Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

I have been in the Southern African region almost three weeks now and just returned to Lusaka from a very interesting trip across Eastern Zambia, Malawi and the Tete province in Mozambique. I traveled with my local research partner from the University of Zambia, Mr. Edwin Luwaya. Edwin is currently pursuing a PhD in engineering on charcoal burning, but is also interested in the broader socio-political dynamics around charcoal and therefore joined me on the trip. The purpose, especially in Zambia and Malawi, was to follow several charcoal chains away from or into major cities and do interviews with local charcoal consumers, transporters and producers, as well as with policy and NGO officers dealing with these issues. Charcoal is a huge issue in this part of the world (like in many other parts), as the far majority of people depend on it for cooking and other energy needs. It also has strong social and environmental implications, particularly in relation to tree-cutting and burning for production, with associated effects on soil, water and thus agricultural dynamics. While many studies and interventions have tried to understand and mediate these impacts and dynamics, they seem to have had remarkably little effect, and the same debates continue as they have done for a long time (though the environmental aspects has definitely become more important over the last years). My purpose is not to do an exhaustive study of charcoal chains, but rather to understand how this mode of energy is connected to broader regional energy dynamics, or what I call the ‘political economy of energy’ in Southern Africa. This is what the interviews focused on, and I think I’ve been able to get some interesting data. One of the fascinating things is how charcoal is transported, particularly by biker guys who sometimes carry up to 7 or 8 heavy bags of charcoal for miles and miles across sometimes steep hills. But you also see trucks, like the one in the picture that had broken down four days earlier and so the driver was waiting for spare parts to arrive.

From Southern Malawi, we moved into Mozambique’s Tete province, in order to get to Tete-city. Here, completely different energy dynamics dominate the discussions, although charcoal is ever-present on the roadside and town markets. Tete is a booming frontier town in regional energy dynamics, as many investors have come in from all over the world to exploit the abundant coal supplies in the province. We were very fortunate to have some people helping us in getting interviews with some of the key players. Fortunate also was that our hotel hosted a meeting to discuss the Environmental Impact Assessment of a large new dam project called Mphanda Nkuwa. This dam is supposed to boost energy generation capacity in Mozambique and is quite controversial due to its environmental and social implications, so it was very interesting to sit in the meeting and talk to some of the key players. After the meeting, we met up with one of the participants who had planned to visit a (coal-induced) resettled community called Cateme, some 50 kms from Tete-city. We tagged along, and experienced a surreal place. Built approximately two years ago, Cateme was a strange mix of neat little houses in straight rows with electricity and street lights, and a strange ‘unsettled-ness’ and alien feel that you don’t normally experience in other rural villages. The inhabitants – some 500 families that first lived in Moatize, the centre of the mining boom – soon told us why this was so: most of them didn’t want to be here, and saw little future in the place. It was too far from the markets they used to depend on in Moatize, so they could only sell their ware locally, and many things weren’t what they seemed. While the houses looked solid, they were not built on any foundation, while many started showing cracks. Moreover, many people could not afford the expensive electricity, so were still stuck without (and hence cooking on wood – see picture). What topped it all was the sign at the entrance of the village that said ‘take care of the environment’. The irony is acute: an international mining company that displaces people in order to bring enormous quantities of CO2 producing coal to the international market telling those same displaced people to take care of the environment! That is a raw deal indeed, and ‘raw’ is how best Tete can be described in general. Edwin used to work in the mines in the Zambian Copperbelt, and several times mentioned that Tete reminded him strongly of the boom periods there.

The trip made a big impression on both of us, and I don’t know yet what to make of it all. One thing is clear: if you are on the ‘wrong’ side of the socio-economic spectrum, then energy dynamics in the region present you with a raw deal indeed.

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I am currently doing an incredibly exciting trip across Zambia, Malawi and northern Mozambique, about which I will try to post something in the next couple of day. First I wanted to share another exciting piece of news, namely that my Veni grant application was approved by the Dutch national research council NWO. This means 3 years of dedicated research, starting 2012!

The full title of the project is: Nature 2.0: the political economy of conservation in online and Southern African environments

And the summary of the proposal goes as follows:
Web 2.0 and social media applications that allow people to share, form and rate online content are crucial new ways for conservation organizations to reach audiences and for concerned individuals and organisations to be (seen as) „green‟. Recent research indicates that these developments might significantly change the political economy of conservation: the production and consumption of conservation and their social effects. Two important changes relate to how online activities stimulate and complicate the commodification of biodiversity, ecosystems and landscapes and how they help to reimagine ideas and ideals about „pristine‟ nature. Above all, this „nature 2.0‟ now (seemingly) allows those concerned about global biodiversity and ecosystem decline to more directly engage with and influence the governance of socio-ecological realities in other parts of the world. The research aims to investigate these transformations in relation to biodiverse areas in Southern Africa, a region with a chequered history of western-imposed conservation. Three questions are central: How do online, web 2.0 and social media conservation activities relate to and influence the governance of biodiverse areas in Southern Africa and the people who live there? Why and how do these activities depend on the reimagination and commodification of nature? What are the implications of these dynamics for (theorizing) the global political economy of conservation?
Innovatively combining insights and methods from political ecology, anthropology and media studies, the research will engage these questions by studying how online activities relate to, shape and reflect other social, political and economic practices. It transcends conventional empirical research by connecting actors, actions and technologies involved in the production and consumption of conservation across space and time. In times of increasing tensions between biodiversity decline and demands for human development, the practical and theoretical implications of the study will be highly relevant for sustainable global and local natural resource governance.

Considering the topic, it will become even more important to regularly post research outcomes and progress online! 🙂

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For those interested in what is happening at Nature™ Inc in the Hague, I am blogging about the conference on the Broker website. Follow it all here:

Nature INC on the Broker

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Just one week before the Nature™ Inc conference gets going! For the latest information, see the conference website. ISS just sent out a press release in English and Dutch, see below:


The Hague, 20 June 2011


 According to the United Nations, the Green Economy is supposed to solve three crises in one: global economic malaise, chronic poverty and the destruction of the environment. Too good to be true? 200+ social scientists convening at the international conference Nature™ Inc? Questioning the Market Panacea in Environmental Policy and Conservation, argue it is. In a time when market solutions to environmental problems seem generally accepted, this largest ever gathering of social scientists critical of these solutions will convene from 30 June – 2 July 2011 at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, The Netherlands. Drawing on global perspectives and evidence from their field sites, they will sound a stern warning that the Green Economy will not only do little to address the three global crises but actually make them worse.

Participants at Nature™ Inc? will critically address the one issue that all international organizations, governments, businesses, NGOs have difficulty engaging: neoliberal capitalism. We live in neoliberal times and this powerful ideology is shaping economic, political and environmental realities across the globe. Yet no policy or strategy document about the environment ever starts with this fact or its implications. 200 scientists believe it is time to change this with serious discussions about the origins, reach and consequences of the true nature of economy we are in, and what effects it has on people and the environment.


Den Haag, 20 juni 2011

 200+ wetenschappers twijfelen aan de Groene Economie

Volgens de Verenigde Naties is de ‘Groene Economie’ het antwoord op drie mondiale crises: de kredietcrisis, het armoedevraagstuk en de degradatie van het milieu. Te mooi om waar te zijn? ‘Ja’, zeggen meer dan 200 wetenschappers die deelnemen aan de internationale conferentie Nature™ Inc? Questioning the Market Panacea in Environmental Policy and Conservation. In een tijd waar ‘marktwerking’ als standaardoplossing voor milieuproblemen wordt aangedragen wordt van 30 juni tot 2 juli bij het International Institute of Social Studies in Den Haag één van de grootste wetenschappelijke bijeenkomsten ooit gehouden gericht op een kritisch tegengeluid. Gebaseerd op wetenschappelijke inzichten uit onderzoek van over de hele wereld zullen de wetenschappers een sterke waarschuwing laten klinken dat de Groene Economie zoals voorgestaan door de VN en vele invloedrijke landen en organisaties niet alleen weinig zal doen aan de drie mondiale crises, maar ze zelfs zal verslechteren.

 Deelnemers aan Nature™ Inc zullen zich vooral richten op de vraag die bijna alle internationale organisaties, overheden, bedrijven en goede doelen vermijden in hun retoriek over de groene economie: welke kans van slagen heeft het in een kapitalistische context? Volgens dr. Bram Büscher, universitair docent bij het ISS en hoofdorganisator van de conferentie, is de groene economie niet simpelweg een technische oplossing, zoals het vaak word gepresenteerd. Het is een politieke strategie om het huidige kapitalisme een groen tintje te geven, terwijl het overduidelijk is dat de globale milieuproblemen zoals klimaatverandering en verlies van biodiversiteit juist ontstaan zijn door twee eeuwen kapitalistische ontwikkeling. “Om deze oplossing op waarde te schatten is het van vitaal belang om diepere kennis te hebben over en kritisch te reflecteren op het verband tussen kapitalistische structuren en het milieu. Helaas wordt dit debat niet gevoerd”, aldus Büscher. Meer dan 200 wetenschappers vinden dat dit moet veranderen, en dat we eindelijk een serieuze discussie aan moeten gaan over de daadwerkelijke aard van onze mondiale economie, en de negatieve gevolgen voor milieu en mens.

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Wednesday 9 February I gave a speech at a briefing session for EU parliamentarians, policy makers and civil society representatives about the link between the EUs energy security and its development policy. It was an interesting meeting, with a keynote from the Commissioner for Development Pierbalgs, and interesting speeches by Jacqueline Hale, Senior Policy Analyst, EU External Relations at Open Society Foundation and Ruchita Beri, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in India. The meeting was organised in the context of the EDC2020 project, which sought to inform EU policies and vision on development untill 2020.

My central argument was that there are several major contradictions in the EU policies on energy and development and their joint nexus and that the vital question for the future of this nexus should be whether the EU will start to openly accept and deal with these contradictions – and the capitalist political economy from which they emanate – or neglect these with the real possibility that they will become more intense and lead to increasingly negative outcomes for people and environments in Europe, developing countries and beyond.

The speech can be downloaded here

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