This review was written for the “Understanding of Climate Change in Society” module I took at King’s College London.
Can we sense changes in the climate? Anthropologist Peter Rudiak-Gould (2013) described the on-going dispute between scientists and citizens over the visibility of climate change as a contest for legitimacy and authority between scientific knowledge and local expertise. I will summarise and weigh his arguments drawing on a wider literature on the diverse ways in which people from different cultures and time have understood and are understanding the climate.
Invisibilism vs Visibilism
Contemporary climate scientists presume the climate is invisible to humans (Rudiak-Gould, 2013). They believe changes in the global climate can only be ascertained through an aggregate of precise measurements of temperatures, precipitation, wind velocity and more over a certain period of time (Hulme, 2009; Heymann, 2010). Thus, it is assumed that it is impossible for lay people to perceive global climate change. They are also cautious to attribute a single extreme weather event to climate change. Rudiak-Gould (2013) noted that experimental psychologists often hold the same view as climate scientists. Both believe human perceptions are susceptible to bias and inaccuracy so the making of climate knowledge should remain in the exclusive domain of climatologists.
However, frontline communities in Tuvalu and Marshall Islands for instance, believe they are already witnessing the local effects of climate change (Rudiak-Gould, 2013). Anthropologists, whose discipline has grown sceptical of the positivist approach of modern science to the making of knowledge, tend to be visibilists. They have unperturbedly reported indigenous communities’ perceived changes to their local climate as signs of global climate change (Crate and Nuttall, 2009). Yet, while visibilism lends a voice to citizens to speak about climate change, Rudiak-Gould (2013) pointed out that it also allows climate sceptics to dismiss climate science using local weather events.
Rudiak-Gould (2013) proposed the concept of constructive visibilism as an alternative to the dichotomy of visibilism and invisibilism. Global climate change can be made visible through its effects such as the melting of glacier over decades. It could build a bridge for invisibilist experts to work together with citizen scientists to transform the making of climate knowledge to a more democratic, holistic pursuit.
Our understandings of climate
Historian Matthias Heymann (2010, p.582) highlighted that “different understandings of climate existed at the same time” throughout history. He elaborated that definition of climate in any community is shaped by its wider social, cultural, political and technological contexts. Indeed, geographer Mike Hulme (2009) wrote that scientists used to accept eyewitness accounts of the climate as legitimate descriptions until the nineteenth century. Apart from that, we should bear in mind that some cultures do not have separate terms for weather and climate in their languages unlike the English language (Rudiak-Gould, 2011). Is contemporary Western climate scientists’ way of understanding the climate superior to other academic disciplines and cultures worldwide? I do not think it is fair for them to impose their specific, limited definition of the climate, which springs from their social, cultural and historical contexts, on the world.
Our understanding of the climate has evolved and will continue to evolve throughout history. Apart from the environmental sciences, other knowledge makers such as philosophers, social scientists and artists have always contributed to our understanding of the world (Nisbet et al, 2010). There is nothing absolute or sacred about any particular way of knowing, as geographers Stuart Aiken and Gill Valentine (2006) noted. Climate scientists must come to the realisation that the contribution of other academic disciplines is essential to help diverse societies worldwide make sense of climate change. Until we can reconnect the scientific findings of global climate change with our social and cultural worlds, science alone is insufficient to propel us to act (Jasanoff, 2010).
Coming back to Rudiak-Gould’s (2013) piece, I think it is useful to recognise the invisibilist or visibilist tendency of different groups of people that stemmed from different ways of knowing. Nevertheless, we should not become fixated with such categorisation. The two ways of knowing should not be treated as mutually exclusive but complementary to our understanding of the climate. Therefore, I think it is more helpful to treat climate change as both visible and invisible as Rudiak-Gould (2013) suggested. While local communities cannot perceive global climate change, they can detect long-term, local weather changes. Visible climate change causes and impact will help societies make sense of the global phenomenon. Meanwhile, the rigour of climate science can help governments worldwide, corporations and local communities ascertain the impact of local policies and actions on invisible climate processes. Climate change can be re-conceived more holistically as a scientifically invisible global process with visible contributing economic, political and social factors and local impacts. Hence, scientists should not treat the visibility of climate change as a challenge or threat to their authority. As Rudiak-Gould (2013) mentioned in the article, it should be viewed as an opportunity to democratise the pursuit for knowledge of climate change.
Crate, S.A. and Nutfall, M. (2009) Anthropology and climate change: From encounters to actions. California: Left Coast Press.
Heymann, M. (2010) The evolution of climate ideas and knowledge. WIREs Climate Change, 1(4), 581-597.
Hulme, M. (2009) Why we disagree about climate change: understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jasanoff, S. (2010) A new climate for society. Theory, Culture & Society, 27(2/3), 233-253.
Nisbet, M.C., Hixon, M.A., Moore, K.D. and Nelson, M. (2010) Four cultures: new synergies for engaging society on climate change. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, 8(6), 329-331.
Rudiak-Gould, P. (2011) Promiscuous corroboration and climate change translation: a case study from the Marshall Islands. Global Environmental Change, 22(1), 46-54.
Rudiak-Gould, P. (2013) “We have seen it with our own eyes”: Why we disagree about climate change visibility. Weather, Climate and Society, 5, 120-132.
Posted: February 12th, 2014
Categories: King's College London
Tags: climate change
Comments: No Comments
This was written for the “Environment, Livelihoods and Development in the South” module at King’s College London.
This essay aims to evaluate the sustainable livelihoods framework, specifically its worth in contributing to a better understanding of rural and urban livelihoods in the Global South. I will begin with an introduction to the sustainable livelihoods framework followed by a brief history of the development of livelihoods thinking. The definition of key terms such as “rural”, “urban”, “Global South”, “household” and “sustainability” will also be discussed. Subsequently, I will compare the application of the livelihoods framework in rural and urban contexts as well as its limitations.
What is sustainable livelihoods framework?
Popularised in the 1990s, livelihoods approaches recognise that people often make a living through a combination of activities than through a single job (Chambers, 1995). Livelihood opportunities available in a village, town, city, region or country are constrained by its macro- and micro-economic, political, social and environmental contexts (Rakodi with Lloyd-Jones, 2002). In addition, an individual or household’s livelihood strategies and outcomes is limited by the tangible and intangible assets they own or have access to (Chambers and Conway, 1992). Applicable at a range of different scales, livelihoods analysis enables academics and policymakers to gain a better grasp of the diverse and complex local realities people, particularly the poor, secure a living (Scoones, 1998).
Most international development agencies adopted Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway’s (1992) definition of sustainable livelihoods:
“A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living: a livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global levels and in the short and long term.”
The three themes of capability, equity and sustainability are central to Chambers and Conway (1992)’s conceptualisation of sustainable livelihoods. They are both a mean and an end to sustainable livelihoods. A household’s capabilities provide the means for its members to gain livelihoods. Equitable distribution of resources and access is a mean to eliminate discrimination towards the end goal of securing adequate, decent livelihoods for everyone. Striving for sustainable stewardship of environmental resources as an end safeguards the means for future generations to obtain livelihoods.
However, different development agencies have modified Chambers and Conway’s definition to suit their organisation’s agenda. For example, the UK Department for International Development (DFID)’s version does not require sustainable livelihoods to produce net benefits for others as it was deemed an impractical requirement (Carney et al, 1999). On top of that, the DFID (1999) believed the asset pentagon, made up of human, social, physical, financial and natural capitals, is the most important aspect in a sustainable livelihoods framework.
Source: DFID (1999)
Development of livelihoods approaches
Solesbury (2003) believed the concept of sustainable livelihoods first emerged in the Bruntland Commission Report in 1987. However, Scoones (2009) pointed out that livelihoods thinking have surfaced over half a century ago. For instance, the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute had brought together experts from the fields of anthropology, economics and ecology to study rural development challenges in then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia (Scoones, 2009). Unfortunately, the domination of mono-disciplinary thinking and neo-liberal economists post-World War II in international development agencies as well as national governments crowded out cross-disciplinary livelihoods perspectives. Nevertheless, some researchers in the social sciences continued to study livelihoods in the fields of village studies, household economics, agro-ecosystem analysis, political ecology and more (Scoones, 2009).
Livelihood approaches became mainstream when it was adopted by Oxfam in 1993, CARE in 1994, the United Nations Development Programme in 1995 and the newly established DFID in 1997 (Carney et al, 1999). Later on, the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Canadian International Development Agency also incorporated livelihood analysis into their policies and programmes (Rakodi with Lloyd-Jones, 2002). Most of these agencies adopted a sustainable livelihoods framework similar to DFID’s with slight variations and a heavy focus on capital assets. Scoones (2009) has critiqued development practitioners’ overwhelming focus on the capitals in the asset pentagon have confined discussions within economic analysis, at the expense of neglecting larger questions of power and politics.
Before moving on to compare the sustainable livelihoods framework’s usefulness in analysing rural and urban livelihoods in the Global South, I would like to define the key terms. The definition of “urban” differs depending on country. Farrington et al (2002) noted that the urban populace could be defined by population thresholds, population density, percentage of population engaged in non-agricultural production or administrative boundaries. They mentioned that most of the rural population living in settlements in China and India could be classified as “urban” according to Swedish or Peruvian standards. Furthermore, peri-urban areas, where rural and urban activities converge (DPU, 2001), are often neglected in discussions of rural-urban differences. Clearly, the lines separating rural from urban remain vague (Rakodi with Lloyd-Jones, 2002). For this essay’s purpose, urban areas refer to localities with high population density.
Meanwhile, the “Global South” includes low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean (Mitlin and Satterthwaite, 2013). Although the term “Global South” is geographically imprecise as some of these countries are at the north of the equator, Mitlin and Satterthwaite (2013) considered it a better alternative than “developing countries” or the “Third World”. As they have aptly questioned: the so-called developed countries are advanced by whose and what standards? The term “Third World”, which implied inferiority to the First World and Second World, is also inappropriate. Here, the poor is used to refer to low-income groups (Mitlin and Satterthwaite, 2013) but poverty is understood to be more than income-poor, it can include “other dimensions of deprivation such as physical illness, isolation, vulnerability and powerless” (Chambers, 1995, p.175).
The term “household” remains contested in the academia. Chant (1998) cautioned against treating household as a single-dimensional, fixed unit. Household members can be bounded by blood ties, marriage, friendship or other forms of social relationships. They may or may not live together and a household’s conditions change over lifecycle (Rakodi with Lloyd-Jones, 2002). Rigg (2006) added that the term “household” also masked intra-household inequality and conflict. Most livelihoods analysis focused on the household but Scoones (1998) highlighted that different scale of analysis is essential to evaluate the net livelihoods effects at different levels.
Sustainability is supposed to be a core theme in the livelihoods framework but it remains difficult to define. DFID (1999) proposed that sustainability has many dimensions: environmental, economic, social and institutional. Environmental sustainability usually involves conserving natural resource for future generations. Economic sustainability refers to achieving a baseline level of economic welfare; social sustainability meant maximising social equity while institutional sustainability concerns ensuring institutions remain functional over the long term (DFID, 1999). Scoones (1998) remarked that achieving sustainable livelihoods inevitably involves trade-offs, which must be addressed and negotiated in any intervention process.
Rural and urban livelihoods in the Global South
The sustainable livelihoods framework was originally developed with a rural focus (Chambers and Conway, 1992; Scoones, 1998; DFID, 1999). Subsequently, it has also been used to analyse urban livelihoods (Carney et al, 1999; Rakodi with Lloyd-Jones, 2002; Farrington et al, 2002). I will attempt to use the framework to compare the differences and similarities in vulnerability context, capital assets and livelihood strategies in rural and urban areas in the Global South. Existing research and relevant case studies will be used to back up the analysis but readers must keep in mind that the Global South covers incredibly diverse regions. Broad trends discussed here remain generalised assumptions. The purpose of the framework, after all, is meant to help us comprehend messy, local realities.
Short-terms shocks and long-term stress can have adverse impacts on livelihoods. Potential sudden shocks that affect all livelihoods include wars, persecution, floods, droughts, fires, accidents and epidemics (Chambers and Conway, 1992). Poor but coping households in rural or urban areas can also fall into a downward spiral of vulnerability and deprivation due to death of a family member, loss of a job or assets, or persistent health problems. Global financial crises tend to have a disproportionate negative impact on urban areas (Farrington et al, 2002). Additionally, urban inhabitants in informal settlements are susceptible to the risk of eviction and their homes being torn down by local authorities.
Possible long-term stresses that impact both rural and urban residents include population growth, a decline in work opportunities, low wages, physical disabilities and indebtedness (Chambers and Conway, 1992). However, rural livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to seasonality, diminishing agricultural yields and disappearing common property resources. In comparison, urban poor living in informal settlements with poor sanitation, near industrial facilities or dumpsites are more susceptible to diseases (Rakodi with Lloyd-Jones, 2002). In addition, it should be noted that vulnerability varies for different social groups. While cities normally provide more employment opportunities for women, they tend to remain underpaid. And despite joining the labour force, many are still responsible for performing household chores (Farrington et al, 2002). In urban areas, new migrants, members of a lower social class or an ethnic minority are also prone to discrimination and regularly lack access to public services. Many of them end up deriving their livelihoods from the informal sector such as through petty trading, recycling, begging and prostitution. Rakodi with Lloyd-Jones (2002) commented that informal activities usually provide low financial returns except for moneylenders, pimps and drug traders.
Generally, human capital, social capital and physical capital are equally important to both urban and rural households and communities. Natural capital is perceived to be more significant for rural livelihoods while financial capital is far more crucial to secure urban livelihoods. Apart from being used to gain livelihoods, tangible and intangible assets can also be used to make one’s life more meaningful or to challenge unequal power structures and processes (Bebbington, 1999). Regrettably, mainstream livelihoods analyses have been largely focused on its instrumental aspect (Scoones, 2009).
i) Human capital
Human capital refers to the labour resources available to households (Rakodi, 1999). Education qualifications, skills and health status of household members determine the quality of human capital available while the quantity of labour resources available depends on a household lifecycle and dependency ratio (Rakodi with Lloyd-Jones, 2002). As children in a young household grow up, the number of labour resources increases. In contrast, the human capital of a household declines when its members age or become sick and no longer have the means to make a living.
Households in urban areas generally have better access to education and healthcare compare with remote rural areas. Still, some urban poor may not be able to afford to send their children to schools or hospitals as such services are not always provided for free by governments. Furthermore, Guha Sapir (1996, as cited in Farrington et al, 2002) found that in South Asian cities, households tend to spend more on healthcare for boys and men. In a cholera epidemic in Bangladesh, girls and women were only sent to hospitals when the disease was more serious.
ii) Social capital
Social capital includes social relations, networks, connections as well as systems of patronage that people rely on to secure livelihoods (DFID, 1999). Previous studies have confirmed that it is of paramount importance in most villages but research on the significance of social capital in cities remains lacking (Rakodi, 2002). It is especially important as a “resource of last resort” for the poor (DFID, 1999). Even though social connections could be more fluid in cities, Farrington et al (2002) suggested that social capital is essential to both urban and rural households. For instance, rural relatives may supply urban families with food, medicine or childcare and in turn, rely on urban families for additional income.
iii) Physical capital
Physical capital refers to basic infrastructure that people access to pursue their livelihoods, including housing, transport, water and power supply, drainage and access to information (DFID, 1999). Compared with their urban counterparts, the rural poor usually lack access to clean water and electricity, public transport and as a result lack access to education and healthcare as well. In Sarawak, Malaysia, indigenous communities such as the Penans rely on loggers to send their children to schools due to the lack of transport options. Some of these loggers had exploited the advantage to rape the girls (Then and Ling, 2009).
For the urban poor, land is scarce in cities and housing is costlier so most end up in informal settlements. The quality and location of housing is also link to financial capital (availability of jobs), human capital (health status) and social capital (support networks). Farrington et al (2002) highlighted that to apply for government assistance or jobs, individuals need a fixed address. Thus without secure housing, their livelihood opportunities and public services would be reduced. Citing Benjamin and Amis (1999), they added that even informal moneylenders would only lend money to those who own their houses. Consequently, tenants from informal settlements can only go to pawnbrokers for credit.
iv) Natural capital
Land, rivers and forests are among some of the natural capital from which rural households derived their livelihoods (Rakodi, 1999). Access to common property resources and subsistence agriculture enable rural dwellers to obtain food, water and accommodation without financial income. Consequently, the loss of common property resources due to rapid deforestation, urbanisation and pollution has a negative impact on rural livelihoods, particularly indigenous people.
In comparison, direct access to natural capital is less relevant to urban dwellers unless they engaged in urban agriculture (Farrington et al, 2002). Nonetheless, urban populations remain dependant on natural resources such as water, energy and food. Due to lack of access to water supply, some of the urban poor may still use rivers for washing and drinking. In addition, Satterthwaite (2000) pointed out that many urban centres thrive on processing and marketing agricultural produce such as the production of silk cocoon near Bangalore, India. As a result, fluctuations in agricultural yield would have a knock-on effect on downstream industries and livelihoods reliant on these sectors.
v) Financial capital
Financial capital includes cash income, savings, credit and liquid assets such as livestock and jewellery. It is arguably the most important resource for urban residents as they rely on it to secure accommodation, food, water, sanitation and more (Farrington et al, 2002). But in both urban and rural areas, credit can be hard to access for low-income groups. Research have shown that urban informal settlers could be charged up to 30% interest per annum in Latin America and South Asia (Rutherford, 1999).
vi) Political capital?
Political capital determines access to decision-making and is highly gendered (Rakodi, 2002). DFID (1999) subsumed it under social capital but Farrington et al (2002) thinks it deserves a category of its own in the analysis of livelihoods assets. While privileged groups with links to officials and politicians may abuse it to obtain resources meant for the poor, marginalised individuals and households in both urban and rural areas need it to assert their rights and challenge unjust power structures and institutions.
Scoones (2009) argued against including political capital as just one category in the livelihoods assets. He contested that analysis of power and politics is needed in different aspects of the livelihoods framework including the vulnerability context, transforming structures and processes as well as access to assets. But with development practitioners’ disproportionate focus on the asset pentagon, I think it is important to include political capital to remind them of the importance of analysing how unequal distribution of power among different social groups and gender further disenfranchise already marginalised communities.
Households in rural and urban areas devise a variety of strategies to utilise the livelihoods assets available to them to cope with shocks and stress as well as to enhance their livelihoods outcomes (Farrington et al, 2002). Similar to the vulnerability context, Rakodi (1999) wrote that households’ strategies are influenced by gender division of labour, lifecycle as well as their wider political, social, cultural, economic and natural environments. On top of that, they are also shaped by individuals’ personal ambitions.
Scoones (1998) reported that rural inhabitants generally rely on three livelihoods strategies: agricultural intensification or extension, diversification and migration. The second and third options are also available to urban populations. Rigg (2006) observed that in Southeast Asia, youths are migrating from villages to urban areas and foreign countries in search of more and better employment opportunities. However, Farrington et al (2002) noted that the urban poor would also migrate or commute to work in peri-urban or rural areas if there were seasonal agricultural work available. Citing Brook and Davila (2000), they highlighted that a quarter of the female labour force and nearly 14% of the male labourers in Karnataka, a state in southwest India derived their income from agricultural activities.
Indeed, agricultural activities can act as safety valves for the urban poor when jobs are loss during economic crises. At the same time, off-farm activities become a buffer for the rural poor should demand for agricultural labour fall. Diversification can be a strategy of accumulation for the rich, a strategy of consolidation for the middle class but for the poor, it is usually a strategy of survival (Rigg, 2006).
There remain limitations in the real-life applications of the sustainable livelihoods framework as international agencies often focus on local level power dynamics at the expense of neglecting wider structures of inequality (Scoones, 2009). It also remains difficult to gauge the sustainability of livelihoods. Despite that, it has contributed to a better understanding of rural and urban poverty as well as highlight rural-urban linkages. I think the framework is still a useful tool to analyse local livelihoods in diverse regions in the Global South. From the vulnerability context, livelihoods assets to strategies, it could help researchers and policymakers to gain a better understanding of the impact of global forces, national policies and local authorities on rural, peri-urban and urban areas. And hopefully from there, devise better policies and interventions for the poor and marginalised.
Bebbington, A. (1999) Capitals and capabilities: A framework for analyzing peasant viability, rural livelihoods and poverty. World Development, 27(12), 2021-2044.
Benjamin, S. and Amis, P. (1999) Urban governance, partnership and poverty in Bangalore. Birmingham, UK: International Development Department, School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham.
Brook, R. and Davila, J. (2000) The peri-urban interface: A tale of two cities’ School of Agricultural and Forest Sciences. London: University of Wales and Development Planning Unit, University College London.
Carney, D. with Drinkwater, M., Rusinow, T., Neefjes, K., Wanmali, S., and Singh, N. (1999) Livelihoods approaches compared: A brief comparison of the livelihoods approaches of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), CARE, Oxfam and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). London: DFID.
Chambers, R. (1995) Poverty and livelihoods: whose reality counts? Environment and Urbanization, 7(1), 173-204.
Chambers, R. and Conway, G.R. (1992) Sustainable rural livelihoods: practical concepts for the 21st century. IDS Discussion Paper 296. Brighton: IDS.
DFID. (1999) Sustainable livelihoods guidance sheets. London: Department for International Development.
DPU. (2001) Living between rural and urban areas: Shaping change for improved livelihoods and a better environment. London: Development Planning Unit, University College London.
Farrington, J., Ramasut, T. and Walker, J. (2002) Sustainable livelihoods approaches in urban areas: general lessons, with illustrations from Indian cases. ODI Working Paper 162. London: Overseas Development Institute.
Guha Sapir, D. (1996) Health and nutrition of the urban poor: The case of the Calcutta slums. In: M.D. Dasgupta, L. Chen and T.N. Krishnan (eds.) Health, poverty and development in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Mitlin, D. and Satterthwaite, D. (2013) Urban poverty in the Global South: scale and nature. Oxon: Routledge.
Rakodi, C. (1999) A capital assets framework for analysis household livelihood strategies: Implications for policy. Development Policy Review, 17, 315-342.
Rakodi, C. with Lloyd-Jones, T. (2002) Urban livelihoods: a people-centred approach to reducing poverty. London: Earthscan.
Rigg, J. (2006) Evolving rural-urban relations and livelihoods in Southeast Asia. In: C. Tacoli, ed. The Earthscan reader in rural-urban linkages. London: Earthscan, 2006, 68-87.
Rutherford, S. (1999) The poor and their money: An essay about financial services for the poor. Finance and Development Programme Working Paper Series 3. Manchester, UK: Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester.
Satterthwaite, D. (2000) ‘Seeking an understanding of poverty that recognises rural–urban differences and rural–urban linkages.’ Paper presented at the World Bank’s urban forum on Urban Poverty Reduction in the 21st Century, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), April 2000.
Scoones, I. (1998) Sustainable rural livelihoods: A framework for analysis. IDS Working Paper 72. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
Scoones, I. (2009) Livelihoods perspectives and rural development. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 36(1), 171-196.
Solesbury, W. (2003) Sustainable livelihoods: A case study of the evolution of DFID policy. ODI Working Paper 217. London: Overseas Development Institute.
Then, S. and Ling, S. (2009) The rape of young Penan girls: Cops want more info. The Star, 10 September. Available at http://www.thestar.com.my/story.aspx/?file=%2f2009%2f9%2f10%2fnation%2f20090910155257 [Accessed 10 January 2014]
This essay was written for the “Environment, Livelihoods and Development in the South” module I took at King’s College London.
The Green Revolution is generally associated with the rapid spread of high-yielding varieties (HYV) of food crops and the introduction of intensive use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation to Third World agriculture from the 1940s to the 1960s (Dixon, 1990). Its socio-economic impact remains a contentious subject in the academia. Some claimed that the quantum leap in food production spurred by the Green Revolution outstripped the pace of population growth and spared millions from starvation (Paarlberg, 2010). However, critics rebutted that the capital-intensive technologies have not end hunger but widen inequality among agrarian communities in the developing world (Shiva, 1991). This essay aims to critically assess how different scales of analysis have shaped perception of the Green Revolution’s impact.
Global food production and hunger
If the Green Revolution’s impact were measured solely based on global food production, then it would have been a success as it contributed to the doubling of yield of major food crops in developing countries between 1958 and 1978 (Lipton with Longhurst, 1989). Its effect was especially prominent in South Asia and Southeast Asia where the HYV seeds were widely adopted (Paarlberg, 2010). The new seeds bred by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines were once known as the “miracle seeds” (Yapa, 1993, p.255). It should be noted though that non-IRRI rice seeds developed through national initiatives such as in China, North Vietnam, Brazil and Suriname also contributed to the significant growth in global food production (Pearse, 1980). Jerven (2012, cited by Patel, 2013) pointed out that agricultural productivity made without Green Revolution programmes in the same period were often ignored. Yet if China were excluded from the equation, the number of people starving worldwide would rise over 11% (Rosset, 2000 cited by Patel, 2013).
If the Green Revolution’s success were to be judged based on its efforts to end hunger, then it has been a failure. Globally, it is estimated 842 million people are still chronically undernourished between 2011 and 2013 (von Grebmer et al, 2013). Fifteen out of 19 countries with “alarming” and “extremely alarming” levels of hunger found in the 2013 Global Hunger Index are from Africa, where the Green Revolution technologies were also introduced but failed to take off. Even India and Pakistan, which adopted Green Revolution technologies eagerly in the 1960s and have since became food exporters, are listed among countries with “alarming” and “serious” levels of hunger. It is commonly assumed based on simplistic Malthusian logic that having surplus food production would put an end to famine but throughout history, the poor have starved to death despite the availability of abundant food (Sen, 1982 cited by Lathem, 2009).
Impact on peasants
Did the Green Revolution benefit smallholders? Patel (2013) highlighted that corn, not wheat, was planted by majority of the Mexican peasants in the 1940s while in India, corn was chosen as the first commodity crop to be researched despite being a minority crop. The original ventures of Green Revolution clearly were not targeted at majority of the peasantry. Patel (2013) added that wheat and rice were only included in India’s Green Revolution programme eight to nine years later in 1964 and 1965. Meanwhile, Pearse (1980, p.37) reported that the “great wheat boom” in Mexico has displaced small farmers and concentrated wealth in the hands of less than 200 millionaires. While it is true that small cultivators worldwide adopted HYV seeds subsequently, the resource-intensive nature of Green Revolution technologies meant that richer farmers with more land, access to irrigation and credit to purchase fertilisers were the first adopters and beneficiaries (Patel, 2013). Therefore, it is unsurprising that Freebairn (1995), after examining over 300 studies published between 1970 and 1989 on the Green Revolution, found that inequality has increased at the farmer-level and among different regions.
Some Green Revolution scientists responded to critics and shifted their research focus to breed more “poor farmer-friendly” crops in the later decades (Raju, 2002). Nevertheless, the success of Green Revolution technologies among farmers still hinged upon the availability of state subsidies and infrastructure development (Patel, 2013). For instance, the Mexican government bought locally produced wheat at 33% above world market rate, the Indian and Pakistan governments paid their domestic wheat growers 100% more while the Philippines raised rice subsidies by 50% within a year in 1966 (Paddock, 1970 cited by Patel, 2013). Additionally, Mexico spent 90% of its agricultural budget on big irrigation projects between 1941 and 1952 (Alcantara, 1973 cited by Patel, 2013). India also expanded its irrigation network aggressively in Punjab, Haryana and Western Utter Pradesh (Jewitt, 2002).
One of the key reasons Green Revolution technologies could not flourish in Africa was because its governments were restricted from providing agricultural support to farmers (Thurow and Kilman, 2009). African farmers are forced to compete on the world market with their relatively affluent counterparts in the US, Europe and Asia. Without institutional support, the “miracle seeds” could hardly work its wonders even for relatively well-off farmers in Africa. Thurow and Kilman (2009) wrote that Ethiopian farmers who switched to HYV seeds in the 1990s reaped bountiful harvests yet reported losses due to glut in the local market.
The Green Revolution has been perceived as a success for driving up global food production and driving down food prices for the masses. But if we were to analyse its impact further at the regional and village level, one finds that its development record has been rather uneven. It was touted as a success in Asia, less so in Latin Africa and it has definitely failed to make a mark in Africa. In countries where Green Revolution has been hailed as a success, their governments provided generous subsidies and infrastructure support to farmers. At the village level, wealthier farmers tend to be the first benefactors and smallholders were often late adopters. Clearly, institutional support is needed to drive agricultural innovations and level the playing ground for poor farmers.
Alcantara, C.H.D. (1973) The ‘Green Revolution’ as history: The Mexican experience. Development and Change, 4(2), 25-44.
Das, R.J. (2002) The Green Revolution and poverty: A theoretical and empirical examination of the relation between technology and society. Geoforum, 33, 55-72.
Dixon, C. (1990) Rural development in the Third World. London: Routledge.
Freebairn, D. K. (1995) Did the Green Revolution concentrate income? A quantitative study of research reports. World Development, 23(2), 265-279.
Jewitt, S. (2002) Modern farming, socio-environmental disasters and the displacement of traditional agriculture? A reassessment from Ranchi District, Jharkhand. In Bradnock, R. and Williams, G. eds. South Asia in a globalising world. Essex: Pearson Education, p.19-50.
Jerven, M. (2012) The political economy of agricultural statistics: Evidence from India, Nigeria and Malawi [Online]. Simons Papers in Security and Development No. 18/2012, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University. Available at http://www.sfu.ca/internationalstudies/swp/2012.html [Accessed 14 November 2013]
Lathem, A. (2009) Assessing the legacy of Norman Borlaug: Did the Green Revolution prevent famines? [Online]. Available at http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1710/1/ [Accessed 7 November 2013]
Lipton, M. with Longhurst, R. (1989) New seeds and poor people. London: Unwin Hyman.
Paarlberg, R. (2010) Food politics: What everyone needs to know. New York: Oxford University Press.
Paddock, W.C. (1970) How green is the Green Revolution? Bioscience, 20(16), 897-902.
Patel, R. (2013) The long Green Revolution. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 40(1), 1-63.
Pearse, A. (1980) Seeds of plenty, seeds of want: Social and economic implications of the Green Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rosset, P. (2000) Lessons from the Green Revolution [Online]. Available from http://www.foodfirst.org/media/opeds/2000/4-greenrev.html [Accessed 14 November 2013]
Sen, A. (1982) Poverty and famines: An essay on entitlements and deprivation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Shiva, V. (1991) The violence of the Green Revolution: Third World agriculture, ecology and politics. London: Zed Books.
Thurow, R. and Kilman, S. (2009) Enough: Why the world’s poorest starve in an age of aplenty. New York: Public Affairs.
von Grebmer, K., D. Headey, C. Béné, L. Haddad, T. Olofinbiyi, D. Wiesmann, H. Fritschel, S. Yin, Y. Yohannes, C. Foley, C. von Oppeln, and B. Iseli (2013) 2013 Global Hunger Index: The Challenge of Hunger: Building Resilience to Achieve Food and Nutrition Security. Bonn, Washington, DC, and Dublin: Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide.
Yapa, L. (1993) What are improved seeds? An epistemology of the Green Revolution. Economic Geography, 69(3), 254-273.
by Gan Pei Ling / 28 April 2013 © The Nut Graph
SELANGOR is one of the hot states to watch in this general election. Both the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Barisan Nasional (BN) hope to regain the country’s richest and most populous state.
Unlike Penang, Selangor has traditionally been a BN stronghold. In 2004, the BN won all of Selangor’s 22 parliamentary constituencies and 54 of the 56 state seats. But in a dramatic turn in 2008, PKR, DAP and PAS jointly secured 36 of the state seats.
Five years on, should the PR be given a second term to administer the state? How do the two coalitions’ manifestos and candidates compare with each other? And what are the likely election outcomes?
The PR’s record
Over the past five years, the first-term PR state administration in Selangor instituted open tenders, enforced the Freedom of Information Enactment, and carried out several legislative reforms to restore its state assembly’s independence.
In 2008, the young coalition appointed four women into its state executive council and made Haniza Talha the first female deputy speaker in Selangor. The state went on to create history and appointed women to lead the Kuala Selangor District Council in 2011 and Petaling Jaya City Council in 2012.
Under the PR, the state government has also tabled balanced budgets except for 2009 due to the global financial crisis. Past Auditor-General Reports have praised the state’s financial management record, which saw Selangor’s reserves hitting a historic high of RM2.6 billion in January 2013.
Under former Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, the administration also carried out several welfare initiatives. Aside from the better-known 20 cubic-metre free water programme, it was the first to moot and implement the idea of affordable housing for the state’s lower middle class.
It is hard to miss the striking similarities between the existing welfare programmes under Khalid’s administration and the promises made in the Selangor BN manifesto. Free water, affordable housing, cash incentives for newborns, free WiFi and free tuition for students are being promised to voters if they help the BN win back the state.
The BN also says it would lower assessment taxes – and that’s about where the similarity ends. It remains silent on local government elections, which PR state governments have struggled to reinstate due to restrictons in the federal Local Government Act. Penang has since brought the federal government to court, while Selangor experimented with village chief elections in 2011.
It is also uncertain if the BN will carry on the practice of open tenders and legislative reforms kick-started by the PR. In contrast, the PR in Selangor have pledged to continue improving the state’s governance, including setting up an autonomous legislative service commission that will restore the state assembly’s financial independence.
The BN unveiled its list of candidates on 16 April 2013. It dropped tainted leaders such as former Menteri Besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo and Datuk Mohd Satim Diman, but five of its candidates have since been accused of possessing bogus degrees.
And while the PR’s candidate for menteri besar is quite likely Khalid again if he wins, things on the BN side aren’t so clear. Glomac Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Fateh Iskandar, a high-profile Umno politician who was initially speculated to be the menteri besar-in-waiting, is not competing in the elections. So who will become Selangor’s menteri besar if the BN is voted in? Selangor BN coordinator Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed told The Star that four candidates had been shortlisted but remained tight-lipped about their identities.
Political scientist Dr Wong Chin Huat believes the BN’s lack of a clear menteri besar candidate will hamper its campaign in Selangor.
“Selangor is one the most urbanised states and voters’ expectations are higher. People will ask. The BN needs somebody who can clearly compete with Khalid,” he told The Nut Graph in an interview on 21 April 2013.
BN national chief Datuk Seri Najib Razak has appointed himself to lead the campaign in Selangor. But Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMCEDEL) director Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Redzuan Othman thinks Najib’s influence could be limited.
According to the centre’s latest survey among 1,407 voters in peninsular Malaysia from 3 to 20 April 2013, Najib is only slightly more popular than PR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The BN chief’s overall rating, at 54%, is only eight percentage points higher than Anwar’s 46%.
The study, which Mohd Redzuan presented to the press on 25 April 2013, also found the electorate’s general acceptance of the PR’s manifesto to be higher than BN’s manifesto.
Overall, the difference in support for both coalitions is only between three and five percentage points. Mohd Redzuan declined to reveal the exact figures but said both scored less than 50%. “It could swing both ways (on polling day),” he said.
The UMCEDEL survey did not focus separately on Selangor, but Mohd Redzuan told The Nut Graph that the state differed from other peninsular states with its high internet penetration rate. From previous surveys, the level of support for the PR has tended to be higher among voters who have access to the online media.
In 2008, most seats that fell to the PR were urban or semi-urban, while Umno retained most rural seats.
Wong predicts that the PR has a strong chance of retaining Selangor barring “massive” electoral fraud.
Assuming state-wide Malay Malaysian voters’ support at 35%, Chinese support at 80%, Indian and other ethnicities’ support at 40%, and a similar voter turnout rate as in 2008, Wong calculated that the PR should still be able to win 34 seats.
“That’s a very conservative estimate, taking into account the effect of Najib’s goodies including BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia),” he said. People in Selangor have benefited from Selangor PR’s welfare programmes as well, he added.
A more optimistic picture could see Malay support for the PR at 40%, and combined support from other ethnicities at 50%, thus enabling the PR to win more than 40 seats and secure a two-third majority in Selangor.
Still, some 25 state seats in Selangor are seeing three- to six-cornered fights with a flurry of independents and small parties in the fray. How will that affect the election outcome? Where former party members are contesting as independents, such as former Selangor DAP publicity secretary Jenice Lee and Sepang Umno Youth chief Datuk Suhaimi Mohd Ghazali, Wong said it would hinge on how far the political parties can pacify the disgruntled supporters.
“They may split vote for both sides,” he said. “It depends on the seats contested, but, in the bigger picture, I think they are not a threat (to the BN or PR).”
Posted: July 28th, 2013
, The Nut Graph
Comments: No Comments
by Gan Pei Ling / 12 April 2013 © Selangor Times
MALAYSIANS are finally going to the polls on May 5 after intense speculation for more than a year.
BN chief Datuk Seri Najib Razak pledged more cash handouts and development projects in a manifesto themed “Aku Janji” unveiled last Saturday.The ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) is going all out to regain the two-thirds majority in Parliament and five states it lost -in 2008.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR), which aims to unseat the half-a-century-old regime, promises lower petrol, water and electricity prices, to reform public institutions and wipe out corruption in its manifesto titled “Pakatan Harapan Rakyat” released earlier in February.
The manifestos provide a gauge for our 13.27 million voters the direction BN and PR plan to take our country, particularly for some three million people who will be voting for the first time.
So how do the two coalitions size up against each other? Selangor Times speaks to independent analysts and academics to get their immediate thoughts.
Business-as-usual for BN
Merdeka Centrer for Opinion Research programme director Ibrahim Suffian thinks BN’s manifesto is an extension and report card of Najib’s attempted reforms.
“It has a lot of explanations about what the (incumbent) government has done and the future projects that they want to put in place,” he said in a phone interview.
Najib took over the premiership from Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi exactly four years ago.
Notable reforms implemented during his administration include the abolition of the Internal Security Act, emergency laws and annual licence for newspapers.
He also set up the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (Pemandu) which introduced the “Government Transformation Programme (GTP)” and “Economic Transformation Programme (ETP)” in a bid to overhaul the bloated civil service and national economy.
Yet, Najib’s tenure has also been plagued by corruption scandals involving the National Feedlot Corporation, submarine deals and most recently, native customary land grab in Sarawak.
Ibrahim pointed out that as the incumbent government, BN has found it difficult to tackle corruption, cut wastage in the public sector and address other systemic problems in the economy.
“They promised to carry out open tenders but this has not been done,” he noted.
As such, the BN manifesto focuses on giving more cash back for the public and infrastructure development such as building more roads, highways and schools.
In comparison, the independent pollster said PR offers more groundbreaking proposals to promote good governance.
The three-party alliance has vowed to restructure the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, restore its integrity by focusing on big corruption cases as well as reviewing anti-graft laws.
PR leaders have also agreed to abolish the Official Secrets Act and enact a Freedom of Information Act after earning brickbats from critics for failing to include it in their manifesto.
However, Ibrahim and political economist Prof Dr Edmund Terence Gomez think that both manifestos are populist in nature.
While BN pledged to give more cash to low-income earners and increase subsidies, PR said it would lower fuel and utility tariffs, abolish the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) and provide free tertiary education.
In addition, both coalitions have promised to raise government servants’ salary.
“They didn’t deal with the issue of how the government is going to pay for it,” said Gomez, an academic from Universiti Malaya Faculty of Economics and Administration.
He said the country relies on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to drive economic growth but inadequate attention has been paid to economic reforms needed to spur the growth of SMEs.
To be fair, PR did mention it would set up a RM500 million innovation fund and divert government assistance from large industries to SMEs if it comes into federal power.
And BN has mentioned in its manifesto that it would implement a plan for the “transformation” of SMEs and set up a National Trading Company to promote SMEs’ products in overseas markets.
But Gomez hit out at Najib’s administration for failing to implement significant reforms under the much-touted New Economic Model, ETP and GTP.
“They have identified the problems in our government, economy, education and came out with recommendations.
“But they have had problems instituting the reforms over the past four years. Why should we assume that they will be able to keep their promises (in the manifesto)?” he said.
Gomez acknowledged that increasing the Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia for singles up to RM600 and households to RM1,200 is a highly effective way for BN to garner electorate support among t e poor.
The cash handout will provide temporary relief to low-income groups.
“But is it sustainable? Will it solve the issue of poverty?” questioned the public intellectual.
He noted that Sabah, Sarawak and other states in Peninsular Malaysia such as Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis remain the poorest states in the country.
And BN has failed to address the widening regional development gap despite being in government for 55 years.
Although a manifesto is a set of election promises to woo voters, it should still be based on sound policies that are feasible and sustainable.
Gomez highlighted that both coalitions have pledged to build more affordable homes without dealing with the core problem of escalating construction cost and property speculation.
Meanwhile, PR also seems to be contradicting itself by vowing to improve public transportation, reduce traffic congestion yet slashing car and fuel prices at the same time.
With cheaper cars and travelling costs, the public will have little incentive to adopt public transport.
“It will likely congest our streets even more (and increase carbon emission). At an age where everyone is concerned about climate change, is it a wise move?” Gomez remarked.
A better Malaysia
Finally, providing quality public education is central to eradicating poverty and nurturing the human resources needed to steer Malaysia towards achieving developed status. But the declining standard of our education system has become a common complaint among parents, teachers and students.
Educationist Datuk Dr Toh Kin Woon said the BN’s approach to education has been a failure.
“They talk about creating a world-class education system but I don’t see how they can achieve it,” Toh said in a phone interview.
The retired academic believes under PR, at least there is hope that greater emphasis will be placed on meritocracy in the recruitment and promotion of teachers.
“There’s also hope that there will be greater decentralisation, providing state education departments and district offices more flexibility in the implementation of education policies,” said the soft-spoken Toh.
He said decentralisation in decision-making in the government has helped to raise education standards in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia.
The former Gerakan politician added that PR is more forthcoming in its pledges to provide equal resources to schools from various language streams.
On top of that, the young coalition vowed to loosen the government’s stranglehold on our tertiary institutions and restore academic freedom by abolishing the Universities and University Colleges Act.
Overall, PR seems to offer a bolder manifesto to reform our government, economy and education.
But aside from the manifestos, the quality of candidates put forth by political parties will influence voters’ decision in the polls too.
Come May 5, whichever coalition makes it to Putrajaya, it is up to citizens to hold the political parties accountable to their election promises and ensure the new government implements responsible policies to develop the country.
Sidebar: What’s in it for the women and indigenous people?
WOMEN make up half the population in the country but local political parties have been slow to adopt policies to promote gender equality.
Both Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Barisan Nasional (BN) have pledged to increase women’s participation in decision-making roles in their manifestos.
But are they serious in removing obstacles that hinder female participation in politics and the economy?
In the 12rh General Election, only 23 women were elected to Parliament, making up slightly over a tenth of the 222 seats.
The statistics are even lower in state legislatures, where there were only 27 BN female lawmakers and 21 from PR out of the 576 state seats.
Women’s rights activist Maria Chin Abdullah thinks both coalitions should put forth more women candidates in the upcoming polls if they were committed to their pledge.
“We definitely need more women in Parliament and State Assemblies,” said the executive director of Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) in an email interview.
She pointed out that both coalitions are more interested in giving out cash to married women in their manifestos.
Policies that empower young or single women are notably missing.
“Both are weak in substantive empowerment due to the welfare approach. There’s nothing wrong in giving money but it’s a short-term measure,” said Maria.
The saving grace for BN, she said, is that the coalition claimed it would implement schemes to support women working from home.
“But what about men who choose to work from home? Why are they not encouraged?” questioned the activist.
She said the policy is based on a false, stereotypical assumption that only women work from home.
Furthermore, Maria took the BN regime to task for failing to implement significant gender reforms after 55 years in government.
“Women’s groups have been fighting for the recognition of other forms of rape in our laws such as marital rape and gang rape, the review of Syariah laws that discriminate against Muslim women, the implementation of sex education to reduce sexual violence against women,” she cited as examples.
She added that there has been little effort by the BN regime to address the increase of women affected by HIV and AIDS, human trafficking and review the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.
Maria gave PR credit for addressing some of these issues in its Agenda for Women, which was launched separately last year.
It also promised to adopt gender budgeting, which is about breaking down government data to ensure public resources are allocated equally to both sexes.
“It will shift the burden of women’s welfare from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to the Health, Education, Transport and other ministries that also deal with women’s problems,” she explained.
Meanwhile, both BN and PR have promised to uphold the indigenous people’s native customary land rights (NCR).
However, Centre for Orang Asli Concerns director Dr Colin Nicholas said if BN was sincere, its federal and state governments should have withdrawn from court battles over land disputes with the indigenous people.
“Why make free promises now?” questioned the academic-turned-activist.
He highlighted that PR has vowed to gazette 141,000 hectares of Orang Asli land but he said that is less than 20% of their customary land.
“It’s not enough and it’s what the BN government recognises as well,” said Nicholas in a phone interview.
While the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government has tried to gazette Orang Asli reserve over the past five years, the Kelantan government has been embroiled in land disputes with the Orang Asli there.
“It’s very difficult to ask the Orang Asli there to vote for PAS,” he said.
Nicholas said both BN and PR should come forth and support the UN Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, implement laws to comply with the it if the coalitions are truly for indigenous people.
by Gan Pei Ling / 22 March 2013 © Selangor Times
DURING a recent trip to Miri in January, my flight arrived at the same time as the Sarawak Chief Minister’s.
I watched from my economy seat as Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud stepped down from his jet plane, accompanied by his young Lebanese wife Puan Sri Raghad Kurdi Taib, on a red carpet.
Abdul Taib has ruled Sarawak for more than three decades as the president of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).
He took over the reins of power from his uncle, the third Chief Minister Tun Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman Yaa’kub, in 1981.
Under his rule, Sarawak, together with Johor and Sabah, is known as the fixed deposit for Barisan Nasional (BN).
At present, DAP only holds two out of 31 federal seats in Sarawak while PKR has none.
The political tsunami, which resulted in a change in five state governments in Peninsular Malaysia in 2008, did not reach Sarawak’s shores.
BN comfortably retained its two-third majority in the 2011 state elections, clinching 55 out of 71 seats.
In the upcoming national polls, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) hopes to wrest a third of the parliamentary seats in Sarawak in their quest to oust BN from Putrajaya.
“We’re confident of winning 10 seats (in Sarawak),” said PKR’s Baram parliamentary candidate Roland Engan.
The indigenous lawyer hails from Long Jeeh, one of several Kenyah villages along the main river of Baram.
Apart from urban seats like Kuching, Sibu and Miri, PR is focusing on rural constituencies such as Baram where the indigenous people are increasingly dissatisfied with the ruling government due to land disputes and corruption.
I had flown to Sarawak at my own expense to cover the indigenous people’s protest against the Baram hydroelectric dam, which will displace about 20,000 natives from their homes and flood 412 sq metres of rainforest.
PKR had initiated the long boat protest, backed by Save Sarawak Rivers Network.
The NGO was set up last year to oppose several mega dams the state government is building. Its chairperson, Peter Kallang, is also a Kenyah born and bred from Long Ikang, Baram.
The Baram valley is home to Malaysia’s second longest river and many legends.
The river runs strong and wide. It serves as the “highway” for the locals here.
The Baram River
Kenyah and Kayan villages can be found along the main river while Penan villages are scattered around its tributaries.
However, the vast Baram basin has been logged intensively since the 1980s.
Once translucent, the river has turned murky over the years due to soil erosion.
An independent candidate, Harrison Ngau Laing, had won the Baram parliamentary seat by capitalising on logging issues in 1990.
The Kayan lawyer has since joined PKR and is now the party’s Baram branch chief.
In the 2011 elections, he competed in Telang Usan, one of two state seats under Baram, and lost narrowly by 845 votes to PBB’s Dennis Ngau.
But in the neighbouring state seat of Marudi, PKR’s candidate was thrashed by BN, which won with a 3,202 majority.
The Baram parliamentary constituency has a total of 29,042 voters according to the Election Commission’s latest statistics in November 2012.
Engan, who helped Harrison campaign in 2011, hopes to ride on the people’s growing opposition against the Baram Dam to garner support in the upcoming polls.
PR has pledged to halt the construction of mega dams.
But would his strategy work? The villagers’ response to the long boat protest organised by PKR could serve as a gauge.
On Jan 16, the organisers met in Long San, a village about six hour drive from Miri, before travelling upstream to the furthest village reachable by boat – Lio Mato, which literally means Hundred Isles in Kenyah.
Twenty-six villages that will be directly affected by the dam were invited to join the long boat convoy travelling downstream from Lio Mato to Long Lama over a period of five days.
Engan, Kallang and local activists visited the villages one-by-one to mobilise the people and collect signatures.
At the first stop on Jan 17 at Long Tungan, some 40 villagers dressed in traditional costume warmly welcomed the convoy with drums. But the same could not be said about subsequent villages like Long Semiang and Long Selaan, where few villagers were around to receive the convoy.
Villagers at Long Tungan received the protest convoy warmly.
Most village chiefs, political appointees who receive RM450 monthly and other perks from the state, are still afraid to be associated with the opposition party and told their villagers to stay away.
Yet, a few village chiefs would openly declare their support for PKR as they pinch their hope on the party to scrap the hydropower project should it come into power.
“We have stayed here all our lives. God gave us this land. We have everything we need here. We don’t want to move,” Long Apu village head Tingang Use told the crowd when met on Jan 18.
Their villagers had lined up along the jetty to greet the protesting convoy.
At villages like Long Anap, Long San and Long Na’ah, the people disregarded their chiefs’ instruction and welcomed the convoy enthusiastically.
Shouts of “Ayen ti dam! Mangna dam! Amai manu dam!”, which means “Stop Baram Dam” in the Kenyah, Kayan and Penan language respectively, rang out as the convoy continued on its journey down the river.
Mobile and Internet coverage were non-existent until we reached Long Na’ah, the village closest to the proposed dam site.
The Kayan villagers had chased the dam surveyors away last year and erected a warning sign at the village’s entrance.
“We told them they are not welcome here and warned them not to come again,” said Enyie Eng, 67, a subsistence farmer who participated in the long boat protest.
At the end of the journey on Jan 20, over 40 long boats converged at Long Lama.
In addition, some 500 people were gathered at the town to listen to speeches by Engan and Alan Ling, the DAP assemblyperson who defeated former SUPP chief Tan Sri Dr George Chan to win the Piasau seat in Miri in 2011.
Ini kali lah?
Following the January protest, Abdul Taib flew to Long Lama last month and announced the establishment of a new township at Telang Usan.
The Chief Minister’s visit aimed to pacify rising opposition against the dam, apart from to shore up support for incumbent Baram MP Datuk Jacob Dungau Sagan ahead of elections.
Sagan, who is also the Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industries, has held the seat since 1994.
But the indigenous people in Baram have lost hectares of their customary land to logging companies over the decades.
The hydropower project, which will force them out of their ancestral homes entirely, may just prove to be the last straw that will break the camel’s back.
Many villagers I met said they tune in to Radio Free Sarawak daily from 6pm to 8pm to listen to the only traditional media outlet that dares critique the Abdul Taib government openly in Sarawak.
The state had threatened to jam the British-based radio station in January as it is fast making inroads into rural areas.
Nevertheless, Sarawak is huge and with its one million voters scattered in remote villages, the task of stopping the radio station has not yet taken place.
Engan has had to dig into his own savings to campaign in the Baram parliamentary constituency, which is as big as Pahang, the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia.
He said PKR allocates RM3,000 a month to the Baram branch but one trip to the interior could easily cost twice as much.
Despite the wealth of its natural resources, Sarawak’s infrastructure development lags far behind Peninsular Malaysia states.
It is also the third poorest state in Malaysia, after Sabah and Perlis.
A short documentary recently released by international human rights watchdog Global Witness laid bare the systemic corruption in the state and its grave implications.
Titled Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State, the 16-minutes film exposed the instruments used by certain parties to evade taxes and profit from land deals at the expense of the natives, who were described as “squatters”.
However, PKR candidates will bring the film to longhouses and broadcast it before their ceramah, as Engan would screen documentaries on Bakun whenever the convoy stops over for the night at villages.
If PKR can bring this message to its targeted constituencies, the coalition may just win enough seats in Sarawak to help them throw BN out of Putrajaya in the upcoming elections.
Sidebar: Grand development plan
THE Baram Dam is but one of four mega hydroelectric dams that the Sarawak government plans to build by 2020.
This is on top of the existing Batang Ai Dam, Bakun Dam, the largest outside China, and Murum Dam, expected to be completed this year.
The hydropower projects are part of the state government’s Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy plan, better known as SCORE, to produce cheap electricity to attract energy-intensive industries to the state.
The US$105 billion (RM318.5 billion) plan, which would generate nearly as much power as the massive Three Gorges Dam in China, aims to “transform Sarawak into a developed state by year 2020”.
It is part of a grand development plan to grow the state’s economy by a factor of five, increase jobs and double the population to 4.6 million by 2030.
However, the 2,400-megawatt Bakun Dam, located at the Rejang River, had already forced 10,000 indigenous people to be relocated in the 1990s.
The 944-megawatt Murum Dam, also located at the Rejang River, will displace another 1,500 natives from their homes.
Panai Erang, 55, is a Penan village chief who has been to the Sungai Asap settlement where the Bakun people are relocated.
The community leader from Kampung Ba Abang, Baram was dismayed to find out that the settlers were given substandard houses and infertile farmland.
Some of the Sungai Asap settlers have returned to Bakun and are living on floating houses at the dam site.
“All the Penans in Baram are against the dam. We want to remain in our ancestral land,” he said.
Erang had travelled with the protesting long boat convoy organised by PKR from Jan 16 to Jan 20 for the entire journey.
From village to village, he would urge the Kenyah and Kayan to protest the dams with their votes.
“Many Penans can’t vote because we don’t have ICs, I hope the Kenyah and Kayan people can vote for PKR so that the dam can be cancelled,” he said.
Erang said more than half of his villagers do not have birth certificates nor MyKad and only five people from his village can vote at present.
The difficulty in securing a MyKad is a long-standing sore point among the indigenous people in Sarawak.
At least 40,000 indigenous people in the state are stateless, the deputy federal regional development minister Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun estimated in 2010.
A 27-year-old woman of Kenyah-Kayan descent from Long Pillah, Baram, told me she has travelled to Miri to apply for a MyKad last year but was asked to apply again.
“They want the village chief’s and school principal’s support letters and photos of my five siblings. But I have lost contact with them,” said the mother-of-four who declined to reveal her name.
Her siblings are either married to other villagers or working in towns like Bintulu and Kuching.
Without mobile coverage in her village and their addresses, she said she is practically left in a limbo.
Stateless indigenous youths like her are forced to remain in the village to work as caretakers or farmers.
Those who went to work in urban areas risk being arrested by the police.
Life is likely to get tougher for them if the dams are built.
Without a MyKad, it will be difficult for them to look for jobs in towns and cities.