Sunday, June 26, 2005

Vandana Shiva on poverty

Excerpted from an article by Vandana Shiva for ZNet, quoted in its entirety in Bill Totten's Weblog: How to End Poverty.

I think Shiva's ideas are extremely important, but it's also vital to remember that thousands of years of human misery have been caused by the human tendency to overpopulate. The consequence of too many people for any given ecosystem: the stripping of resources and a subsequent profound environmental degradation, and eventually, profound suffering.

It is useful to separate a cultural conception of simple, sustainable living as poverty from the material experience of poverty that is a result of dispossession and deprivation.

Sustenance economies, which satisfy basic needs through self-provisioning, are not poor in the sense of being deprived. Yet the ideology of development declares them so because they do not participate overwhelmingly in the market economy, and do not consume commodities produced for and distributed through the market even though they might be satisfying those needs through self-provisioning mechanisms.

The "poor are not poor because they are lazy or their governments are corrupt". They are poor because their wealth has been appropriated and wealth creating capacity destroyed.

The riches accumulated by Europe were based on riches appropriated from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India's rich textile industry, without the take over of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without the Africa's slavery, the industrial revolution would not have led to new riches for Europe or the US.

What goes unperceived is the destruction in nature and in people's sustenance economy that growth creates.

Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction. The disease is then offered as a cure: growth will solve the problems of poverty and environmental crisis it has given rise to in the first place.

The second myth that separates affluence from poverty is the assumption that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce.

Modern economies and concepts of development cover only a negligible part of the history of human interaction with nature. For centuries, principles of sustenance have given human societies the material basis of survival by deriving livelihoods directly from nature through self-provisioning mechanisms.

People do not die for lack of incomes. They die for lack of access to resources. ... people are poor if they have to buy their basic needs at high prices. Indian peasants who have been made poor and pushed into debt over the past decade to create markets for costly seeds and agrichemicals through economic globalisation are ending their lives in thousands.

This reminds me how struck I was to discover that at the dawn of genetic engineering, Monsanto was striving to develop, not a plant which had natural resistance to insects and diseases, but a plant which had resistance to PESTICIDES, so the farmer could use more [Monsanto] pesticides without killing the crop.

When seeds are patented and peasants will pay $1 trillion in royalties, they will be $1 trillion poorer. Patents on medicines increase costs of AIDS drugs from $200 to $20,000, and cancer drugs from $2,400 to $36,000 for a year's treatment. When water is privatized, and global corporations make $1 trillion from commodification of water, the poor are poorer by $1 trillion.

The poor are financing the rich. If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the unjust and violent systems for wealth creation which create poverty by robbing the poor of their resources, livelihoods and incomes.


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