ABN's Perspective on Global Context
The 21st century has seen a rapid spread of global values that have focused on economic growth, consumption and individualism. These values are often at odds with the common good and values rooted in traditional cultures that encourage people to live in harmony with their ecosystems. The market based economic development model - promoted across the world including in Africa – has driven this shift in values; an economic model of development that concentrates power in the hands of few and drives land privatisation and grabbing, commoditisation of all aspects of life, and industrialised agricultural production systems that are heavily dependent on chemicals.
These changes are disconnecting people from their key livelihood sources, their environment, culture, values and community cohesion. People’s ability and right to meet their needs individually or collectively outside of a globalise market economy is being eroded.
As the impact of these globalizing market forces spread, the livelihoods and ecosystems of communities in Africa are increasingly threatened. Their ability to be self-sufficient and to grow their own food is taken away as seed, knowledge, land, water, and biodiversity are privatised and local control is lost. Biodiversity is being destroyed as traditional values, norms and practices for its protection and management are undermined by governments across Africa, which give precedence to laws that fail to protect customary laws, traditional knowledge and community rights. Formal education systems also provide little space for learning about customary ecological practices, norms and values relevant to rural livelihoods, and instead, focus mostly on building the skills of individuals to become employees within a consumer society.
The extent to which monetary driven economies have increased or decreased poverty, hunger, inequality, resource degradation, and informal social safety nets within communities is widely contested. Many development thinkers and practitioners, while acknowledging that economic development has benefited some, recognise that it has also impoverished millions who are left increasingly unprotected and insecure within their own society, a marginalisation within the economic system which is exacerbated by environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.
However there are opportunities in the external environment that ABN can build on. First, there is increasing recognition of the rights of local and indigenous peoples, their ecological governance systems, and the importance of developing and testing their own solutions to challenges such as climate change and food insecurity.
Secondly, the rising number of extreme weather events has increased the debate among people everywhere about the effects of human activity on the environment, and how changes in the environment are affecting the climate. As environmental awareness increases, spaces to speak about biodiversity and traditional systems for its protection have widened. Funding opportunities to identify, support, and communicate alternative solutions that promote human and ecological wellbeing have increased. In addition, the recent global financial crisis has caused widespread questioning of the sustainability and fairness of free market global capitalism resulting in greater consideration of alternatives.
Thirdly, within Africa there are a growing number of networks collaborating and forming alliances on issues related to promotion and protection of the wellbeing of people and nature. Working together, these networks are becoming strong advocates for change, providing opportunities to raise the profile of issues of common concern from African communities. Many of these networks have links with partners in other parts of the world and access to information, strategies, and support to raise African voices. For instance precedent-setting legal cases and policy processes in other parts of the world are helping to open up space for communities to protect their ecosystems and the results of these cases are shared widely, and can be used to support policy processes in Africa.
The current crises in the world financial systems, the large fluctuations in food and oil prices, the land grab by rich countries to safeguard their food supply, and growing evidence of climate change, challenge the economic system and provide an opportunity for alternatives that are more just for people and nature. These conditions also provide opportunities to challenge the solutions proposed to perpetuate this failing economic model, such as genetic engineering, high input chemical agriculture and large-scale agrofuels.
During this period, neo-liberal economic development policies have spread across Africa and inequality and poverty has grown. Globally, human induced climate change has become ever more visible as severe weather (floods, cyclones and drought) wreak havoc on people and nature. In the midst of these changes many African rural communities are struggling to protect their livelihoods and their customary rights to use and control their territories. Historically, indigenous knowledge and practices in rural African communities, promoted a more balanced use of natural resources so that a healthy ecosystem was maintained. These traditional practices protect microclimates and ensure that such areas have more resilience in the face of climate change. However these African communities and their practices that promote healthy eco-systems are under ever-greater threat from economic “development” and investment projects.
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