The gap between the poorest and the most affluent societies is growing
- C. TONINI
Far too many people in the world remain marginalized. The gap between the poorest and the most affluent is growing. The poorest nations of the world have barely felt the impact of the global marketplace. Even many industrialized nations now have soaring unemployment levels and income inequalities not seen since the nineteenth century. The extremely small proportions of GDP devoted to foreign assistance attest to the "aid fatigue" found in most affluent nations. Furthermore, foreign assistance has not been as effective as it might have been. Charity - whether for individuals or for nations - responds to short-term needs, but it fails to create the necessary conditions for humans' self-respect and dignity.
Poor nations must be able to determine their own future, rather than having it defined for them by donors. Similarly, within nations, poor citizens must be the architects of their own destiny. True national security cannot be secured by military means; it can only be secured by providing all citizens the wherewithal to live their lives with dignity and justice. Nor is it possible to create a world that is equitable, just, legitimate and democratic solely via appeals to self-interest. Markets are human institutions. They create self-interested individuals who compete under highly restricted conditions and who may attempt to insulate themselves from the core goals of society at large. Even if markets are enthusiastically embraced, institutions must be designed in order to ensure freer and fairer competition. Among other things, efficient markets require organization, planning, well-defined property rights, rules of exchange and a clear and enforceable distinction between the public and private sectors.
Charity, or aid, responds only to short-term needs and fails to foster self-respect or dignity
- FAO/19673/G. BIZZARRI
Moreover, markets are just one means of distributing goods. There are certain things that all societies agree should not be bought and sold in the market, for example human beings, votes, justice and divine grace. These and other goods or services, such as the guarantee of survival, must be provided in different ways. All societies recognize the diverse needs of their citizenry (for instance the need of the poor and hungry to be given free food). Similarly, all societies recognize that some people deserve certain goods (such as medals or prizes) or "bads" (such as imprisonment in the case of murder). All societies have a notion of "public goods"; they are determined in terms of what members of a community or society commonly see as desirable. Individuals may be affected differently by the policies that societies adopt to ensure the adequate availability of public goods. Something that is considered a good in the sphere of health is not necessarily a good in the sphere of agricultural production. It is the contradictions among the different spheres that are a source of never-ending conflicts, negotiations and compromises in all societies. Thus, solutions to conflicts should be sought not by enforcing conformity to a single concept of justice, but by mediating among many different concepts. These conflicts may not be avoided, but institutions can be devised to contain and limit them.
Although the right to food has repeatedly been reaffirmed as a fundamental human right (e.g. by the Rome Declaration on World Food Security, 1996), there is considerable disagreement as to how to realize this right in practice. Furthermore, while the strategy to ensure food security is laid out in the World Food Summit Plan of Action, the degree to which this Plan is being implemented varies significantly among countries.
Achieving food security requires: i) an abundance of food; ii) access to that food by everyone; iii) nutritional adequacy; and iv) food safety. At the world level, there is abundant food, yet there are distribution and access problems that result in about 800 million people not having enough food. For some, access to food can be assured by providing direct access to land. For the burgeoning urban populations, access depends on good farm-to-market roads, farm production that is well above subsistence levels, price structures that provide incentives to produce for the market, accurate market information for producers, food processing industries to transform raw products into storable foods and employment that permits people to earn enough to purchase food. In places where full employment is lacking, consumer subsidies (either through grants of food or through monetary grants to purchase food) are also essential to ensure access to food. To guarantee adequate food supplies for a growing population in the future, investment in research (an endless task, as the agricultural environment is continuously changing) as well as the conservation of agricultural land, forest and water resources are needed.
Source: FAO. 2000. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2000.
Food must also provide a nutritionally adequate diet. Today, some 12 million children die annually of nutrition-related diseases. Doubtless, far more are chronically ill. Nutritional needs must therefore be considered both in agricultural research and in food assistance programmes. Finally, food must be safe to eat. While this seems self-evident, the fact is that food-borne illness remains a frequent occurrence throughout the world. Microbial food contaminants are common, especially in urban areas, where food must travel long distances before consumption. The poorest are the most likely victims but, as world food trade expands, consumers in wealthy nations are also being affected by food-borne diseases.
As noted above, the globalization of markets and technological developments have increased the interdependence among nations and cultures. Time and space have imploded; fences between nations have been lowered. But interdependence does not imply equity, equality of opportunity, justice or even compassion. There is no automatic process by which markets can ensure the realization of these widely held values. Nor can markets be the universal solution, reconciling all values by economic means. Indeed, markets do not concern people's shared values or collective rights and duties as citizens; rather they concern their roles as producers and consumers. In other words, people's ethical obligations must be worked out through political processes and not be reduced to market administration.
Thus, the global challenge is to develop institutional means to ensure that losses suffered as a result of market forces do not violate basic rights, bring widespread hunger or cause the immiserization of individuals, families, communities or states. Although there have been proposals to redress the grievances of losers, these have rarely, if ever, been brought to fruition. An alternative approach could be the expansion of civil society beyond the nation state, in which case all citizens would feel responsible for all people as well as for the earth as a whole and they would participate in the democratic control of the market.
At the same time, members of a global civil society would engage in the construction of a better world, by inventing better means for peaceful conflict reso-lution, ensuring global financial stability, managing the global environment, managing global markets, establishing global standards and promoting sustainable development. The realization of such goals, however, is often blocked by a lack of jurisdiction, participation and incentives. Even if these obstacles can be overcome, the goals must be achieved without creating bloated bureaucracies; indeed, these would destroy the very processes they were designed to foster. Nor should progress in attaining global goals require discarding national sovereignty.
The global economy will acquire its long-term justification only if it is a means to further fundamental human values. States cannot be accountable solely to foreign investors, fund managers and domestic exporters. Fundamental values cannot be actualized by an élite or by decree: because they are sometimes contradictory, values require democratic deliberation, dialogue and discourse. Thus, all states need to develop new means of democratic participation in the fundamental decisions that affect people's lives.
Globalization underscores the importance of the diversity of "place". To say that a process is global is not to say that it happens in exactly the same way everywhere. Rather, it means that it "acts at a distance". Thus, FAO is global only to the extent that it can act at a distance; that is, a decision made in Rome - a distinct, local place - can affect people 10 000 kilometres away. Place continues to be local in character, with a local culture, ecology and economy. Thus, both losers and winners are always geographically and socially placed; it is never a matter of those who are global and cosmopolitan versus those who are local and parochial. Rather, it is a matter of those who, for a variety of reasons, can act at a distance and those who cannot.
When conflicts emerge over access to natural resources, they are not caused by disputes between global and local forces. They result from disputes between those able to act at a distance and those unable to do so. Often, such external interests are able to encroach on weaker communities, leading to impoverishment and marginalization. Although Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Develop-ment (1992) reasserts the sovereignty of states, states have not always been good stewards of such resources. All too often they have been used by an élite in collusion with external actors to crush community opposition. Action is needed to strengthen the capacity of weaker communities to defend their rights in the face of encroachment by their own state or by other foreign actors. This will require institutionalizing mechanisms of self-restraint for both states and transnational companies to ensure that the rights of weaker groups are recognized and respected. At the same time, it will require giving a greater voice to weaker communities through participatory management of natural resources.
Global development policies make little sense if they are not viewed through the lens of national and local development policies. Rather than a well-presented, grand plan for development that meets the demand for rationality on paper but fails in the field, what is needed are social mechanisms allowing the development of far messier plans that achieve their rationality by employing the wealth of intelligence and creativity emerging from democratic participation. Participatory management cannot be an afterthought, tacked on after a policy or project has been designed and is ready to be implemented. It must be a central element from the very inception of a project. One way to pursue this goal is through "collaborative management", whereby the relevant stakeholders are substantially involved in management activities. Such a system would be flexible and adaptable to differences in places and times. It would involve a partnership among affected communities, nations and the private sector, civil society and international organizations.
The World Commission on Culture and Development (1995) has noted that culture is often ignored in development theory and practice. Yet, economic development does not take place in a vacuum. It transforms and is transformed by cultures, often for the better, but sometimes to the detriment of one or the other. As noted above, globalization simultaneously homogenizes and fragments cultures. The challenge is to distinguish between the tasks that must be accomplished as part of humanity's commonality and the plurality of views and practices that are essential for the full development of human capacities, both individual and collective.
We need not all follow identical paths to development. We need not arrange our values in the same way everywhere and for all times. We need not treat cultural diversity as an obstacle to be overcome. Homogeneity does not ensure social solidarity any more than heterogeneity guarantees conflict. Just as we need a division of labour in order to create a complex society, so we need multiple perspectives and practices to build a global society. The challenge is to ensure respect for differences without fragmentation and isolation, to promote consensus on values and practices without imposing a stifling uniformity on everyone. To meet this challenge, respect for pluralism must be enhanced among nations as well as within nations and at the level of institutions, and dialogue and debate need to be pursued within cultures to allow for their evolution.
We must conserve options that those who succeed us might wish to pursue
- FAO/20717/A. PROTO
The preamble to the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment (1972) acknowledged the signatories' realization that "to defend and improve the human environment for present and future generations had become an imperative goal for mankind". The World Charter for Nature (1982) and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) reaffirm that commitment. This is not a commitment to specific individuals who do not as yet exist. Instead, it is an obligation not to do anything that would impose unending and onerous duties on future generations. In other words, we need to: i) conserve options that those who succeed us might wish to pursue; ii) ensure that the planet is not left in a worse condition than when we inherited it; and iii) conserve the legacy of the past so that future generations might have access to it.
One means by which the rights of future generations might be safeguarded is through use of the precautionary principle as set forth in numerous documents, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), the Earth Charter (2000), the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000). The precautionary principle, simply put, asserts that in areas where scientific knowledge is lacking and/or where levels of uncertainty with respect to deleterious effects are high, one should proceed with extreme caution:
"... Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Principle 15
This applies particularly to those instances where decisions are irreversible.
Our duty to future generations can also be examined through the lens of sustainability. However, sustainability has many definitions. Environmentalists often define it as "avoidance of use", while some involved in agriculture define it as "production without reducing soil fertility". Sustainability is often so broadly or narrowly interpreted that it provides little guidance for action. Indeed, some highly exploitive systems might be sustainable for centuries. A more balanced approach might define agricultural sustainability as a form of stewardship that attempts to respect nature, conserve resources, engage in agriculture and achieve equity and justice. Such an approach would also recognize that no agricultural practices are without potential for irony and tragedy; no human plans are perfect.
No matter what the approach may be, there is little doubt that we are in the process of rethinking and renegotiating our relations with the natural world. Our duty to future generations is inextricably bound to the care with which we treat nature.