Poor nations at bottom of environment ladder

THE poor, normally referred to, as the “common people” seem to be cursed or ostracised, as a result of not having recognition, no rights, and little freedom, in the societies they live in. Due to their placement in society, the poor normally derive their survival from the environment, in particular, the forest resources near them. When they cut down trees for building houses, cattle kraals, firewood, poles as fencing materials and for heating charcoal, they are labelled ex-mongers, eco-freaky or forest invaders.

By Peter Makwanya

Whenever issues of land degradation are discussed, its normally the poor who are found unreasonable and short-sighted in this regard, they are labelled careless, reckless and destructive.

But in the eyes of the poor, it’s only the forest which is an institution resource in which they can find something to make them survive, and possibly make their day. The other reason is that the poor invade the forests simply because there aren’t any other meaningful sources of food to make a living.

Even if the poor are to come up with some conservation movements, and besides not being normally listened to, they are also not heard in as much as they would like. In this regard, it’s not that they cannot speak or state issues fluently, but they lack the kind of voice that would make them heard.

Even formulae of sustainable development are not directed to the rich and powerful nations who release large quantities of carbon into the sky, thereby making the air dirty and changing the complexion of the atmosphere in the process.

Their green discourses are largely directed to the one and unfortunate stakeholder, the poor countries, not because they have committed any environmental crime, but only because they are poor. This becomes their major undoing and sin.
In their own right, the poor countries and their people are natural and traditional nature stewards, as well as being masters of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).

But when it comes to determining their placement on issues of environmentalism, they are out of the picture, not consulted and also not knowledgeable enough, hence they are of no community significance and ecological relevance.
Due to the failure of their sustainable development efforts, environmental sustainabilities and climate solutions, developed countries, NGOs, and their implementing partners, are now coming back to the drawing board, to those local poor communities to seek knowledge on IKS and other locally relevant and designed approaches in environmental conservations. In their failed efforts, they are now giving IKS a host of names and descriptions in attempts to make it sound new or rather technical.

Some of the terms are traditional ecological knowledge, the local or traditional knowledge of knowing or traditional and scientific technologies, just to sufficiently confuse the audience.

What keeps green politics or activism ticking in developed countries is not only their voices but their powerful resources bases. In developing countries, it’s also the poor people who are removed from their traditional and historical lands, in order to make way for developmental projects such as mining, construction, and many others in order to commercialise and monetise nature. For these reasons, environmentalism of the poor must also be placed at the heart of sustainable development. In this vein, the point is not to make the poor remain poor, but the fundamental issue is how best to integrate the poor communities into in the sustainable development efforts and programmes so that they learn new things, adaptation patterns, integrate their community-based knowledge or traditional ecological knowledge into modern conservation techniques and methodologies. All these inclusions and integrations would help improve the local poor people’s views.

Integrating the local communities in modern conservation techniques may be considered as a human right and a sustainable governance issue. It is also not that developing countries resist green revolution concepts, but the point is that they are not part and parcel of those discourses when they were formulated. They feel excluded and yet are forced to participate in the green revolution programmes and projects. As such, their role is to be receivers and are continuously being tutored about what the new-world order is like.


The other main undoing on the partners from the developed countries and their green movements is that they used to have low-rating of IKS as not being scientific and technical enough, yet the opposite is true.

Environmentalism and poverty cannot be discussed in isolation, hence, issues concerning the socio-economic and political paradigms need to be interrogated as well. People are not poor because they want to be poor, but in most cases and situations, the poverty was not only inherited and was not by design.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his capacity and can be contacted on: petrovmoyt@gmail.com

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