheless, the distribution of genetically modified seeds is very controversial, as there are various negative impacts on both, nature and society. From nature’s perspective the implementation of genetically modified crops means  an upsetting of the ecosystems balance. The effects are diverse. By enhancing the resistance of crops to diseases and environmental stress natural relatives might be extruded, finally resulting in a loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, the reaction of ecosystems cannot be predicted yet. Especially crops with induced pesticide genes destroy the soil’s fauna and thereby inhibit  a sustainable cultivation. In addition, the reaction of the human body to a more intensive exposure to agricultural poisons is not known yet but a dramatic increase in allergic reactions is predicted. Not only is the impacts on nature are tremendous, the social consequences are far reaching as well. Even if genetically modified food would be most beneficial in developing countries, these countries often do not have access to the new seeds. Until now research seems to be concentrated on the private sector and orientated towards high-income countries, where greater power for purchasing those products exists. Furthermore, patents make modified seeds unaffordable for small-scale farmers, which reduces their contestability on the world market.  Thus leaving open various questions to be discussed:  Should Biotechnology in agriculture therefore be promoted besides all uncertainties and dangers? And if so what can be done to ensure the benefit of developing countries from the new technologies?  How can genetically engineering be monitored internationally? Should there be clear regulations concerning the labeling of genetically modified food so that consumers can make a profound choice? And finally, should humans in general have the right to change the basic structures of life?

(note Article of the conference in Bonn where I was delegate last week)

Organic Food

December 9, 2010

Organic food is food growing  without using any kind of chemicals from pesticides to fertilizers,hormones and genetic engineering (or product). Processed organic food product is not used preservatives or food colouring or other synthetic additive.Organic food processing and manufacturing technologies are defined luxury, including all physical technologies / Mechanical enzymatic / biological.Contains mostly organic fertilizer compost made from vegetable food scraps, clippings and manure of farm animals (sheep and cattle).In order to be approved to be labelled as organic, a product have to be  produced using at least 95% of organic ingredients or derivation of them, those who are not from organic materials should be permitted ingredients list, or at least not be a list of components is prohibited.

Organic products can be defined as

food where all  the links in the chain that led to the creation are also organic: watering crops and livestock drinking water would rather use – tested groundwater contaminated leftovers that are not pesticides; food and fertilizer provided over a period of growth will carry organic standards; additives during processing are organic themselves.

There are also limitations of the organic products in terms of storage and handling. the case of animal products which are produced “organic” according to their producers are monitored by independent bodies. They supervise the parameters in which the animals are growing, from living spaces, organic nutrition, usage of medicines and vaccines.  All these allow that artificial hormones and medicines to be used only in emergency situations such as diseases which cant be cured otherwise.

Commercialization of Education: oil companies funding university research

October 19, 2010

Yesterday’s class made me think about the enclosures that are taking place in today’s world. One of the examples of enclosures in Knowledge and Life was the marketization of education. Once again there was an example of this in Democracy Now that reported on 18th of October, 2010 about how oil companies are now funding universities and their research. Democracy Now reports how big oil companies have made agreements with different universities regarding of their research and how this seriously threatens the independence of academic research.  It is worth watching and thinking about how seriously these kinds of agreements influence the actual research findings and what implications do these kinds of agreements have for the future of independent academic research. Is this just another way to prevent us to access something that should belong to us all, knowledge?

Big Oil Goes to College: BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell Fund & Influence Research at Major Universities, Democracy Now 18th of October, 2010