PCDForum Column #68,  Release Date January 25, 1994

by Atherton E. Martin

The development approaches currently pursued in the newly independent states of Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and parts of Latin American with the support of the World Bank and other major aid donors have created conditions that in many localities have eroded vital natural resources to the point that people are no longer able to sustain the most rudimentary levels of subsistence. They are as well impoverishing growing numbers of people by pushing them off their land, depriving them to access to other productive resources, reducing employment and wages, and eliminating essential services in the areas of health, housing and education. By converting agriculture to production of export crops they have left formerly food self-sufficient communities dependent on food imports and foreign aid.

For millions of poor rural people all over the world, the search for an alternative development approach has become a search for survival. They are responding with models of their own creation based on the premises that the fundamental purpose of a human economy is to satisfy human needs, and that the natural ecosystem is the foundation of all productive activity. While economists debate the meaning of sustainable development many of rural poor who are engaged in the creation of a peoples’ alternative are quite clear that it means skillfully combining human and natural resources to meet human needs in ways that do not destroy either human or natural systems. Some of the basic features of the alternative economies they are forging include :

  • Participation by the people that brings to bear popular knowledge and expertise in reshaping local production systems and putting in place the necessary supporting policies and programs.
  • Self-reliance based on increased use of available local expertise and raw materials to meet the needs of local people and reduce dependence on external inputs, technology and markets.
  • Equity in access to economic resources, services and the means to protect legal rights in return for contributing to the economic, social and environmental well-being of the community.
  • Sustainability in the production of goods and services through use of methods that enhance the natural resource base and leave it in an improved condition for use by future generations.

The most fundamental quality of the institutions the people are creating to support their alternative is that they enhance the participation of people in the economic, social and political life of their communities.

Unfortunately, people who have embarked on the creation of alternative local economies almost always find their efforts undermined by an international community of large aid agencies and trading partners who remain strongly committed to the failed trickle-down, export-led model of economic growth. Those in the international community who wish to pay more than lip service to sustainability and the elimination of poverty must give up this destructive model and join us in a development agenda that embraces women, food, sustainable livelihoods, health services, the environment, and regional unity as priorities. They can then work with us in our own efforts to convert our agriculture back to the production of food for our people to eat, in developing our abilities to process our own raw materials, and in linking the sectors of our emerging regional economy.

In the area of trade we need agreements that enable us to sell goods manufactured with local materials by local firms employing local workers under the same rights and working conditions that are guaranteed by the International Labor Organization and other relevant international conventions. We welcome help from those willing to stand with us in opposing efforts to undermine regional cooperation in the name of trade liberalization, as the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is attempting to do.

We seek a new model of balanced economic growth that reduces our dependence on imports of technology, raw materials and expertise and on production for export particularly those exports that do not generate linkages to the rest of the local and regional economy. We insist on setting the directions of our own development, and on linking to other cultures and economies on terms that enhance rather than violate the dignity of our people and the integrity and beauty of our environment.

Atherton E. Martin, former Minister of Agriculture of Dominica and former general secretary of the Dominican Farmers Union, is a director of the People-Centered Development Forum and works with the Windward Islands Farmer’s Association, 8 Jewel St., Roseau, Dominica, Caribbean. Fax (1-809) 448-3855. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on his article “People-Centered Development, Democracy and the Environment.”

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