West’s Ideas Aggravated Poverty and Deforestation

KASAMA Vol. 24 No. 4 / October-November-December 2010 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

West’s Ideas Aggravated Poverty and Deforestation

By Michael A. Bengwayan,
Director, Cordillera Ecological Center

Michael A. Bengwayan

There is a failing attempt to curve down the fast growing index of poverty and deforestation in many developing countries because attempts to do so were based on the neo-Malthusian perception that these phenomena are the results of high population growth and low agricultural productivity.

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, two leading financing institutions that dictated the pace of solving poverty vis-à-vis deforestation, proposed and still adhere that to close the gap between population growth and low yields, labor and land-saving technologies from the West were the answers.

Well, they are not. And these hardly helped at all. In many cases, it worsened the lot of already impoverished communities. This approach proved too often a misleading guide. The diffusion of the new technologies was related to agroclimatic and socio-economic conditions and was introduced in a pattern of sequential cycles.

This process led to homogenous technological packages within a context of extreme ecological, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Mechanization came after the technologies, then pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, hybrids and now GMOs.

The coming of technological innovation disregarded the climatic diversity and ecological complexity such that rural poverty worsened because the resource poor farmers were pushed by structural forces to become agents of erosion and deforestation by advancing the agricultural frontier into fragile ecosystems.

In the agricultural belt of northern Philippines alone, some 50,000 hectares of forest lands were lost to farming in just 20 years.

The technological development championed by international agricultural research centers ran field experiments with state of the art laboratories and declared success in many experiments. Something which could not be realistic in farmers’ fields.

These massive efforts in ramming down technological adoption to the throats of farmers resulted to severe ecological trade-offs. By disregarding the “production rationale” of local farmers, modernization efforts caused disruption of traditional farming systems which were sustainable.

Most agroecologists now say that the development of an appropriate technology for farmers will require the combination of traditional as well as modern agricultural knowledge and practices.

To my mind, two scientific paradigms, agroecology and ethnoecology stand out as effective ways. Simply said, these methods include, traditional home gardens, permaculture, agroforestry and integrated farming systems. All four have been scoffed-off by scientists earlier for decades.

Now, they may be the only solution we have.