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close this bookLife Industry: Biodiversity, People and Profits (WWF, 1996)
close this folderPart 3 - Which way now?
View the document6.1. Choices
View the document6.2. Reversals for diversity - a new paradigm
View the document6.3 Seeds of hope

6.2. Reversals for diversity - a new paradigm


In all of history there has probably never been a period as dramatic as the late 1980s and the 1990s for the scale and scope of unexpected and divergent changes in the human condition. In some regions wealth increases and concentrates and consumerism flourishes to excess; in others war, famine and civil disorder bring destitution and death. The communications revolution is touching people's lives and transforming their awareness and aspirations, not only in the centres of prosperity in the North but also in the poor, rural and indigenous communities in the South. Almost everywhere, in different ways and in different directions, change seems to be the norm, and universally the pace of change is accelerating.

While this occurs, a new paradigm has been coalescing. The word 'paradigm' is used here to mean a mutually-reinforcing pattern of concepts, values, beliefs, methods and behaviours. The prevalent or normal paradigm tends towards global homogenization through the interlocking effects of the market, communications, technology and professionalism. The emerging paradigm of 'reversals' turns this normality on its head. It seeks and supports diversity in many dimensions. And it does this as a means to sustainable livelihoods and a good quality of life for all.

The normal

To appreciate reversals, we must first understand what is meant by the 'normal' paradigm and its dominant concepts, values, beliefs, methods and behaviour. Appreciating reversals means learning to be open to the realities as seen by the majority (but seldom heard) population, rather than the dominant minority. In the normal paradigm, which continues to dominate our world, four dimensions stand out as common and powerful:

o Bureaucracy - tends to centralize, standardize and control.

o Professionalism - creates and works in controlled environments with precise measurements, using reductionist methods which tend to generate standard and simple packages and solutions.

o Capitalism and markets - tend to homogenize all aspects of life, appropriating diverse resources and exploiting them in uniform, capitalintensive ways, and seeking a unified global market.

o Development/conservation - rely on blueprint planning and top-down control-orientated implementation, with targets and regimented actions at the local level. They distrust people and participation and result in the ring-fencing of projects, national parks etc.

These four dimensions have been mutally reinforcing. They have combined in many ways through centralization, standardization, control, reductionism and the appropriation of resources by the wealthy and powerful. Centralization, standardization and uniformity have always been inherent in the structure and dynamics of large bureaucracies and of the state: in the classical Fordist mass-production line; and in the practical universality of Newtonian science, with its applications in engineering, medicine and other fields which deal with physical things in predictable environments. In agriculture, this generated the Green Revolution packages in which environments could be controlled to fit standard, high-yielding genotypes. Henry Ford is reputed to have said that Americans could have their massproduced Model T Ford car in any colour they liked as long as it was black. Transfer of technology packages and large-scale cultivation of uniform moncultures are biological analogues of the Model T.

These tendencies link in and resonate with patterns of North-South dominance. North and South are used here in their literal sense and also as metaphors. Many relationships can be seen as North-South, as magnets generating their own mutually reinforcing fields (Fig. 6.1). The Norths, or Uppers, dominate the Souths, or Lowers. Each magnet, or person, reinforces the field through dominance and instruction, North to South, or submission and compliance, South to North. It is then difficult for any one magnet to flip round against the force of the pervasive magnetic field.

Chain reactions of dominance pass downwards. Let us assume that a World Bank staff member puts pressure on an official in a country in the

Figure 6.1 Dominance, reversals and freedom

South, who then pressurizes a subordinate, who does the same to another lower official, who turns on a field worker, who goes home in the evening and takes it out on his wife, who shouts at the children, who go out and throw stones at the dog which, conceivably, chases a cat . . .

Bureaucracies, professions and markets can be thought of as mutually reinforcing. Their normal North-South dominance standardizes and simplifies, generating and transferring monocultures and Model Ts. The challenge is to weaken the magnetic field which sustains these; to offset and neutralize the patterns of dominance. It is not to cause complete flips from South to North, for these repeat the paradigm, reproducing the old patterns with different actors on top - as with Robespierre after Louis XVI, Lenin after Tsar Nicholas, Mao after the Chinese emperors, or Mengistu after Haile Selassie. It is rather to replace the old paradigm with a new one; to loosen the relationships so that people are free to spin and relate laterally as well as upwards and downwards in an egalitarian and open manner.

Whose reality counts?

The reality which those who are central and powerful seek to construct is universal, simplified, standardized, stable, controlled and measurable. The concept of poverty is an example: in the usual economist's definition, poverty is reduced to the measurable, a single dimension which is either low income or low consumption. But deprivation as experienced by poor people is multi-dimensional, including vulnerability, isolation, physical weakness, powerlessness and humiliation. But what has been measured - as incomepoverty or consumption-povery - masquerades as the much larger reality. Poor people have many other criteria of well-being (Fig. 6.2). But normal economists define poverty not by the many dimensions of the experience of the poor, but by their own reductionism to a single measurable scale. It is then not the needs of the poor, but the needs of powerful professionals, which construct the dominant reality of poverty.

The contrasting reality of the livelihoods and farming systems of poor people is local, complex, diverse, dynamic and difficult to control or measure. Although normal professionals often fail to understand this, many poor people seek to complicate and diversify their livelihoods and farming systems. They add enterprises to increase production and reduce risk. Farming systems, like natural ecosystems, tend to be more resilient the more complex they become. So farmers create and protect microenvironments in which they cultivate greater biological diversity. They add to their enterprises, multiplying linkages on- and off-farm, for example through aquaculture, composting, agroforestry, adding to livestock species, and so on. By complicating and diversifying their farming systems and livelihoods they buffer themselves against bad times and shocks. Their motto, as coined by Porter et al. is 'More diversity for more certainty'. A recent estimate is that there are almost as many people in the world who depend for their food on these complex, diverse and risk-prone (CDR) farming systems as on the simpler, more standardized and more controlled Green Revolution farming.

Farmers and villagers in two villages in Rajasthan in India were asked to determine their own categories and criteria of changing economic status; they named 38 criteria. Comparing data from fieldwork in the 1960s and 1980s, Jodha found that the 36 households which were more than 5% worse off in per capita real incomes were on average better off according to 37 of their own 38 criteria. (The one exception was milk consumption, as more was being sold outside the village). The improvements included quality of housing, wearing shoes regularly, less dependence in the lean season, and not having to migrate for work. Several of the criteria reflected greater independence:

Indicator of well-being

% of households



One or more members working as attached or semi-attached labour



Residing on patron's land or yard



Taking seed loans from patrons



Taking loans from others besides patrons



Marketing farm produce only through patrons



Family members seasonally out-migrating for work



Selling ,80% of their produce in post-harvest period



Making cash purchases during slack-season festivals



Adults skipping third daily meal during scarcity period



Women and children wear shoes regularly



Houses with only impermanent traditional structure



Houses with separate provision for humans and animals



(Source: Jodha, 1988)

The reality of these income-poorer villages contrasts sharply with a normal economist's reality. The economist sees them as poorer, but in their own terms they were on average much better off.

Figure 6.2 For richer or poorer - whose reality?

Resilient and adaptable small CDR farmers have often found themselves at odds with the normal paradigm. They have been encouraged to adopt technologies developed for the standardized and controlled conditions which they do not have. What they want is not a Model T package of practices, certified by bureaucrats and scientists, for transfer to controlled and uniform conditions, but a basket of choices from which they can mix and match the combinations to enhance adaptability, reduce risk and increase returns for their particular needs and environments.

The normal and new paradigms can be contrasted (Fig. 6.3). The normal focuses on things, blueprints and planning; the new serves people through process and participation. Linked with these are contrasts between modes of intervention and interaction - between dominating and facilitating, 'motivating' end enabling, controlling and empowering. The normal is more the paradigm of the powerful, dominant and wealthy; the new reflects more the conditions and needs of the weak, subordinate and noon



Analytical assumptions and methods



Universally applicable

Locally chosen, adapted or invented

Working environment






Standard package

Basket of choices

'Model T'


Interactions with local








Dominant orientation










Figure 6.3 Two paradigms contrasted




Things first

People first

Men before women

Women before men

Professional set priorities

Poor people set priorities

Technology transfer - packages

Technology choice - baskets











Tying down (family)

Also releasing

Inwards (urban)

Also outwards

Upwards (hierarchy)

Also downwards


From 'above'

From 'below'

Rural development tourism

Rapid, relaxed and participatory appraisal

Questionnaire surveys

Ranking, scoring, judgement

Measurement and statistics






Figure 6.4 Reversals for diversity and realism

The challenge is to move from the normal to the new; for the powerful to ask themselves how normal professionals and centrally-placed bureaucrats construct their reality and how this contrasts with the reality of those who are local and poor. The questions then are Whose reality counts?', 'Whose reality should count?' and 'How can the reality of those who are local and poor count more??


The paradigm of reversals answers these questions by turning the normal on its head, and reversing imbalances and power (Fig. 6.4). It puts people first, seeks to redress gender balance by putting women before men? and seeks to enable poor people to set their own priorities and to make their own choices. Sustainable livelihoods are an equalizing focus of reversals. For the rich, sustainable livelihoods mean much lower consumption. For the poor, sustainable livelihoods require choices, adaptability, versatility, participation, enhancing capabilities, and supporting cultural, biological and ecological diversity.

In this paradigm, diversity is not a static quality to be preserved through capture and protection, but a function of the permanence of change. Diversity is sustained and enhanced through versatile opportunism, adaptability, and the creation and exploitation of physical and economic niches. There are resonances between the strategies of poor CDR farmers and the precepts of avant-garde, post-modern business management. For example, Tom Peters' Thriving on Chaos, which was written as advice for business in the US, stresses diversity, becoming obsessed with listening', finding and exploiting transient opportunities, inventiveness and learning from mistakes.

The three D's' of decentralization, democracy and diversity underpin the paradigm of reversals. They interlink with and support the capabilities of poor people and their dynamism in relation to the market (Figure 6.6). The challenges to achieve the empowerment of poor people are for bureaucracy to decentralize, for political systems to become more democratic, and for professionals to embrace and contribute to diversity and choices. Together, these can enable poor people in communities to cope better with, and make use of, the market without being dominated by it.

Figure 6.5 Reversing imbalances and power

For this local empowerment, four elements stand out:

o rights security and territory to empower local people to resist the drives of capitalist organizations to appropriate territory and resources, to standardize agroecologies, to diminish the biodiversity on which local livelihoods depend, to reduce the security of people, and to infringe their rights

o information to enable people to defend and manage their resources better, and to operate in and gain from the market

o organization and political action to countervail centrally-based dominance and exploitation

o analysis by local people themselves to enhance their effective command over resources and management of their lives. Local people's analytical capability has been vastly underrated in the past, partly because of the top-down approaches that have been used to 'help' people. New techniques and methods, such as Participatory Rural Appraisal (Boxes 6.5 and 6.6) are building on and complementing earlier approaches to empowerment through participatory appraisal, analysis, planning and action.

Reversals are gaining ground. Increasingly professionals in agriculture and forestry are providing diversity of choice rather than standard packages. Democratic decentralization is a widely-stated political objective in many countries. Many movements seeking to reverse centralizing standardization are achieving success. The challenge now is to establish firm alliances, networks, mutual support and exchange of insights to liberate the magnets from North-South dominance, allowing and enabling them to spin freely, offsetting the normal with reversals.

Primacy of the personal

The ultimate reversal is personal, yet this crucial dimension has been curiously neglected. 'Uppers' need to step down and to become allies, convertors, consultants and facilitators of 'Lowers'. This entails reversals and transfers of power, rights, claims and responsibilities, from centre to periphery and from strong to weak. It also entails some personal disempowerment for almost all peoples, since almost all are 'Uppers' in some of their relationships.

To induce these reversals, two approaches are needed:

o Confrontation, negotiation and persuasion. Quite often some conflict and tension is inevitable where change is implicated, which threatens, or is seen as threatening, to the powerful. This can apply to bureaucrats, business people, politicians and professionals.

o The satisfaction and rewards of disempowerment, mutuality', and altruism. These tend to be neglected. It can, however, be hugely satisfying for an individual to devolve power to others. Part of the challenge is to find new ways of enabling the powerful to save face, so that it is easier for them to 'hand over the stick', and to experience those satisfactions.

Faced with normal market capitalism, bureaucracy, politics, law and professionalism, the individual appears powerless: the forces seem too universal, too strong, too overwhelming to be affected by personal action. But the 'magnetic' fields of these forces are no more than the product of the habits and actions of individuals. If individuals change, so too do the fields. So an important step is to recognize the primacy of the personal, that every individual has an effect, that analysis and action can start with the individual. This is the final reversal to put the personal at the centre and on top. It is to recognize that individual action can make a difference; that we are not just the helpless victims of blind forces, but are collectively their creators; and that change comes about through accumulations of personal decisions to change and be different.


1. Jodha, N.S. (1988). Poverty Debate in India: A Minority View. Economic and Political weekly, special number, November, pp. 2421-28.

2. Porter, D., Bryant, A. and Thompson, G. (1991). More Diversity for More Certainty. Development in Practice: Paved with Good Intentions, Routledge. London and New York.

3. Pretty, J. (1995). Regenerating Agriculture. Earthscan. London.

4. Chambers, R. and Conway, G. (1992). Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st Century. Discussion Paper 296, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.

5. Peters, T. (1989). Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution. Pan Books. London.

6. Bulgarian Society for the Conservation of the Rhodopi Mountains and WWFlnternational (1995). Planning for conservation: Participatory Rural Appraisal for Community-Based Initiatives. Report of the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) Training Workshop held in Ostritza, Bulgaria, 14-22 June 1993. Gland, Switzerland.

7. Neefjes, K. et al. (1993). Participatory Environmental Assessment and Planning, for Development. Report of a workshop held in Cambodia in Nov/Dec 1992. Oxfam, Oxford, UK.