Drought is inevitable but famine is man made…

Not a quote from a development organisation, but from photographer Rankin, after doing a photo shoot for Oxfam.

Coming to the end of the year, and continuing to some degree the theme of the previous post, a few home thoughts from abroad. Living in a country riven with poverty, with a political system and infrastructure which at times seems almost non-existent and with a population which appears paralysed by decades of fatalism, its been difficult, (for me at least) to assess the impact of soaring inflation, a worldwide recession and lowering demand on Nepal.

Business as usual? John Callaway 2010

Business as usual? John Callaway 2010

There’s been no high profile equivalent of the Occupy Wall Street campaign, or the riots in the UK which took up so much of the news reporting on the BBC World Service a couple of months ago. This is neither the time or place for debate about the motives of those who took part [!!], but woe betide anyone who dared to “… argue that government economic policy had helped create conditions for unrest. On no account must social context be permitted to dilute the orgy of self-gratifying condemnation, it appears…” [Dave Hill. Guardian 11/8/2011]

What is clear is that billions of people worldwide are in food and fuel poverty, with agriculture and land being the battleground. Arguably conflict is an inevitable and integral part of societies and indicator of the social change process. Conflict is fluid and ambiguous. Different people interpret it differently. It emerges from a difference in needs, goals, perspectives or values, feelings of unfairness, injustice, mistrust, misunderstandings, clashes of interest, rapid changes from new technologies, commercialisation of common property resources, privatisation of public services, growing consumerism, faulty government policies to name but a few. And yet those on the ground are not included in the debate, and are becoming increasingly marginalised.

Land is one of the main sources of conflict. It exists because land is an economic, social, cultural, psychological and political asset. Conflict can be articulated in simple terms such as access and control of land resources; competition or greed; lack of understanding of the land/people relationship; land as a political tool; development interventions and land disputes; ambiguity over ownership and contradictory legal arrangements; and increased interdependence over land (landscape and land use).

Land...the new battlefield? John Callaway 2010

Land...the new battlefield? John Callaway 2010

There is a demographic pressure on land. The expected median projection of world population will be 9.1 billion by 2050. (UN, 2009). A rise in population leads to an increase in demand for food, space (land), water, energy and other scarce resources which ultimately triggers fierce competition. Scarcity-led competition may provide a breeding ground for violent conflict. There is much evidence that climate change and resource scarcity are closely linked. For the 70% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas, agriculture is the main source of income and employment. But depletion and degradation of land and water pose serious challenges to producing enough food and other agricultural products to sustain livelihoods here and meet the needs of urban populations. (Source: World Bank).

Land use. A question of balance? John Callaway 2011

Land use. A question of balance? John Callaway 2011

The issue of land grabbing and its acquisition by foreign users,is becoming a major worldwide phenomenon, either through leases or purchases and/or investment, either by multinational companies or oil-rich but food-hungry countries. The UK isn’t entirely blameless in this, as yet more land gets taken away from those who can best use it to produce food for their fellow countrymen and women.  More fuel to the fire perhaps?

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