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Why the world needs an African ecofeminist future, African Argument March 12, 2019

Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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Orthodox economic models have failed us all, but women across Africa are resisting them and coming up with visionary alternatives

By Fatima KelleheAfrican Argument

African ecofeminism: Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer.

Women in Africa are often at the forefront of campaigns for sustainability, justice and sovereignty. Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer.

We need an “African ecofeminist future”. And by we, I don’t just mean Africa, I mean everyone.

I say this for two reasons. Firstly, Africa is now the “final frontier” for economic models that have already ecologically compromised the rest of the planet. Not long ago touted as the world’s “basket case” but now covetously viewed as its future breadbasket, a sustainable alternative in Africa is possibly the final bastion against global environmental degradation.

Secondly, women and feminist activists are already on the front line of the battle for ecological sustainability on the continent. Their everyday struggles, uncompromised commitment, and willingness to envision a radical future in which justice, equity and rights harmonise with environmental sovereignty have the potential to save us all.

So what is ecofeminism, and why African ecofeminism specifically? Ecofeminist activism grew out of feminist, peace, and ecology movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Intersectional ecofeminism also underscores the importance of gender, race, and class, interlinking feminist concerns with human oppressions within patriarchy and the exploitations of a natural environment that women are often more reliant upon but also its guardians in many cultural contexts.

But whilst the broader movement has sometimes been bogged down in a divisive debate over whether gendered associations with nature essentialise women, movements engaged in feminist and ecological activism in Africa have simply gotten busy building strategic and political alliances between women, nature, and protection of the environment.

Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement arguably epitomise the essence of African ecofeminism and the collective activism that defines it. As the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004, Maathai highlighted the close relationship between African feminism and African ecological activism, which challenge both the patriarchal and neo-colonial structures undermining the continent. Lesser -known activists, however, have also long been at the intersection of gender, economic, and ecological justice.

Ruth Nyambura of the African Eco Feminist Collective, for example, uses radical and African feminist traditions to critique power, challenge multinational capitalism, and re-imagine a more equitable world. Organisations like African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction (WoMin) campaign against the devastation of extractive industries. Meanwhile, localised organising is also resisting ecologically-damaging corporatisation: in South Africa, Women Mapella residents fought off land grabs by mining companies; in Ghana, the Concerned Farmers Association, led largely by women, held mining companies accountable for pollution of local watersheds; and in Uganda, women of the Kizibi community seed bank are preserving local biodiversity in the face of the commercialisation of seeds by corporate multinationals.

These activists on these front lines are fighting back, but they are also offering visions of alternative development models that demand both gender and economic justice. In doing so, they ask us all to reconsider what constitutes “progress” in the first place.

Women, the environment and biodiversity

African women are often at the heart of communities dealing with huge changes related to economic development and shoulder the burden of environmental mismanagement. These concerns are multi-layered, and range from agrarian justice through to extractivism, but one issue that particularly clearly demonstrates the importance of African ecofeminism today is the threat to seed biodiversity.

This is an increasingly worrying concern. In the 20th century, an alarming 75% of crop biodiversity was lost, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, and this trend has continued since. In the last decade, for example, Europe and Central Asia have seen 42% of their terrestrial animal and plant species decline in population size, partially due to intensive agriculture and forestry practices, with more natural resources being consumed than produced.

Currently, the Green Revolutions seen in Europe, the US and, more recently, parts of Asia – which have involved moving from subsistence agriculture to industrialised farming, cash cropping and mono cropping – remain at the forefront of thinking around economic growth and food security. However, there is increasing evidence that this corporate-driven vision, which has dominated development trajectories over the last century, has failed on several fronts.

Not only has it failed to address hunger despite overproduction, it has indirectly reinforced biodiversity losses and therefore nature’s more holistic contributions to a sustainable environment. Before the Green Revolution in India, for example, there were roughly 50,000 varieties of rice. Within 20 years, this dropped to just 40. This has resulted in the loss of crops once part of diverse food baskets as well as a degradation of farmers’ ownership and control over seeds.

Seed sovereignty is therefore a key pillar of ecofeminism, and the relationship between seed biodiversity and women is particularly critical. Women, who are often central to domestic food production, are also frequently the custodians of seeds that reproduce balanced, varied and nutritional diets. In Africa, female farmers often preserve diverse (and indigenous) crops that remain off the cash-cropping agenda, from myriad varieties of spinach and cassava to the less well-known acha, a paleo grain native to parts of the Sahel.

Among other things, women’s indigenous knowledge around seeds and their selection, storage, and planting of diverse and often hardy crops increase climate resilience, placing them right on the frontline of the battle against climate change. By contrast, extensive mono-cropping has actually made agriculture more vulnerable to pests, disease and drought, often leading to a dependence on the pesticides and fertilisers produced by the same companies that sell the commercial seeds now being pushed across Africa.

Indeed, commercial seed capture on the continent is on the rise, with corporate-invested pushes towards regulations that authorise the planting of only selected seeds. Hybrid seeds aimed at maximising yields in particular are being prioritised. This is deeply problematic as hybrid seeds cannot be replanted, meaning farmers must buy new ones each season. Through this, farmers lose their autonomy, while the women who’ve been custodians of seed knowledge for centuries are disempowered. The commercialisation of seeds is therefore not just reducing variety and undermining climate resilience, but also compromising food sovereigntyas a small cabal of multi-nationals monopolise the market.

Visioning something better

An info-graphic making the social media rounds a few years ago highlighted that if everyone on the planet consumed like in the United States, we would need 4.4 Planet Earths. The reality that accepted models of development are unsustainable is no longer news to most. Meanwhile, there is a growing public awareness around threats to biodiversity and climate resilience as well as of the tensions that have arisen as a result of corporate-driven agricultural agendas.

And yet, most African governments remain anchored to the idea of a Western-inspired green revolution, and are beholden to donor support (from the West as well as China) that is often invested in agribusiness expansion. Policy spaces still rarely welcome the voices of smallholder farmers and those working at the grassroots, leaving alternative positions and challenges to orthodox models of economic development on the margins of regional and global tables where decisions are brokered.

Undeterred, however, ecofeminists continue to fight at the coalface of this struggle. From Ghana to South Africaand beyond, women-organised seed-sharing initiatives continue to resist corporatisation. Activists like Mariama Sonko in Senegal continue to lead on agroecological farming initiatives for localised and sustainable food production.

Ultimately, the crisis of Africa’s current trajectory is a crisis of visioning: the inability of the continent’s leaders to imagine a process of development less destructive, more equitable, less unjust, more uniquely African, and – quite simply – more exciting. The positions, passions, and holistic approaches offered by African ecofeminism provide key ingredients for an alternative to the capital-centric ideals of economic growth that have defined progress so far. These have not only wreaked havoc on global ecological sustainability but have failed to deliver a genuinely equitable or just society anywhere. It’s time to start dreaming and delivering an African future that can do better than that.

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Resource extraction responsible for half world’s carbon emissions, The Guardian March 12, 2019

Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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Extraction also causes 80% of biodiversity loss according to comprehensive UN study,
Jonathan Watts, The Guardian

However, they said this dire scenario could be avoided if there is a faster transition towards renewables, smarter urban planning to reduce the demand for concrete, dietary changes to lower the need for grazing pastures and cut levels of waste (currently a third of all food), and a greater focus on creating a cyclical economy that re-uses more materials. They also called for a switch of taxation policies away from income and towards carbon and resource extraction.’

Massive dump trucks by the Syncrude upgrader plant, Canada.
 Massive dump trucks by the Syncrude upgrader plant, Canada. The tar sands are the largest industrial project on the planet, and the world’s most environmentally destructive. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Extraction industries are responsible for half the world’s carbon emissions and more than 80% of biodiversity loss, according to the most comprehensive environmental tally ever undertaken of mining and farming.

While this is crucial for food, fuel and minerals, the study by UN Environment warns the increasing material weight of the world’s economies is putting a more dangerous level of stress on the climate and natural life-support systems than previously thought.

Resources are being extracted from the planet three times faster than in 1970, even though the population has only doubled in that time, according to the Global Resources Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Each year, the world now consumes more than 92b tonnes of materials – biomass (mostly food), metals, fossil fuels and minerals – and this figure is growing at the rate of 3.2% per year.

Since 1970, extraction of of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased from 6bn tonnes to 15bn tonnes, metals have risen by 2.7% per year, other minerals (particularly sand and gravel for concrete) have surged nearly fivefold from 9bn to 44bn tonnes, and biomass harvests have gone up from 9bn to 24bn tonnes.

Up until 2000, this was a huge boost to the global economy, but since then there has been a diminishing rate of return as resources become more expensive to extract and the environmental costs become harder to ignore.

“The global economy has focused on improvements in labour productivity at the cost of material and energy productivity. This was justifiable in a world where labour was the limiting factor of production. We have moved into a world where natural resources and environmental impacts have become the limiting factor of production and shifts are required to focus on resource productivity,” says the study.

The economic benefits and environmental costs are broken down by sector. Land use change – mostly for agriculture – accounts for over 80% of biodiversity loss and 85% of water stress as forests and swamps are cleared for cropland that needs irrigation. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions.

The biggest surprise to the authors was the huge climate impact of pulling materials out of the ground and preparing them for use. All the sectors combined together accounted for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions – even before accounting for any fuel that is burned.

“I would never have expected that half of climate impacts can be attributed to resource extraction and processing,” said Stefanie Hellweg, one of the authors of the paper. “It showed how resources are hiding behind products. By focusing on them, their tremendous impact became apparent.”

The paper highlights growing inequalities. In rich countries, people consume an average of 9.8 tonnes of resources a year, the weight of two elephants. This is 13 times higher than low incomes groups. Much of this is unseen because huge amounts of materials are often needed for a small end product, such as a mobile phone.

Izabella Teixeira, former environment minister of Brazil, said the report highlighted how rich consumer nations have exported environmental to poor producing countries. With this model now hitting climate and biodiversity boundaries that affect everyone on the planet, she said it was time for change. “Currently decisions are being based on the past but we need to base them on the future. That means leadership.”

Where leadership could come from is difficult to see in the current political environment. The US and Brazil are slashing existing environmental regulations. China has moved ahead on renewables and pollution, but its growth is even more material-intensive than developed nations. According to the report, Asia is driving the fastest demand for minerals among upper-middle income countries, which now – because of their big populations – have a greater combined material weight than wealthy nations.

Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth

 Read more

The authors said it was essential to decouple economic growth from material consumption. Without change, they said resource demand would more than double to 190bn tonnes per year, greenhouse gases would rise by 40% and demand for land would increase by 20%.

However, they said this dire scenario could be avoided if there is a faster transition towards renewables, smarter urban planning to reduce the demand for concrete, dietary changes to lower the need for grazing pastures and cut levels of waste (currently a third of all food), and a greater focus on creating a cyclical economy that re-uses more materials. They also called for a switch of taxation policies away from income and towards carbon and resource extraction.

“It is possible to grow in a different way with fewer side effects. This report is clear proof that it is possible and with higher growth,” said Janez Potočnik, co-chair of International Resource Panel and former environment commissioner for the European Union. “It’s not an easy job to do, but believe me the alternative is much worse.”