Pig-ignorant rich sideline poor

The Companion to Development Studies - People-Oriented Approaches in Global Conservation
June 28, 2002

Heads of state who are travelling to this summer's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg or who are worrying why so many refugees are massing at our borders would do well to pause and reflect on the pigs' tale. In 1982, the United States Agency for International Development decided to take away a key security of livelihood from some of the most forgotten people in the world. Driven by claims that the indigenous Creole pig harboured African swine fever and was a threat to US farmers, USAid decided that every pig on the poverty-stricken Caribbean island of Haiti must be killed. After administering the slaughter in the face of protests from the pauperised and uncompensated Haitian peasants, the US then funded the import of American white pigs, which were unsuited to a scavenging lifestyle and soon died. Having already suffered half a century of brutal Pentagon-backed dictatorships, many Haitians resorted to boarding makeshift rafts, on which they continue to this day to attempt the treacherous journey to the country whose "development" policies have played such a large part in impoverishing them.

School pupils might hear stories such as this in geography lessons or in leaflets from campaign groups. Meanwhile, in academia, a range of research fields that deal with the former European colonies, and efforts to alleviate their poverty, have been refashioned into a discipline called "development studies". Vandana Desai and Robert Potter's Companion to this emerging field is a worthy attempt at a broad survey that questions whether the development paradigm is part of the problem.

Whichever labels are used - developed and developing, first and third world, North and South - a dominant discourse in western culture is that a distinct group of nations contains a majority population with a high standard of living, while another group of countries contains large numbers of people who barely survive. Furthermore, richer nations have a moral duty to help these marginalised people attain basic rights. As the language of overseas development replaced that of imperial administration during the 1960s, so development studies was born. Given that Britain ran the largest colonial empire of all, it is perhaps unsurprising that this field has flourished in Britain.

As several contributors to the Companion point out, the dichotomy between rich and poor nations does as much to obfuscate the causes of poverty as it does to illuminate them. Britain, a developed country, has suffered an economic regime that has caused the disparity in incomes between the rich and the poor of its own population to rise dramatically over the past 20 years. Are UK-based academics or government agencies best placed to advise poor nations? More radically, some might argue that India - a caste-based society that inherited some of the worst aspects of the top-down system of governance used under the British Raj - might have more in common with a developed, yet centralised and class-ridden UK administration than it does with developing countries such as Brazil, in which workers and landless movements have achieved significant re-distribution of resources.

The sheer breadth of subject matter brought together by the editors of the Companion in a single volume is an achievement. For a discipline rather poorly served by textbooks, perhaps because student numbers and therefore potential sales are much smaller than for, say, biology or sociology, the Companion is a very welcome arrival. It is divided into ten sections, which contain 107 chapters. The book begins with a theoretical overview of development, definitions of key terms and a survey of historical trends. The other sections are structured around broad subject headings such as "Rural development", "Gender, population and development" and "Agents of development".

Other collections of essays about development have tended to gather "classic" papers, on which an editor provides a commentary. Most contributors here take a more textbook-style approach of summarising what they see as key ideas, concluding with an outline of what future trends might be. With each of the chapters being just three to five pages long, they direct readers to the primary literature via a comprehensive list of further reading and references.

Each contributor to the Companion , unlike most undergraduate textbooks, tends to be an active researcher in the field he or she is reviewing. This has the advantage of providing students with commentaries on key articles from leading specialists. It also leads to a tendency among contributors to point to their own work as providing the most up-to-date analysis or vision for the future. Sometimes this is wholly appropriate, but one author chooses to cite himself 11 times in a five-page essay, which does little to alert the reader to the diversity of opinion on the topic.

Anyone who is working on development-related research will probably find gaps in the Companion 's coverage of the most important issues. I would have liked far more discussion of indigenous knowledge, traditional technologies, and their potential to challenge dominant scientific orthodoxy. Given the pervasive power and influence of transnational corporations, I would have devoted more than a couple of paragraphs to their influence over government policies in areas such as agriculture, food security, health and transport. As testified by the Haitian pig disaster, among many others, government donor agencies such as USAid, the World Bank and the UK's Department for International Development have frequently made problems in developing countries worse. I would therefore have liked at least as much space devoted to the accountability of these agencies, rather than merely focusing, as our secretary of state for international development, Clare Short, and the World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, would prefer, on the responsibilities of non-governmental development organisations in this area.

If it is to become the "one-stop reference" for development studies that its publishers claim, future editions of the Companion should make greater efforts to look at emerging issues, and increase the number of chapters devoted to cross-cutting themes - especially those relating to power relations between the developer and the developed and mechanisms of grassroots empowerment. Oxfam has just launched an international campaign to increase the amount of trade between poor and rich nations. The pro-poor globalisation platform promoted by Oxfam, the DFID and others raises crucial issues concerning the nature of fair trade and the relative merits of export versus subsistence agriculture that are hardly mentioned in this volume.

With only five of the 110 contributors to the current edition based in a developing country, perhaps the editors might also make greater attempts to bring in perspectives from activists working at the front line, rather than academics from their ivory towers. The balance of contributors also seems to be skewed so that women dominate chapters on gender, but are rare elsewhere.

Future Companion editions might usefully explore the dilemmas that form the heart of the second book under review, People-Oriented Approaches in Global Conservation . Sally Jeanrenaud's insightful analysis arises from one of the most heated controversies in the global environment and development movement. At its climax in 1995, the World Wide Fund for Nature purged its international secretariat of staff who were supportive of approaches to wildlife conservation that worked to include local populations in protected area management and conservation. During a single day in January 1995, 31 positions were cancelled, and 16 staff were sacked from WWF headquarters in Switzerland. Many others in the WWF's offices around the world walked out in disgust. Within a few months, an investigative TV programme had found evidence that helicopters funded by the WWF were being used to gun down indigenous people in West Africa who were suspected of "poaching" endangered animals in their local forests.

Almost 10 per cent of the world's land area is now protected, usually on the basis of being designated biodiversity "hotspots". However, the means by which these nature reserves are created often marginalise populations that are already socially and economically deprived, and often heighten the tension between hungry humans and endangered species. Jeanrenaud's book analyses the contrast between rhetoric and practice in the adoption of people-oriented conservation strategies. For example, while the WWF claims that local people are increasingly participating in protected area management, Jeanrenaud finds that for too many conservation professionals, participation still translates on the ground as "you participate in doing what I want". Despite spending millions of pounds in advertising, which suggests that the WWF values indigenous knowledge, the reality is that local people often provide appealing images for fundraising campaigns but have their skills, ideas and analysis ignored in the design and implementation of conservation programmes.

Using a combination of field studies, organisational analysis and examination of competing policy narratives, Jeanrenaud gives fascinating insights into life inside the world's most powerful conservation organisation. Unusually for a publication such as this, her style is accessible to the non-specialist, with the more academic and theoretical aspects presented in detailed endnotes.

Having analysed WWF programmes across the globe, Jeanrenaud finds that the organisation's approach to people-centred conservation is seriously compromised by the conflicting objectives of fundraisers on the one hand, whose objective is to maximise media coverage, numbers of supporters and donations, and on the other hand field staff, who feel they are being asked to help "sell conservation products off the shelf that aren't actually available or doable in practice".

While Jeanrenaud's thesis could also be applied to other international NGOs, they have particular force in the case of an organisation that owes its 1960s origins to the fundraising activities of a clique of aristocratic hunting enthusiasts associated with the duke of Edinburgh. After a further purge of the more socially oriented of its staff at the beginning of this year, the WWF received a protest letter signed by 25 indigenous peoples' groups in whose interests it claims to act. Like the story of the Haitian pigs, both these books contain powerful reminders that making elites accountable for their actions in the realms of environment and development remains a momentous challenge.

Tom Wakeford is a citizen-science researcher at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, and at the University of Newcastle.

The Companion to Development Studies

Editor - Vandana Desai and Robert B. Potter
ISBN - 0 340 76050 8 and 76051 6
Publisher - Arnold
Price - £60.00 and £24.99
Pages - 562

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments