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close this bookFood and Energy - Strategies for Sustainable Development (United Nations University - UNU, 1990, 81 pages)
View the documentPreface
View the document1 Introduction
View the document2 Analytical Framework
View the document3 Integrated Food-Energy Systems
View the document4 Alternative Urban Development Strategies
View the document5 Urban Agriculture
View the document6 New Rural-Urban Configurations
View the document7 The Challenge of Biotechnology
View the document8 Sustainable Development
View the document9 Conclusion
View the documentAppendix I: FEN Programme Activities
View the documentAppendix II: FEN Publications
View the documentReferences

2 Analytical Framework

Local Solutions to Global Problems

Before referring to specific work on integrated food-energy systems in rural areas and alternative urban development strategies, it may be useful to highlight the conceptual framework which provided the intellectual impetus for FEN.

Food and energy are global problems in at least four ways. First, their regular and continuing availability is a condition sine qua non of human survival, posing a formidable challenge that must be tackled simultaneously from both the supply and demand sides. Food and fuel stocks are of no help and little consolation to people who cannot afford to buy them and have no access to the resources needed to produce them.

Second, assuming optimistically that humanity will manage to solve the problems posed by its bare survival, the quality of life of millions of people will still depend to a great extent on increased supplies and better use of both food and energy; their central role in a need-oriented development strategy is only too obvious.

Third, both food and energy loom large in the North-South confrontation as potential weapons and tools of domination; hence the importance of global negotiations to modify the present gloomy picture and bring about some constructive international co-operation in both fields.

Finally, food and energy production affect and are affected by the state of the environment: energy-, land-, and water-use patterns will increasingly influence the climate and other aspects of our life-support systems. This will have far-reaching consequences for the long-term prospects of food and energy production in semi-arid areas and threatens the very existence of flood-prone coastal settlements, home to millions of people.

In contrast with the considerable research effort that has been spent on each of these problems in their own right, however, little attention has been paid to the food-energy nexus or the systematic exploration of the ways in which they are linked. Must we be reminded that the prospects for both of these resources, treated individually, are rather dismal?

According to the Global 2000 Report (Council on Environmental Quality 1980), the amount of arable land per person is projected to decrease from about 0.4 ha in 1975 to about 0.25 ha by the end of the century. If current trends continue, the world's per capita growing stock of wood will be 47 per cent lower in the year 2000 than in 1978 and 40 per cent of the forests still remaining in the third world will have been razed. Under such conditions, the real price of food is likely to multiply, along with long-term declines in the productivity of such over-taxed renewable resource systems.

Furthermore, according to a study by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, 30 to 70 per cent of the intermediate input costs of agricultural crop production in developing countries are directly or indirectly related to energy. On the other hand, agriculture provides 20 to 90 per cent of primary energy through the supply of the so-called non-commercial energy sources such as wood and agricultural residues (Parikh 1981).

The intellectual challenge is to go beyond the simple analysis of data and assist governments in transcending the current crisis management approach by embracing development planning conceived as a societal learning process. This calls for the enhancement of the capacity of social organizations and individuals to respond creatively to new situations, constraints, and opportunities and to shape new trajectories for industrialization and rural modernization that are different from the models derived from the historical experiences of industrialized countries of the North.

Projections serving in lieu of forecasts can only lead to mistaken conclusions when they concentrate on quantitative growth within ossified structures rather than anticipating structural changes and modifications in social behaviour. Specific local solutions responding to the variety of ecological, cultural, socioeconomic, and political contexts in today's world must thus be found to the global problems of food and energy.

The differentia specifica of FEN consisted in its concentration on planning, designing, implementing, and evaluating ecosystem-specific, culture-specific, and even site-specific solutions to global problems. Such research must necessarily be done downstream from other work on food and energy macro-models, such as the Global Food-Energy Modelling Project (Robinson 1986) that FEN was associated with.

Useful as the latter may be to sensitize policy-makers about the long-term implications of their decisions, or to test the coherence of proposed policies, they do not lend themselves to straightforward translation into planning guidelines at regional, micro-regional, or project level. Macro-models must perforce assume away the diversity of local conditions and thus cannot do justice to people's resourcefulness, a key concept for successful ecodevelopment planning.

Entitlement and Ecodevelopment

FEN was premised on the "entitlement" approach articulated by Amartya Sen and on the concept of ecodevelopment. In a recent publication, Sen (1987) aptly summarizes the entitlement approach to food, which must be extended equally to energy for cooking:

The real issue is not primarily the overall availability of food, but its acquirement by individuals and families. If a person lacks the means to acquire food, the presence of food in the market is not much consolation. To understand hunger, we have to look at people's entitlement, i.e. what commodity bundles (including food) they can make their own. The entitlement approach to hunger concentrates on the determination of command over commodities, including food. Famines are seen as the result of entitlement failures of large groups, often belonging to some specific occupations (e.g. landless rural labourers, pastoralists).

The entitlement of a person stands for the set of different alternative commodity bundles that the person can acquire through the use of the various legal channels of acquirement open to someone in his position. In a private ownership market economy, the entitlement set of a person is determined by his original bundles of ownership (what is called his "endowment"! and the various alternative bundles he can acquire starting from each initial endowment, through the use of trade and production (what is called his "exchange entitlement mapping"). A person has to starve if his entitlement set does not include any commodity bundles with adequate amounts of food. A person is reduced to starvation if some change either in his endowment (e.g. alienation of land, or loss of labour power due to ill health) or in his exchange entitlement mapping (e.g. fall in wages, rise in food prices, loss of employment, drop in the price of the good he produces and sells). makes it no longer possible for him to acquire any commodity bundle with enough food.

As for ecodevelopment (Sachs 1980), it is based on the simultaneous pursuit of the following four objectives:

  1. Social equity, that is, better access by low-income people to goods and services needed for a decent life. This can be achieved through a variety of means deemed culturally desirable by those concerned employment and higher incomes, generation of opportunities for self-production and self-help construction (assisted by the state), subsidized housing, free education and health services, and, in the case of poverty, food distribution through special programmes.
  2. Ecological sustainability both in terms of resource conservation and the minimization of the harmful impacts of production on the environment and, by extension, on people's health and quality of life.
  3. Economic efficiency considered at the macro-social level, that is, ensuring a rational pattern of resource use for the whole society, the aim of the economic policy being to create such conditions for private enterprises as to make the micro-entrepreneurial criteria coincide to a large degree with the social ones.
  4. Balanced spatial distribution of human settlements and activities so as to avoid some of the worst problems resulting from excessive concentration or dispersion of human endeavours.

The concept of ecodevelopment emphasizes the sustainable use of local human and natural resources for meeting locally defined needs. It therefore embraces a radically participatory approach. People's needs must be defined realistically and autonomously so as to avoid the harmful "demonstration effects" of the consumption style of rich countries. Since people are the most valuable resource, ecodevelopment should contribute primarily to their self-realization.

This calls for the establishment of a horizontal authority which can transcend sectoral particularism, an authority concerned with all the facets of development and which makes continual use of the complementarily of the different actions undertaken. To be efficient, such an authority requires the effective participation of the people concerned.

In other words, ecodevelopment is closely related to the "strong" version of the basic needs approach defined by Wisner (1988) in contrast with the "weak" version. The former encourages poor people to understand the social origins of their poverty and to struggle to change them. Insofar as the latter involves the delivery of a bundle of goods and services, it treats the poor as passive recipients, not activists capable of helping themselves.

The Urban Challenge

If current urbanization trends continue, by the year 2010- just one generation from now- low-income people in third world cities will become the new majority among the world's population, displacing the rural poor.

All three developing continents are facing very serious urban problems. The backlog of unattended needs for housing, food, energy, and services is so great and the pace of urbanization so rapid that it has become physically and financially impossible to solve this situation by providing more of the same. The conventional solutions, which proved more or less effective in industrialized countries, simply cannot be afforded unless there is a drastic reallocation of world resources, currently directed at military spending. This sane alternative to the arms race, however, appears highly unlikely.

Thus, the degree of satisfaction of the basic needs of the growing urban populations will, to a great extent, depend on the creativity and resourcefulness of the communities themselves as well as of their administrators. New urban development strategies are called for, based on social innovations.

Let us start by enumerating the five main fields of potential innovation.

The first deals with new forms of organization of economic activity, capable of improving the degree of utilization of human potential for work available in society. In order to ascertain it, we must better understand the everyday structures of material life, the cultural models of time use, and the working of the "real economy". This term encompasses the complex web of interconnected markets of labour, goods, and services ranging from the official to the criminal, as well as the non-market household economy, the embryonic forms of the non-market social economy, and the multiple interventions of the state. In other words, it is necessary to go beyond the formal/informal dichotomy and to analyse both the monetary flows and the cultural patterns of time allocation for work in the market-oriented and non-market economic endeavours, as well as for non-economic activities (Sanchez 1988).

The second consists of the untapped, under-utilized, misused, or wasted resources existing in the urban ecosystem: vacant land, waste, and sewage that can be recycled or reused, energy and water that can be conserved at a lower cost than the production of additional supplies, etc. Such resources, detected through an ecological analysis, offer interesting opportunities for employment and/or self-employment, often requiring only a moderate investment per worker. More generally, countries short of capital ought to pay the utmost attention to "non-investment" sources of growth, such as maintenance of existing equipment, elimination of wasteful resource-use patterns, recycling, etc.

The third sphere encompasses the whole area of identification and production of appropriate technologies, enabling a rational and more intensive use of the capacity to work of people and available physical resources. The concept of appropriate technology is, once more, relative to a given ecological, cultural. and socio-economic context. There exist no appropriate technologies, as such, that are universally applicable. Nor is it reasonable to choose, a priori, capital-intensive technologies or labour-intensive ones. A selective use of the whole range of technologies is called for and scientists should be encouraged to search for new "knowledge-intensive", resource-conserving technologies.

The fourth domain is the institutional one, perhaps the most difficult and, in many respects, the most decisive. Development cannot be left to market forces alone, nor be made an exclusive responsibility of the state. Community involvement is indispensable at all levels: setting of priorities, creativity in searching for solutions, participation in implementing them. Institutional breakthroughs will only happen through new forms of partnership for development between society, the market, and the state. The whole field of party politics, non-party politics related to citizens' organizations, and workers' self-management within enterprises needs to be reconceptualized.

Finally, the fifth field for innovations in the urban setting is concerned with public policy instruments and the selection of policy packages that stimulate and support social innovations. The emphasis on community participation and self-help programmes should not be taken as a pretext to reduce the responsibility and the share of the state in carrying out vigorous activities aimed at alleviating the plight of low-income urban populations.

In the following chapters some of the ways in which this conceptual approach was exploited by FEN researchers are described. It should be borne in mind that the interdisciplinary and evolutive nature of this approach was consciously designed to stimulate work in this field, not to confine it to a preconceived framework.