Posts Tagged ‘International Development’

Should We Encourage People From Countryside To Cities?

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

…Self doubt gets you thinking.  I am still thinking through my concerns about Fairtrade and I wonder whether I’ve got it arse over tip. 

People who live in the countryside are relatively poor compared to people who live in an urban environment, but is that because there are, firstly, too many people in the countryside trying to eke out an incremental profit from cash crops to keep themselves above water, and secondly you actually are richer and better off just by being in a city or town. 

There is a strong argument that workers shifting from rural Amazonia and moving to Manaus (the regional capital of the Amazon region) to carry out industrial activity have taken farmers out of Amazonia and so reduced pressure on deforestation, allowing those remaining in the countryside to farm more efficiently and spread their profits across fewer people, while simply the act of going to a city has improved their personal finances.  So rural-to-urban migration is good for everyone financially and great for the environment! 

There is a strong case (and made by people much cleverer and knowledgeable than me) that people living in the slums of big cities and the favelas of Latin America are one of the most dynamic and happening economies of the world.  These are people getting on with life, generating income and stepping up out of poverty.  These places are not the pits of despair that we all once thought and continue to be taught.  Okay, they’re not perfect but they’re significantly better than rural poverty.  And city dwellers have less children, so women are liberated from their historical rural position as child-bearing machines that must cook, fetch water and bring up children.  City life gives them freedom and the creative energy of the fairer sex is a massive force for good and economic improvement.

So should we be encouraging rural-to-urban migration rather than preserving current rural farming structures.  Urban living is better for the environment as it is more efficient on the world’s resources.  Urban living is better for women.  Urban living reduces overpopulation as people living in towns and cities have less children – overpopulation is effectively a rural problem.  Finally, when people move to the city it reduces the amount of people living in the countryside and so reduces the burden from humanity on the countryside and nature quickly recovers – yes, the rainforest does just simply regrow when people leave it be. 

Lastly, is our nostalgic lova affair with the countryside and rural idyll and farming (I don’t know if it is just an English obsession, and I mean English in this case as I cannot speak for others here) simply wrong and something that just makes us look via rose tinted glasses at all rural farming, believing that this must be a great, wonderful and rewarding life for everyone in the countryside, rather than something most farmers just want to escape from, and be liberated from the back-breaking, never-ending drudgery of subsistence living and would rather become housekeepers, labourers, doctors and accountants or whatever is available in the nearest mega-city.  Who are we in the developed world to deny those in the developing world from wanting to live a better life with loads more consumer stuff to ease their daily grind?  Who are we (the great polluters and destroyers of the world) to deny the rural poor a new start and free women from the potential prison of a rural life?

I suppose what I am saying is that if farmers cannot make a living wage from growing sugar or tea or vanilla or fruits or rice, shouldn’t we encourage more of them to move to cities so then less people grow these crops, so then there is a relative shortage of supply over demand and then prices will go up until farmers can then earn a living wage or more.  Are we not just perpetuating an imbalance of excess supply over actual demand by offering a bit above market prices via Fairtrade?

In stark figures, a rural farming family in Madagascar earns $600 per annum, with Fairtrade vanilla they can earn $2000 per annum, but what could they earn were they to live and work in the capital city of, for example, Madagascar – Antananarivo – and perhaps their family size might also fall*.  So isn’t it better to get them to migrate to the cities where education and public services are better and they will have a lower impact on the environment?

I honestly don’t know the answer, but it remains a dilemma that is constantly fighting itself out between my heart that says “yes to fair trade and ethical food” and my head that says “yes to free trade” and reducing levels of rural farming and shifting population towards the cities.

As in everything in life, the answer I suggest is a fudge – we need to trade ethically to ensure that those farming now are not disadvantaged and abused hence Fairtrade, while at the same time providing incentives for people to move from the villages and rural economy into the nearest cities, and then to ensure that cities become as economically vibrant, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable as possible.  But I will probably never answer this quandary to my own personal satisfaction, so will remain racked by doubts and indecision.

* I asked The Foreign Office and World Bank for help on numbers here, but the former could not help and the latter never deigned to answer or acknowledge my request.  That is a worrying starting position for Madagascar.

First Impressions On UK Political Parties From Green Agenda

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

As promised, I have started the process of looking at the main political parties from the perspective of the environment and international development.  I think I may have bitten off a bit more than I had expected with this, but I will continue.  Yesterday, I wasted an idle hour of my time looking at the websites for the Conservatives, the Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP, and downloaded background information about their policies on these two areas.  Here are my first impressions – I have not looked at a single policy yet so this is more about websites and general look, feel and philosophy taking into account the environmental agenda.

Firstly, the SNP.  Well I couldn’t find anything relevant on their website as regards the general election or environmental policies; their most recent Westminster manifesto is from 2005.  The best I could come up with was their section on Government, ie Scottish Government.  Unfortunately, this means I will not be going back to their website to get any more information; in this day and age, you need to have all the information up there all the time and it’s just not good enough to be waiting until a full official manifesto is launched.

Next, the Green Party.  Firstly, it would seem clear and bleeding obvious that central to the Green Party’s political philosophy is “taking into account the environment in all policy decisions”, but I was surprised that when I went to their policy section that there were no environmental policies.  Now I know where they are coming from being that everyone knows we are green but what they don’t believe we can deliver on is basic policy areas like Health and Housing and the Economy, so we’ll major on these areas, however why hide the Green Agenda?  Or as they say “We are not just an environmental party. Our policies extend across all areas of life.”  When Steenbergs first set up our website, our bank manager said to us that he was surprised that we never mentioned that we were focused on organic spices and herbs, so we realised that what’s obvious to us/them is probably less obvious to other people, so you need sometimes to keep on stating the bleeding obvious.  I did eventually find more detail about policies within the main website in the About the Green Party section hidden in a side bar, but to get those policy statements you keep needing to go back to this side bar.

To find the Green Party’s information on the Environment, you need to go to another website called Green Party Policies and download various pdf files across a range of topics.  Now this web site is truly horrible – it’s clunky, slow and really hard to work out what and where to get information.  Also, because of it’s structure, you end out having to print out loads of paper to actually read the policies because the pdfs are really hard to read.  While the web site had errors all over the place – the Policy Statements page comes up with a 404 Error Page Not Found.  As for detailed policies, I was surprised to find that many of the Policy Downloads were offline pending revision although they will be up in a few days.  So all in all this was fairly hard work to trudge through and really difficult to find stuff  about the environment and international development, which meant that you really had to want to find the detail to want to use the website.  Were I a teacher I would have to say “Could do better”.

Next, I am going to lump together the Conservative and the Liberal Democrats – that’s probably a first.  Both of their websites are clean looking and easy to use, and have a similar structure, so you can find the general policy stuff about the Environment and other policies by clicking on information bars on the left hand border.  All the information is there with detailed policy statements and backgrounders dowloadable quickly from links embedded in the relevant areas.  I liked both sites and found them similar in style.  As for general feel about the seriousness of the Environment to these parties, the Liberal Democrats give higher prominence for the Environment sitting at the top of their “What We Stand For?” section, while the Conservatives do not put the Environment or International Development in the “What We Stand For?” section but they do have a vast amount of detail as Consultation Papers and detailed policy papers – so the Liberal Democrats weighed in at 520g of papers when printed out and the Conservatives a whopping 940g (and I hadn’t even printed out their long report on “Rebuilding Security”).  As a negative for the Liberal Democrats, I couldn’t find anything within the main website about International Development and had to get to it via a search where I found a consultation paper for download, so that wasn’t great.

Now, for the Labour website.  Its structure is completely different to the other major parties.  They do not include the Environment within their Pledges on the Home Page, but it does come as a subsidiary pledge under “Ed’s Pledge“, which is all about Climate Change.  The Labour website is structured as a highly functional blog or social networking site, which means you can go from the Environment and then onto “Further Reading” or “Related Policies” in the right hand pane.  This gives you the ability to move around the website and through policy ideas and threads, but I quickly got lost and then would need to get myself back to the start and follow another line of thought.  Also, I struggled to find detail on any of the policies, and was (I assume) expected just to believe what I was being told on the website and that I wasn’t allowed to question and query, nor want to delve deeper into the philosophy and reasoning for the resultant policies that Labour is proposing. 

Now, I have to be honest here – I am 42 years old and don’t live in London and I am not massively computer literate and I hate social networking sites, nor do I have a mobile phone.  Also, I like to question and query things and am by nature a sceptic, and am very, very dubious about anything politicians say – unfortunately, I come from a viewpoint that all politicians are going to promise you the earth, feed you a load of cock and bull, then do something else when they get into power.

So while I get completely what Labour is doing with their website, I loathed it.  I want to find the information about policy areas in a simple format saying “Environment” or “Community Relations” or whatever area interests me.  Also, I want to be able to print out stuff and read it, rather than post it to Twitter or view it on by Blackberry (I don’t have one you’ll be pleased to know), or some other gizmo.  I am not interested in politics per se nor am I in the Westminster Village; similarly, I am not in the 18 – 30 year old bracket that has been brought up on Facebook or Twitter.  Hence, for me, the Labour website was a horror story, but I reckon it will appeal to lots of people who like that style of thing and it is really, really well orchestrated and controlled, which I assume will go for the whole Labour compaign – the Labour site is without a doubt an awesome website and the best party political campaigning tool of the three major parties.

So here’s my initial impression and order of success in giving me the right feel about their Environmental and International Development credentials:

  1. Liberal Democrats
  2. Conservatives
  3. Labour
  4. Green Party
  5. Scottish National Party

But as I have said, the Labour website is really effective, but just not conceptually for me.

Note to all political parties, none of you (and that includes the Greens) have a button to enable you to print the information on a page, so you get all the side bars and rubbish around the edges.  The result 3 or 4 pages of print, where most goes straight into the bin.  Yes, I could read it on screen, but I am too old for that – I like to read paper and scribble on it etc.

And now I will start looking in more detail at the individual party’s policies and statements on the Environment and International Development…