POVERTY AND ENVIRONMENT

There is already a persisting predicament of poverty in many developing countries. Resolving such a development issue itself is challenge for the national governments and the other involved organizations. A natural calamity such as a flood or drought exacerbates poverty and underdevelopment. The prolonged drought in 2005 left many African states is distress and caused an alarming food crisis. The story of such a severe calamity reported in New York Times in November 2005 (Wines, 2005) says,

More than 4.6 million of Malawi’s 12 million citizens need donated food to fend off malnutrition until the next harvest begins in April. In Zimbabwe, at least four million more need emergency food aid. Zambia’s government has issued an urgent appeal for food, saying 1.7 million are hungry; 850,000 need food in Mozambique, 500,000 in Lesotho and at least 300,000 in Swaziland.

From Africa to Asia, crop failure due to the lack of irrigation and inadequate govern­ment support lead to mass suicides of farmers in India. Drought and seasonal variations in rainfall affects farming, leads to crop failure resulting defaults in repayment of loans by farmers in India. Citing India’s national crime records bureau, BBC (12 April 2009) reports about 200 000 farmers committed suicide in India since 1997. This number doesn’t include number of women farmers who committed suicide because woman farmers are not normally accepted as farmers in India. “By custom, land is almost never in their names. They do the bulk of work in agriculture – but are just “farmers’ wives.’’ This classification enables governments to exclude countless women farmer suicides’’ (Sainath, 2009) which is also exemplifies the gender aspect of poverty.

These narratives of distress points out the fact that, over reliance by a huge number of poor people on traditional farming methods, small land holdings in the absence of large scale mechanized farming exposes those who are dependent on agriculture towards poverty, especially in the wake of environmental imbalances such as drought or flood. The other aspect is the lack of alternatives for income generation; for instance, industries and other services sector. Alternatives to land based occupations such as agriculture and cattle herding could release the pressure on environment.

A case study of Peruvian Brazil nut gatherers shows those who have alternative jobs in the nearby city Puerto Maldonado spend less time in the rainforest than those who don’t have such jobs. These alternative salaried and non salaried job opportunities for the Peruvian Brazil nut gatherers stopped them from clearing the forest for crop farming led to the protection of rain forest. Not only crop farming, cattle herding is a threat to rain forests. For example, the Brazilian farmers cleared the rain forest for cattle herding. Swinton et al (2003) finds, “the lack of off-farm employment opportunities is a likely reason that Brazilian rainforest frontier farms are so fixated on clearing land’’.

A case study on the farming communities of Norte Chico region of Chile shows “how income from nonfarm employment and government credit programs permitted agri­cultural intensification that allowed environmental recovery of fragile, arid common lands’’ (Bahamondes, 2003). The Chilean smallholders who worked on commercial grape farms reduced their reliance on extensive goat herding and generated funds for intensive irrigated forage production (Swinton et al, 2003). Considering the fact that 80% of Amazonian deforestation is the result of slash and burn agriculture, indicates the importance of alternative job opportunities for those people.

These above examples show the interrelation of poverty and environment. Persisting poverty could lead people to exploit natural resources around them indiscriminately in an unsustainable manner. This results in deforestation, desertification, soil erosion and flash floods leading to greater hardships for those already suffering. At the same time as we have seen like in Amazonian forest, alternative income generation sources could protect forests and environment. Destruction of environment, especially destruction of tropical rain forest contributes to further changes in climate and induces global warming. Forests are called carbon sinks, because they hold billions of tonnes of carbon, thereby preventing it from being released to atmosphere.

According to a recent study by scientists from University of Leeds (2009), the tropical rain forests remove 4.8 billion tones of carbon emissions from atmosphere every year. The carbon sink (tropical rain forest) in Africa alone absorb 1.2 billion CO2 each year. The livelihood of those people lives around these forest need to be assured. The Congo basin forest is the second largest carbon sink in capacity after Amazon, which is a home for 24 million people spanning across six countries with a total population of 86 million and covering an area of 4 048 470 km2. The Congo basin holds an estimated 43 billion tonnes of carbon which shows the importance of this Central African rain forest for the existence of humanity. An alarming reality is, that around 43 0000 square km of such humid forest is wiped out during the period between 1990 and 2005 (Nasi et al. 2008, p. 196-200).

According to Human Development report (2008), 73% of the populations ofthe sub region are classified as the lowest income countries in the world and poverty is wide spread. The HDR rankings of those Congo Basin countries are Gabon (103), Equato­rial Guinea (118) Republic of Congo (136) Cameroon (153), DR Congo (176), and Central African Republic (179) respectively. Being the poorest countries in the world, Cameroon, DR Congo and Central African Republic deserves support to maintain the Congo basin forest.

According to the State of the Forest Report of Congo Basin, “The majority of inhab­itants of the sub-region depends on small-scale slash-and-burn shifting agriculture for subsistence – a farming practice which uses the forest as a land reserve for expansion’’ (Eba’a Atyi et al, 2008, p. 15). Unless there is an alternative source for income genera­tion, the pressure of traditional farming practices will lead to increasing destruction of forest, even though such practices won’t help those vulnerable sections to come out of poverty, and resulting natural disasters due to the environmental changes locally and globally.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA, 2006) data shows net electric­ity generation of Central African Republic is merely 0.11 Billion kWh, with a world ranking of 185, and total primary energy production is 0.001 and consumption is 0.005 (Quadrillion Btu and ranks 187th), shows that electricity is the biggest infras­tructure bottleneck for alternative income generation and industrial development. The total primary energy production and consumption of Cameroon is 0.025 and 0.088 (quadrillion btu) respectively for a population of more that 18 million. These basic facts on energy in these countries confirm the correlation between poverty and the avail­ability of energy and electricity. The less the Total Primary Energy production and consumption, the higher the prevalence of poverty. Incidentally low per-capita energy availability also leads to poor industrialization and heavy dependence on traditional methods of agriculture, and consequent deforestation.

One among the major reasons of rural poverty is lack of alternative income gener­ation opportunities other than agriculture. The mass suicides of Indian farmers point towards this reality. Smallholdings, insufficient or unreliable irrigation, lack of com­petitiveness, hostile credit atmosphere and absence of adequate government support are the features of agriculture sector in most of the developing countries. Agriculture becomes unprofitable due to these factors. On the other hand, large scale mecha­nized farming with modern scientific management practices and governmental support assures food security, profit and reliability. Presumably, diversification is the way out of poverty. Developing sustainable industries and services, and also equipping those subsistence agriculturalists with training, capital and infrastructure could release the pressure on environment. Such an alternative approach will empower the rural poor. Being the lifeblood of all productive activity, energy and its uninterrupted availability ensures success of such projects aimed to empower the rural poor.

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