The environment is among the most vital sectors that are constantly being subjected to monopoly and control attempts by multi-nationals that aim at integrating environmental resources such as land, water, and renewable energy into neoliberal markets. In doing so, those corporations aim at turning resources from services whose main purpose is serving citizens into commodities that should yield profit, hence putting pressure on locals whose livelihood depends on those resources and triggering a major deterioration in the living conditions of farmers, fishermen, shepherds, and others.
The aim of the paper: The paper attempts to envision a model for managing environmental resources within the framework of an alternative economy.
Hypotheses of the paper:
The paper is founded on the following hypotheses:
- Equal access to resources is among the basic requirements of social justice since discrepancies are bound to destabilize the economic conditions of social segments that depend for their livelihood on these resources.
- The more integrated environmental resources are in the market, the less their economic value.
- A rise in the monopoly of environmental resources is accompanied by, a drop in the sustainability levels of these resources.
The paper tackles the above-mentioned hypotheses through studying the reality of environmental resources and their management on the international level and the way this is reflected on the regional and local levels. This will be done through examining different approaches to the management of environmental resources and the dominant discourses in this field. The paper will also employ the case study methodology in order to look at a number of models in the management of environmental resources and to benefit from the comparative approach. The paper will make use of data that is available in secondary sources as well as collected via field research.
Pivots of the study:
The study will focus on a number of pivotal points:
First: The reality of environmental resources on the international level through examining the main approaches to resource management as well as surveying the dominant discourses in this regard.
Second: The reality of environmental resources on the regional level.
Third: Two main approaches to the management of resources: the exchange approach and the usufruct approach
Fourth: An introduction into equal access to resources
First: Environmental resources internationally:
“Poverty grows in step with affluence,” said American economists Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy in what can be considered the best statement on the contradictions inherent in the reality of the economic crisis through which the world is currently going. In fact, there is no actual shortage in resources, for the available resources are capable of catering to the needs of the earth’s population. In the 19thcentury, economist Robert Malthus warned that resources would no longer be capable to meet the needs of the population since the first increases at an arithmetic rate of 1, 2, 3, 4… etc. while the second increases at a geometric rate of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32… etc. . However, such predictions were deemed impossible since production technologies proved capable of satisfying the needs of the population across the world. However, it is in the best interest of many entities to keep promoting this theory in order to justify their constant attempts at monopolizing resources whereas their main purpose is maximizing profit while totally disregarding the negative impact this has on both the resources and the people who benefit from them .
1/1 Monopolizing natural resources:
Monopolizing natural resources takes several shapes, some of which will be tackled here in brief to demonstrate the impact such monopolies have on both the environment and the society.
1/1/1 Water resources:
There are 10 companies that control water resources across the world. The two French companies Veolia and Suez occupy the first and second positions with investments that exceed 67 billion dollars while the third position is occupied by the American ITT with investments estimated at 11 billion dollars. The British companies Severn Trent, United Utilities, and Thames Water occupy the fourth, fifth, and sixth positions with investments estimated at 9 billion dollars followed by two American companies: American Water in the seventh position (2.5 billion dollars) and GE Water in the eighth position (2.4 billion dollars). The ninth position is occupied by the Japanese Kurita Water Industries (2 billion dollars) and the tenth by the American Nalco Company (1.7 billion dollars).
1/1/2 Land resources:
A number of companies have lately been getting hold of lands in foreign countries, which is the case of the Saudi-affiliated Pharos Investment and Emirati and Egyptian companies that control 30 million hectares in Sudanese territories. In 2010, the Chinese Southern Africa Company controls 12,800 million hectares in Congo and the Saudi Bin Laden Company controls 2,100 hectares in Indonesia. In 2007 and 2008, the Chinese company ZTE controlled around two million hectares in Laos and the Philippines. In 2008, the Swedish-Saudi company controlled 900 thousand hectares in Tanzania and in 2009, the Emirati Abraj controlled 324,000 hectares in Pakistan while one of the Egyptian companies controls 840,000 hectares in Uganda. In South America Guernsey and Global Farming Limited control one million and 230,000 of arable lands in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
In the same context, the demand on food, fodder, and other forms of organic material extracted from plants in addition to strategic resources such as minerals and wood increase the usurpation of land on the international level. According to GRAIN Organization and the Polaris Institute, international investors aimed at controlling 50-80 million hectares of the global South. Two thirds of land deals in Africa take place south of the Sahara. In 2006, 14 million hectares—around 1% of the total arable land—were used in the production of bio fuel. A study predicts that by 2030, 35-54 million hectares—that is 2.5-3.8% of arable land—will be used for the production of bio fuel.
1/1/3 Plant seeds:
A few companies monopolize the seed market, which in 2009 was estimated at 27.400 billion dollars. The world’s 10 biggest seed companies monopolized in 2009 74% of the market, compared to 67% in 2007. Sales of this market were estimated at more than 20 billion dollars in 2009. It is noteworthy that only three of the 10 companies control 53% of the seed market, on top of which is, the American Monsanto.
1/2 Monopoly and growing poverty rates:
1/2/1 Excessive consumption and extreme hunger:
While 20% of the world population consume 70-80% of the world’s resources, 80% of the population consumes only 20% of these resources. In addition, industrial countries control 75-80% of natural resources, including forests and water, in different parts of the world through multinational corporations , which hinders free and equal access to these resources, hence leading to growing poverty rates and the spread of hunger across the planet in addition of course to the marginalization of a large segment of the world’s population.
That is why while the world is going through a phase of remarkable affluence; it is also suffering from remarkable scarcity with more than 1.3 billion people categorized as poor in 2012 and estimated at the time to reach 1.9 billion in 2014. Meanwhile, there is technically enough food for every single inhabitant on the planet. In 1985, the world produced around 500 kilograms per person of seeds and root crops, yet around 730 million people still suffered from hunger.
Between 1950 and 1985, production of seeds increased from 700 million tons to 1800 with an annual growth rate of around 2.7%. To protect profit rates, production of seeds started dropping so that by year 2000 it did not exceed 1850 million tons with a limited growth rate that did not exceed 1% for 15 whole years.
This led to the fact that around 30% of the world’s population are currently suffering from mal-nutrition since 826 million people are suffering from food shortage. Despite the drop of this number to 797 million in 2014, the world is still capable of producing what is enough for the seven billion that inhabit the planet. In fact, it is possible to produce food for 12 billion people.
In its report entitled “Our Common Future,” the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development argued that the spread of hunger on a large scale across the world is not the result of food shortage, but is rather attributed to the poor’s lack of purchasing power . Even though 40 years have passed since this report was released, the same conditions that trigger a growth in hunger and mal-nutrition still persist.
1/2/2 Growing poverty rates:
In 1999, 2.8 billion people lived on less than two dollars per day, including 1.2 billion who lived on less that one dollar per day. South Asia is considered the poorest region in the world with 490 million living on an average one dollar per day, followed by sub-Saharan Africa where 300 million live on the same amount then East Asia and the Pacific except China.
1/2/3 Unequal distribution of resources:
The 1992 Human Development Report stated that in 1960, rich countries were 30 times richer than poor countries, yet this gap increased to 150 times in the 1990s and is irreversible . The report highlighted growing income inequality on the international level since the income that the richest 1% get is equal to that of the poorest 57%. In the United States, the income of the richest 10% is equal to that of the poorest 43%, which means that the income of 25 million Americans is equal to that of around two billion of the world’s population. The same report notes that the income of the world’s richest 5% is 114 times higher than that of the poorest 5%. The situation was aggravated starting 2016 when 1% of the world’s population turned out to own half of the world’s wealth.
1/2/4 Environmental encroachment:
There are several manifestations of environmental encroachment that are triggered by unequal distribution of resources across the world. This is mainly demonstrated in the desertification of millions of hectares of land in addition to more than 10 million hectares of forests that are destroyed on annual basis. Meanwhile, only an average of a million hectare of trees are planted every year with a ratio of 1:10 in comparison to the number of trees in the past. This ratio has, in fact, increased to 1:20 in the present time. Ongoing desertification and is expected to reduce productivity rates across the globe, hence leading to a remarkable drop in growth rates.
The same applies to three million hectares of pastureland, 1,710 million hectares of rainfed cropland, 27 million hectares of irrigated land in addition to the extreme draining of fisheries on the global level . This is the result of a number of factors, among which is acid rain that damages forests and lakes as well as increases the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn leads to the gradual temperature increase across the world.
Second: Environmental resources regionally:
Monopoly of natural resources in the Arab region is one the main aspects of imposing neoliberal policies that serve the interests of multinational corporations or local and regional agents that work for them. Countries in the Gulf region monopolize, for example, large swathes of land, both for agricultural and urban purposes. In Egypt, 3% of agricultural capitalists monopolize 37% of arable land in the country while 8% of women farm 7% of arable land. This unequal distribution was part of the restructuring of the agriculture sector in Egypt through issuing law number 96 for the year 1992 on the liberation of tenant-owner relationship in arable lands. This law aimed at concentrating land ownership to encourage large-scale commercial agriculture in order to make more profit. This had a negative impact of small farmers as around 431,000 tenants who financially supported an estimated two million were forced to leave the land they cultivated, hence resulting in the rise of the number of farmers without land to one million.
In Tunisia, many arable lands are given to investors. In 1970, 40% of state-owned land, originally estimated at 828,000 hectares, was given away. Meanwhile, 336 companies with national or joint capital control 240,000 hectares of the remaining 500,000 and those companies only employ 12,000 farmers . Another aspect of unequal access to arable land is manifested in the fact that 1% of the owners of more than 100 hectares control 22% of the total land resources while 54% of farmers in Tunisia cultivate 11% of arable land. As for women, the percentage of owners does not exceed 9% who cultivate only 4% of the total arable land.
In Lebanon, according to 2010 census, 68% of farmers cultivate 18% of the total arable land and their lands do not exceed 10 Dunams each while 26% cultivate 41% of the total land and their lands do not exceed 40 Dunams each. On the other hand, 4% cultivate 18% of arable and their lands are estimated at 40-100 Dunams each and 2% cultivate 33% of the land and their lands exceed 100 Dunams each.
Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon have an issue of crop seed monopoly as international seed companies control more than 70% of the seed market in the three countries. This particularly applies to companies like Monsanto and Syngenta.
Third: Approaches to tackling natural resources:
3/1 The tradability approach:
Economic theories that attempt to estimate the value of natural resources differ in their approach. Some schools argue that it is necessary to set a price to those resources and that this will not be possible except through utilizing their exchange value based on the assumption that they can be tradable. This means natural resources are to be made available in exchange markets then calculating their price based on their value in the market in order to reach a fair price. This means that land resources, fisheries, and pollution rights among others can be offered in the market or in auctions.
Janet N. Abramovitz criticizes this approach by arguing that the value of natural resources differs from one place to another and depending on the people that are in direct contact with these resources. This, she adds, would eventually lead to having different values for the same item. Forests, for example, can be seen to have little economic value even though they are of extreme importance to the ecosystem and to human beings since they constitute the natural habitat of insect pollinators and serve as a reservoir of pharmaceutical materials that protect potential life. Added to this is their role in controlling floods and winds, protecting the soil from erosion and increasing its fertility, maintaining the ecological balance through the photosynthesis process that produces oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide, and slowing down global warning. Such benefits are technically priceless and their value cannot be calculated according to standard economic rules, hence the difficulty in determining the price of forests through the tradability approach. The only way to determine the price of forests through traditional means is to uproot the trees and sell their wood or construct fisheries or residential units on the land, which again is not possible.
Several examples from across the world reflect how tricky it is to deal with natural resources commercially. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bangladesh opened large markets for selling frogs legs, which led to a remarkable increase in the number of insects frogs used to feed on. This, in turn, led to a 25% increase in insecticide imports so that by 1989 Bangladesh had spent on 30 million dollars on insecticides, which was three times the amount it earned from exporting frogs legs. When the frogs’ legs market closed, frogs went back to their natural numbers and the money spent on insecticides dropped remarkably.
In the same context, many promote monoculture, or growing a single crop in particular land, which they argue is much more profitable and productive than crop rotation or sequence, also called polyculture. However, in 1949 and 1950 China lost 90% of its plant gene assets and different types of wheat and in the past 20 years Indonesia lost 1,500 local types of rice as a result of following that model . The adoption of monoculture in the United States in 1920s led to tragic consequences that were reflected on both farmers and the land. This was expressed in John Steinbeck’s famous novel Grapes of Wrath.
3/2 Usufructuary value of natural resources:
This school is founded on the necessity of distinguishing between value and wealth when evaluating natural resources since using the market for measuring the value of these resources undermines the natural basis of their wealth, a concept that is totally different from that of value.
In 1994, a new concept called the “ecological footprint” was coined by Canadian researchers Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees. The ecological footprint is defined as the area of land and sea biologically required for the sustainable survival of human beings. This footprint was used to measure environmental damage, called “environmental footprint.” Wackernagel and Rees also developed a system of measurement that compares the consumption of communities/countries to their ability at renewal. They reached the conclusion that the vital ability of the planet equals 2.1 planet Earths per person, which meant that in the mid-1990s 13.2 planet Earths were available for 6.3 billion people. However, average consumption during the same period was estimated at 2.7 planet Earths with a major discrepancy between developed and developing countries with the former consuming four times the global average. Based on this measurement, the gap between the prints of different countries were compared to find out that the consumption of each individual in northern countries is eight times that of the south. The ecological print of an American citizen amounts to 12 Earths and a French citizen 8 while it drops to two in Asia and half in Africa.
Fourth: Access to natural resources:
4/1 Diversity versus monoculture:
The majority of biologists and ecological scientists underline the benefits of diversity as the basic source of ecological balance and stress that the wealth of nature and the sustainability of life in it is mainly attributed to its diversity. Contemporary evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr argues that mathematics and determinism are not the proper approaches to sciences like biology and ecology and that they are to be replaced by dynamic methodologies that focus on diversity and natural selection .
In addition, biological diversity has numerous benefit, including for example the following:
- Every living creature has a potential benefit for human beings even if this benefit is not known in the present. This was demonstrated in the discovery of the benefits of several types of fungus and different minute organisms that later turns into important natural resources.
- The absence of any living creature can jeopardize the ecological system. For example, the absence of soil bacteria affects fertility, hence having a negative impact on crops, the absence of certain types of butterflies hinders the transfer of pollen grains, hence interrupting the pollination process, and the absence of some earth worms affects the aeration and tilling of the soil, both extremely necessary for facilitating plant growth and to maintain a healthy soil.
4/2 Food sovereignty versus food security:
The concept of food sovereignty is one of the most controversial on the global level owing to how associated it is with access to food security both in terms of production and consumption. Until now, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) does not recognize the concept of food sovereignty and only deals with food security, which focuses on the quantitative dimension of food crops and works on bridging the food gap through a number of modern technologies such as genetic engineering which increases production in a given piece of land regardless of environmental repercussions and the impact on the soil. Food security, therefore, renders agricultural investment based on increased productivity an aim in itself.
On the other hand, food sovereignty involves a set of criteria that include merging the different components which constitute the process of producing food within a participatory framework. Such framework encompasses the farmers’ equal access to land and water resources and ties the farming process with the rights of those involved in it especially small farmers and women as well as making the cultivation of land a means of providing for the people whose lives are linked with in a sustainable manner and protecting this land from the monopoly of corporations and investors.
4/3 Usufruct versus private property:
Usufruct is one of the most important means of accessing natural resources and among the basic foundations of an alternative economy. Usufruct can apply to natural resources such as land and water and can be bequeathed to members of the family that work in farming. The same can apply to fishing rights.
4/4 Participatory markets versus exchange markets:
Pricing natural resources is one of the main foundations of neoliberal production since the value of these resources is measured based on how much money they can get in exchange markets. However, such approach can, in fact, damage natural resources and render their sustainability selective since it will turn these resources into a commodity that is subjected to market fluctuations, which will undoubtedly have a negative impact on both productivity and the people who depend of these resources for their livelihood. That is why adopting a participatory approach based on communal benefiting of natural resources is what preserves the real value of these resources and renders this value useful to all those linked to the resources in addition of course to moving beyond the commodification of natural resources.
4/5 Open resources versus biological piracy:
Bridging the food gap will only be possible through making natural resources accessible for both producers and consumers. This means that fishermen should have access to river and sea water and farmers should have access to land, which necessitates facing different forms of piracy as manifested in the usurpation of arable land, fishing water, or plant gene assets. In the past, farmers exchanged seeds freely, which allowed them to preserve the available species and come up with new ones, which contributed to the concept of diversity. In fact, many studies note that technological advancement is more effective under open access to resources since all parties are given the chance to take part in the progress, which naturally happens much faster in this case. This stands in stark contrast to imposing patents on all renewal sources whether land, plants, or animals, which undermines biological diversity, hence jeopardizes the ecological balance.
4-6 Participatory management of natural resources:
Cooperatives based on free and participatory management constitute the basic foundation for establishing the small production model and for starting a solidarity economy that depends on the communal use of natural resource and the creation of participatory markets so that production and consumption are integrated. Communal ownership and common use of natural resources in the absence of monopolizing practices allow members of cooperatives to acquire the necessary experience for the management of natural resources and for exchanging this experience with members of other cooperatives working the same field. Cooperatives are also an important tool for economic empowerment whether for their members or for producers and consumers as all become active players in the participatory markets from which monopolizing policies that bring about impoverishment and deprivation are excluded. This management model hinders the reproduction of all forms of inequality in access to natural resources and which have an extremely negative effect on both the resources and the people that rely on them.
Access to natural resources necessitates a number of measures, the most important of which is stopping monopolizing practices by individuals or companies. Land, seas, rivers, and gene asset of animals and plants are by definition communal property and cannot be controlled by a minority that deprives the majority of access and even if there are laws that allow that then they are unjust ones that need to be modified. Striving for fair access to natural resources is a battle between a camp that prioritizes profit while turning a blind eye to environmental and human repercussions and another that aims at achieving sustainable development and protecting the interests of people whose life depends on these resources which the first camp treats as a commodity.
Replacing monopoly with a participatory model is an integral part towards achieving equality in access to natural resources. Such model should be applied throughout the different phases of the process in which natural sources are utilized starting from the use of land and water through cultivating crops and exchanging seeds to establishing a market in which both producers and consumers are granted their full rights. This is to be done with special emphasis on the rights of small farmers and women, who are usually marginalized under the monopolizing system. Cooperatives play a major role in this model since it is through them that natural resources are managed communally and expertise is exchanged in a manner that benefits members, producers, and consumers alike.
Life is simply comprised of resources, for people are a resource and so is nature and both are to be utilized fairly in order to respond to the demands of the community without encroaching upon these resources. If people are not educated and trained well enough to become as valuable as natural resources, they will turn into a burden on the community as is the case in a number of developing countries, hence the necessity of developing both natural and human resources simultaneously.
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 Ibid, p.62