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II. The process
Any consideration of ecology in development raises a number of problems. Some of these problems are relatively tangible: ecological, economic or administrative. But many of them are more difficult to grasp and define, and are moral or political in nature. Such problems generally receive little explicit, open discussion. The reason probably lies in the fact that the relationship between our epistemology and our experience is paradoxical: the rules which we develop to explain natural processes defy attempts to extend them into the social or cultural sphere. We "know" how ecological processes work, but somehow our experience presents us with unexpected results. When we attempt to rationalize our experience in order to deal with the practical problems of development, we are confronted with a dilemma: we have to choose and make trade-offs between the priorities of resource management and human welfare.
The dilemma is simply the practical transformation of the paradox. The paradox suffuses the whole constellation of problems of ecology in development and confuses our thinking about basic issues. But it is most acute for the planner, whose task is complicated further by the fact that the relationship between intellectual awareness and practical effort has been changing. In planning circles most discussion is concerned with the design and implementation of practical measures for the solution of the immediate, obvious problems of production and distribution. If it also takes care of long-term resource management, that is a bonus. But little attention is given to the different ways of thinking, feeling, and wanting that underlie those problems in target populations.
The paradox is intellectual; the dilemma is practical. Each is a different representation of the same basic contradiction. The solution of the one entails the resolution of the other. Both ecologists and development planners are less and less able to avoid the dilemma, but instead of confronting it they deal with it in the manner of superficial patching and fail to resolve the paradox. Rather than face up to the fundamental rethinking it requires, they generally still manage to ignore it. This chapter focuses on the relationship between the paradox and the dilemma as two sides of a coin, with the purpose of forming a basis for treating them together in the chapters that follow and making it more difficult for them to be treated separately in the future. The first section spells out the paradox. The second treats the dilemma and seeks to illuminate the social context in which it has recently begun to work itself out.
I. The paradox
Natural and social science, pure and applied
The three dimensions of Ecology
Holism and selectivity in science and in common sense
The essential paradox
From whichever angle we approach the various ecological problems that arise in development (and there are several possible angles: whether as scientist, engineer, or planner; as politician, farmer, or shepherd) sooner or later our expectations are frustrated as we confront one or another face of a general paradox. Paradoxes are characteristically difficult to tie down in clear succinct statements. The following approaches to the present paradox pursue some of its implications and consequences as a prelude to tracing some highlights of its history during the 1970s.
Ecology and development
Recent decades have been characterized by rising social consciousness. This historical phenomenon, which is related to (but not entirely explained by) the changing technology of communication (such as transistor radios, satellite television, computer hookups), has been evident almost everywhere to a greater or lesser degree, but it has taken different forms in different social and cultural situations. In the West, a major focus of this consciousness has been on the diagnosis of continuing decline in the productivity of the world's renewable natural resources, which is generally seen as the result of human activity, and as a threat to the quality of human experience in the future. People now (mostly other people) are destroying the resource base of people in the future (especially of our descendants). In the developing countries, which after all constitute the larger part of the world's population and are therefore also responsible for the major proportion of all human activity, concern about ecological decline is much less evident. In its place is found an increasingly vehement demand for improvement of living conditions today through more even distribution of existing resources.
If human activity causes ecological decline, it also lowers the limits of what can realistically be aimed for through development to improve the conditions of human activity. This conflict between behaviour and ambition underlies much political activity, and it is especially evident in the international arena (See, for example, Schulz 1982). But the conflict derives from a paradox which lies at a deeper level of consciousness: where we process and classify (without thinking) all information and experience as it comes in.
Ecology and development are inescapably interrelated. Particular development, insofar as it is directed towards increased food and other crop production, begs the ecological question of the long-term productivity of resources. Ecological processes do frustrate development (although there are also other reasons for the disappointment of the development record). But ecological constraints are relatively easy to objectify and identify. So, since ecology is firmly rooted in the hard sciences, whose laws all accept and respect, it should be possible to persuade people - all people: planners, politicians, farmers to accede to their imperatives and develop within the confines they prescribe. Why then does ecology continue to threaten us and to exact Malthusian penalties? Why does development planning often misread or otherwise overshoot ecological limits, and contribute to crashes such as the economically and socially unprecedented Sahelian disaster of the early 1970s?
These questions have often been answered in terms of local ignorance, naveté, and greed, but such answers are too simple to be satisfactory. Development (conceived as the planned accomplishment of economic and social change) now demands the operationalisation of ecology (in the sense of what has been learned of the evolution and organisation of ecosystemic relations). However, this logical demand is made against the background of a paradigmatic shift in our general conception of science and society.
The meaning of our concepts of science, society and technology have been changing as one aspect of the accelerating social change experienced by a growing proportion of the world community in the second half of this century. Recently science appears to enjoy less and less academic freedom; technology is no longer believed to be essentially transferable, and society threatens to break out of control, like the uncovered contents of Pandora's box, in ways that were unthinkable less than fifty years ago. The social context of scientific concept and technological solution, as they are learned and used, receives increasing attention. The growth and spread of both political awareness and the means of communication have led to changes in the stakes and the opportunities. as well as the values and the symbols, that give paradigmatic structure to everyday life everywhere, at the local, national and international levels of interaction.
When the movement for global development got underway in the 1950s, it was based on the assumption that technology somewhat narrowly conceived) had the answers to the world's production problems, and all that was needed to implement them was adequate investment; by the time technology came up against new problems, science would have developed the conceptual basis for answering them too. After a while (with the benefit of some hindsight) it became clear that two types of constraint were frustrating the typical development project- if not before completion, then before its planned benefits could be realized. One of these was ecology, the natural processes within which the resource base was embedded; the other was society, the social processes within which the necessary manpower was embedded. For, society, as much as nature, resists men's plans; it is not wax at the hands of the scientist. the planner, the legislator (Passmore 1974, 100).
Natural and social science, pure and applied
Ecology, as the holistic study of the natural environment, had an obvious place among the sciences that backed the movement for the economic development of natural resources. But it was integrated into the planning process only slowly because the ecologist tended to act as a brake on the ambitions of the engineer, forcing him to think in terms of the long-term natural implications of the current project, when he would rather leave that to subsequent operators and move on himself to meet new and more exciting challenges. (The hundred-year history of the development of irrigation in the Punjab, recounted briefly in chapter 3 below, provides abundant examples of this tendency of the engineering profession.)
The study of society - social science - did not take its place among the sciences that backed development (except for a few relatively independent or peripheral branches, such as economics). Apart from a number of individual exceptions, in general sociologists were unaccustomed to thinking in terms of the practical implications of their accumulated knowledge, and sociology has in fact rarely been represented as the holistic study of human experience in such a way that it could meet ecology - the holistic study of nature - on equal terms.
It cannot be overstressed that, unlike the ecologist, the sociologist stands within his own subject matter, and is himself a part of it, in a way that other scientists - pure or applied, including the ecologist and the engineer - are not. The tendency to try to neutralise the implications of this condition in the name of science have paradoxically emasculated sociology as a science, especially within the development context. Social science became divided into schools, which were partly a reflection of the divisions of the society the scientists belonged to, and differed with regard to the feasibility of development.
It is not surprising, therefore, that it has taken social science longer than ecology to become involved in the development effort. Most sociological work on development as a process (as distinct from what has been written about underdevelopment as a condition) has consisted of rationalisation of the effort under the heading of modernization theory, based on unquestioned assumptions of progress, rather than what was needed explanation of what was happening, of success and failure. The root of this aspect of the paradox lies in a lack of scientific awareness of social process, even a refusal to acknowledge it (a kind of social equivalent of psychological repression), and in the related backwardness of social science (for which there are of course interesting social and historical explanations, which are beyond the scope of this essay).
It should by now be clear that one precondition for the resolution of our paradox lies in the integration scientific discovery, technological capability and sociological understanding, in relation to the constraints of ecology and the ambitions of development. But such integration is not easy to accomplish. This essay is written against the background of the concern with this general problem, but has as its specific focus the progress that has been made in understanding the relationship between human activity and natural processes as a basis for reconciling human ambitions with both ecological and social constraints in the development effort; in other words, it is concerned with the practical understanding of the human component of the ecosystem, and of the natural component in human (social) thinking. A little elucidation of the anticipated resolution is necessary here before moving on in the next chapter to a survey of the process of changing orientations.
The three dimensions of ecology
Ecology has become a popular word. But it means different things to different people. In ordinary parlance which can never be entirely divorced from scientific usage it is inexact and emotive. So what does ecology mean for practical purposes?
Ecology has three dimensions of meaning:
1) a natural dimension - it directs attention to the systemic relationships that compose concrete, natural reality;
2) a social or political dimension - it has different social referents according to where the actor stands in relation to others in an ecosystemic whole, in which all manoeuvre for advantage or power; and
3) a cultural or ideological dimension - it stands for a value (it is good), and has the quality and power of a symbol (it moves us).
But we must bear in mind that it is in the nature of symbols not to give exact or unitary or unequivocal meaning (See, for example, Leach 1976). We should be suspicious, therefore, of any pretension that ecology gives complete and clear answers, and careful to distinguish among the different dimensions of its usage.
Holism and selectivity in science and in common sense
How do these three dimensions of the meaning of ecology work in our minds? Meaning is the property of something we understand (though there may be different levels of meaning and we may not be equally conscious of all of them). What we understand is experience, and we understand it through ordering. We order through selecting; and we select in categories. But it is often difficult to see how our categories were established, because categories of thought commonly have to do with the symbolic rather than the scientific dimension of our mental activity. They are not always determined rationally. Thought inherently moves in symbols, but builds in oppositions, which render categories and taxonomies. One of the tasks of science (broadly conceived), and therefore of scientific ecology, is continually to question the boundaries of the categories, in order to minimize the constraints that those boundaries and their selectivity impose on our thought.
In the cultural dimension, more and more people were attracted to the conceptual category of ecology in the 1960s and 70s because of its symbolic value. But as they focused on the star of ecology they did not realize that the meaning they attributed to it was conditioned by their own social context. For this reason every discussion of ecological reality casts some opposing social group in the role of villains. At this symbolic level of meaning ecology functions as a banner to rally one social group for political action against those it sees as rivals.
It is generally assumed that natural ecological processes conform to natural laws, that in cases where we have failed to anticipate particular ecological results the fault lies not in the laws but in our own imperfect understanding of them or of the conditions under which they operate. On the other hand, there is no general agreement about the dynamics of human activities or the causes underlying historical process. Although there have been attempts at formulating laws of human behaviour to complement natural laws, the results have been unconvincing and unsuccessful. But how can human behaviour be lawless if the biological organisms that generate it, as well as its physical environment, both conform to laws? Resolution of this fundamental paradox of human ecology lies in the understanding that natural laws are formulated on the basis of human perception and perception is not a totally complete and accurate representation of reality. Natural laws are still being formulated and improved.
The paradox can be resolved if we admit the full significance of the role of perception in our science and the fact that perception varies individually (for psychological reasons) and between various groupings of people (for social and cultural reasons). The psychological point is generally granted, and psychology no longer has any difficulty in holding its own in interdisciplinary debate. But the social point remains unconceded, even it often seems unrecognized. We concentrate here, therefore, on juxtaposing the social and cultural dimensions with the natural.
Not only science, but all human perception is selective. The degree to which it is selective, and what it selects, varies from one individual to another, and especially from one social group to another (even within one general cultural environment), and from one historical period to another. The conclusion that our scientifically-formulated natural laws may change with time and experience is obvious and inevitable. If the laws may change, it is morally indefensible to use them as a basis for the adjudication of human rights! Of course, if they are the best we have we are bound to make at least tentative use of them, but we should be careful always to bear in mind their limitations rather than be tempted to make political capital out of the presently exaggerated value they enjoy.
Selectivity in ecological observation allows the formulation of natural laws to account for physical and biological phenomena. Selectivity in the observation of human behaviour has in comparison been quite unsuccessful in reducing the diversity of actual activity to the order of predictive laws and, more seriously, it is open to moral objection on the basis of human rights. The resolution of this aspect of the paradox lies not simply in accepting that culture is of a different order from nature, but once again that it is substantially closer to the observer. Because he is more intimate with cultural phenomena. the observer is less able to discriminate what he sees. It is an example of the well known commonsense problem of the woods and the trees.
There is not space here to pursue further this question of the relativity of natural laws and ask what determines the actual forms of perceptual variation, though in what follows the problem is not entirely ignored. However, this preliminary juxtaposition of scientific approaches to ecology and society suffices to introduce the central intellectual problem of resource management in relation to human welfare.
As a result of the accelerated social and economic change of recent decades it is now much easier to see the relationship between society, intellectual climate and the emphases of scientific research. The paradox lies in our inadequate understanding of the relationship between the paradigm of thought and belief on the one hand and the context of behaviour and intent on the other. Scientific and intellectual paradigms and social and political behaviour are inter-related in a dialectical process that also interacts with natural processes. Each is continuously affected (but not determined) by the other, but they do not necessarily move in step. Symbols hover over both. Paradigms change slowly. Society undergoes continual internal reorganization and readjustment. Whether or not social change therefore drags scientific thought feet first into new paradigms, it is more useful because less often attempted - to concentrate here on the social dimension, on the question: What is social change doing, at the global level, to the context of scientific research on dryland ecology as it relates to dryland development problems? In brief, we acknowledge here that ecology operates as a symbol and as a natural process and set out to deal with the problems that arise at the social level, where both nature and symbol are manipulated for advantage by individuals and by groups.
The essential paradox
When we define or characterize a problem as "ecological" we fall into the assumption that it can be solved according to natural laws. We may not yet know those laws but we believe that they are discoverable. Such laws may be imperfectly understood but knowledge of them is increasing fast and seems in most cases to be sufficient for our purposes. But when ecological processes lead to situations that we diagnose
as ecological problems, the immediate or efficient cause lies generally not in nature but in human activities. The interaction of psychological, behavioural, cultural and historical factors that produces human activities is inadequately understood, and prescription of corrective measures is complicated by moral considerations which are involved in the relationship between the local population and the specialist or investigator. We arrive, therefore, immediately at a paradox in our (often unexpressed) assumptions that the natural component of a problem is determined by laws, whereas the socio-cultural component is not, but the socio-cultural component is part of the natural!
Most scientific rationalizations of this apparent contradiction depend on suppression of either the natural or the socio-cultural dimension. Most commonly they take the course of granting the natural priority over the socio-cultural, and of assuming that human activities are somehow contained in the natural. But this assumption is no longer always allowed. It is being replaced by the idea that since natural laws are pronounced by people they are dependent on human perception. This is slowly causing a significant epistemological shift which allows us to find new answers to the problems confronting us by identifying different universes of analysis according to how the universe of the problem is defined by different disciplines.
The ecologist tends to deal with this situation in terms of levels of organization. Unfortunately, however, he generally assumes a hierarchy of levels (Cf. Odum 1975, p. 4). Hierarchy implies rigidity, and domination, and especially the priority of certain types of phenomena (usually natural) over others. The available evidence does not always support these implications.
Here we argue rather for equality of opportunity (cf. Spooner 1982a). Each discipline, each approach, is valid only insofar as it can demonstrate its validity in the context of the case at hand. Symbolic, social and natural processes are inter-related, certainly; but the relationship is neither hierarchical nor systemic. The resolution of the paradox that frustrates the human ecologist, and the solution to the problems of ecology in development, lie in pursuing each dimension in its own right, while giving due credit to the effects on the others, where they can be demonstrated.
II. The process
The subsumption of man into ecology
The subsumption of ecology into the political process
Ecology as a movement
Ecology in administration and planning
A preview of the following chapters
Although we have always known that man operates individually, socially and historically in an ecosystemic context, it is only relatively recently that we have seriously included people in ecological studies. This inclusion involves a change in our conception of nature. It will be interesting to trace some of the ingredients of this change.
The subsumption of man into ecology
Despite the change in its conception, ecology remains a guiding star because it has become a symbol, and it is in the nature of a symbol to mean different things to different people at different times. (By contrast desertification, which underwent popularization in the mid-1970s, was - despite considerable official effort from some quarters - never successfully rendered into a symbol, and seems never to have become fully effective as a stimulus of political action. This failure may perhaps be explained by the fact that the concept was too specific, whereas successful symbols are vague, multivocal, open to different meanings and applications.) But by inserting people explicitly into the conception of ecology we have disturbed the order of that conception. To begin with, therefore. we went through a period of ecological imperialism, when the symbolic value of ecology allowed political sanctions to ecologists to determine what was right or wrong for various other sectors of the population. But as it became clear that contemporary human problems (as distinct from problems in the study of evolution) could not successfully be treated in the framework of adaptation, in the way the condition of other species was generally explained, the framework had to be modified. So long as we force ourselves to make human behaviour fit existing patterns of ecological thought we often have no option but to brand it as maladaptive (which implies a moral judgment), or to do violence to the patterns (which leads to scientific error), or else to be intolerably selective in what we choose to observe - which some are prepared to be. (See for example, Rappaport 1967, 1971a, who explains human behaviour as a mechanistic component of ecological processes in the New Guinea Highlands, without also explaining why the same should not be true of human behaviour in the populations of London or New York City.)
In this type of explanation we are usually faced with the problem "which people," especially "us?" or "them?" or both? For as soon as we look closely at any social situation we can distinguish different interests and different points of view. If we choose to explain only "them," we run into moral problems; if both, we run into problems of objectivity. We are in sight of a resolution of the paradox, only to be faced with a dilemma. The process of changing orientations is a story of manoeuvres in relation to this dilemma, generated by the underlying paradox.
The argument of this essay is set in the story of the last decade or so of the growing awareness of these social and epistemological problems. While as scientists we seek to work out solutions to these problems at the philosophical level, as people we are (along with everyone else) working them out in everyday life (the Lebenswelt of the phenomenologists) in continuous manoeuvre and negotiation about where we stand in relation to each other with regard to the natural and cultural furniture of existence. These activities comprise a dimension of the larger political process, projected onto a new symbol ecology.
It is important to notice the relationship between ecology, politics and epistemology, because it is the key to the explanation of why and how the conception of ecology is changing. The process of reorientation we are concerned with derives from the dialectical interaction of the political and symbolic orders of human life in its natural context. Just as our paradox extends into practical and theoretical, political and moral dimensions, so does the process of change. Not only scientific but also professional and lay perceptions of the problems in the availability of resources and in the quality of the environment and of human life have evolved during the 1970s in ways that, if we study them carefully, may improve our understanding of both scientific and political process generally. These perceptions have become more closely interrelated and more synoptic. They are better informed by a combination of research developments in pedology, hydrology, biology, public health, history, economics, sociology, and anthropology that result from cross-disciplinary interaction: These developments raise new problems that can only be solved by further interaction. Generally, they give grounds for optimism about the future of the relationship between human life and the natural environment. Much of what we have to say here, therefore, relates to bridge building between different disciplinary approaches to certain ecological problems. The results may not be secure, but they are promising.
The subsumption of ecology into the political process
The relationship between human activity and natural processes is dominated by spatial and temporal variation in human needs for food, fibre and energy and in the repertoire of technologies for processing natural resources to satisfy these needs. Relative demand in relation to exploitable resources in each of these categories is a major determining factor in international relations. Besides ecology, population, food, and energy have recently enjoyed symbolic status and functioned as political rallying points. During the 1970s energy become relatively more significant and food and population relatively less. The Third World divided into the Third and the Fourth. The constellation of relationships among different social elements that generate public opinion in the more advanced industrial nations, and between them and national units of the Second, Third and Fourth worlds underwent a number of shifts, in which changes in the price of oil, and to a lesser extent some other commodities, have been both a cause and an effect. These changes in the political economy of the world make better sense when viewed in historical perspective. They are a stage in a longer process which may be usefully seen as starting in the middle of the nineteenth century when the ideas of rationalism, Marxism, and anti-imperialism began to oppose the accepted liberal, capitalist, and Christian mode of thought on which European dominance had been based. This process is now culminating in a period when Arabias, Nigerias and Brazils (each with their share of ecological problems), based on different systems of ideas, play significant and independent international roles alongside the more fully industrialized nations.
Although scientific research may be constrained by a general intellectual paradigm more than by the direct influence of social factors, within that paradigm there can be considerable conflict and variety in the balance of power in relation to particular problems between different politically vocal sectors or lobbies. In relation to the ecology debate, such sectors divide up in several ways: the natural and the social sciences, academia and the professions, planners and politicians. During the 1970s (a decade of intensive discussion, research, analysis, and application, boosted by the sudden increase of Third-World capital and demand resulting from the increase in oil prices in 1973) progress in the solution of problems was spectacular. But shifts in the relations of the major participants in the debate and the scientific and non-scientific causes of those shifts may, if studied carefully, lead to a greater self-awareness and a more successful organization of people in relation to resources for the future.
The diverse factors determining the choice, design, progress and success of ecological projects, pure and applied, demonstrate the main lesson of the recent decade: that directions of scientific research and the application of results are determined in ways similar to national elections or the conclusion of international agreements. Relative political feasibility is in practice more significant than values (that appear more or less absolute) of resource management and human welfare. Among these factors are the political interests of donor countries, the internal politics of the United Nations system (See Schulz 1982 and the politics of the peer review system as operated, for example, by the US National Science Foundation. It is worth noting here that the concept of academic freedom was formulated in a particular social context, one which was relatively stable and in which change tended to be dissimulated and suppressed. Although the concept still survives in practice it is being eroded more and more noticeably by the pressures of social change, which tend not only to influence (if not to constrain or direct) the formulation of research proposals but to change the social status of academic endeavor.
The socio-economic process that has led to the production of more Ph.D.s than could be absorbed in the universities or in their own national economies is a further factor affecting the directions of research. The different surplus numbers of Ph.D.s in different academic disciplines is yet another. Scientists trained for research are obliged to seek employment in organizations that focus their activities in directions determined by the political process. Specific political developments that deserve mention in this context, because they have generated new position for social-science Ph.D.s, are legislation by the United States Congress requiring that (1) USAID projects must help small farmers, and (2) environmental impact statements (later interpreted to include social impact) should be included in all project documents for government-financed projects. Similar reorientations to development, bearing implications for resource management and human welfare, have also occurred in other countries. Although recent policy changes have withdrawn some of this support for social science it is unlikely that the paradigmatic shift in the direction of social awareness will prove in the long term to have been arrested.
Ecological interests generally have become more and more explicitly embroiled in politics and economics. The ecological movement began in earnest in the 1960s when the comforts and expectations of the more affluent sectors of industrialized nations seemed threatened politically and economically by population growth abroad and environmentally by pollution at home. Since the threat was felt in different degrees by people in different places and different social positions, ecological problems were translated into political problems. By the late 1960s, frustration at lack of progress in solving the problems had led to a generalized revulsion against the over-exploitation of nature and its transformation by technology. The symbolic power of ecology reached its height at the beginning of the 1970s, when both popular magazines and specialized journals were publishing articles prophesying doom and preaching politically unrealistic conservation. Some of them bordered on mysticism and the apotheosis of nature. It was forgotten that reverence for nature enshrined in religious traditions had not ensured good resource management in ancient Greece or in modern Japan (Cf. Passmore 1974, p. 13 and Bennett 1976, pp. 141-145). However, other forces were building up that would lead to reformulation of the problems in such a way that the political conflict under the banner of ecology would become more international.
This debate over who wanted to conserve whose resources for whom has been joined most conspicuously in the series of United Nations conferences beginning with Environment in Stockholm in 1972.
Ecology as a movement
Under such titles as "Man: Planetary Disease" (MacHarg, 1971), the more extreme semi-popular articles of a decade ago imply that present human interests should be subordinated to general ecological productivity and diversity in the name of future generations. Their professed eco-centricity (which must itself presumably be explained historically rather than in terms of evolution or ecosystems) distorts the findings of scientific ecology and disguises the fact that their prescription tends to preserve their own social position in relation to less fortunate positions, because they do not distinguish between the various human interests that would or would not be affected. Such writers forgot that if it is likely that future generations will suffer from long term reduction of ecological productivity caused by current generations, it is even more likely that they will suffer from adverse social and economic conditions deriving similarly from our present situation. History-which of course we continue to make - leads directly to the society of the future and along the way not only reshapes but redefines its environment. If the ecological decline perceived today results from current social processes, surely the most obvious strategy to pursue for the achievement of optimum conditions in the future is the modification of those social processes presumably by the improvement of social conditions. But the eco-centric argument assumes the opposite: that it is possible to find a political solution now to an ecological problem predicted for the future. Success in this direction requires the type of faith that makes revolutions. Unfortunately, however, although faith and ideology - which are more concerned with the future than the present - are potent forces in politics, revolutions are generally successful only when current conditions are in some way intolerable. Current land use and industrial practices that are implicated in ecological decline are likely to change only in response to immediate social and economic pressures which may or may not derive ultimately from the ecological processes. The relationship between ecological and political ideals is therefore generally at best indirect; at worst they are incompatible. In any case their integration is extremely difficult to organize.
Ecology in administration and planning
Although by the mid-1970s attention to the human factor, as well as to ecological implications, was explicitly required in most development projects, no clear statement on what should satisfy this requirement has yet been worked out. Most of the literature argues at least implicitly for policies of enforcement (Cf. for example, Le Houréou 1977b) as the only feasible strategy for ensuring that local populations go along with management regimes designed and recommended by experts. The assumption that, by definition, the expert knows better than the local farmer or shepherd is integral to the argument. Reduced to its essential steps, this argument still most commonly runs: Ecological decline leads to impoverishment and decline in health and wellbeing in the immediate population as well as reduction in productivity and carrying capacity for the world as a whole. It is caused by human misuse of resources due either to ignorance or to personal greed or to lack of organization and leadership. We, the specialists, have the scientific knowledge and technical expertise to reverse these processes, but since we are powerless to change the human behaviour that is at fault and to command the cooperation of local populations, we are unable to implement them. it is therefore necessary by legislation and other ancillary means to organize enforcement of the rehabilitation programmes we devise.
It is interesting that although this enforcement approach pervaded the development field generally, it began to give way in the early 1970s to a philosophy of participation except where ecology was concerned. The principle that the target populations of development projects may be considered generally to have the right to participate in decisions affecting their own future has not been extended to areas in which ecology is involved because (the argument runs) in ecology the experts are the guardians of all the world's natural resources for the sake of future generations of all populations. Ecologists have been allowed a greater degree of infallibility and greater authority than other types of people. We are required to accept without adequate proof the principle that the experts always know best, despite the fact that they are known to have made mistakes in the past and that the ecological knowledge of local populations has not been scientifically investigated and tested; it is simply assumed to be the philosophical basis of behaviour that causes degradation of natural resources, and therefore to be inferior.
Apart from these considerations, enforcement is often difficult to organize efficiently. In the case of grazing ratios and the use of vegetation for fuel the difficulty is often insurmountable. So long as the perceptions of the local populations differ from those of the experts and the enforcing agency, any type of enforcement may be economically unfeasible. For instance, over a large area of isolated rangeland, especially if it is mountainous, traditional pastoralists cannot be efficiently monitored, let alone coerced, on a long term basis, except at enormous cost.
An alternative argument that has been emerging in recent years. It runs: Exogenous economic and political factors, such as technological assistance and the terms of trade, are changing local strategies of resource management and perceptions of the environment. These strategies and perceptions are based on a complex indigenous (some would say ethno-ecological) store of knowledge which is inseparably linked to the human resource that is essential for efficient exploitation of an area's ecological productivity. Strategies and perceptions derive from the culture and structure of the local population. Planned intervention in local man-land relationships, however desirable or necessary it may appear in the interests of long-term ecological viability, must be extremely sensitive to any possible adverse effects on the cultural integrity of the local population, disturbance of which might bring about cultural and ecological decline, and consequently also social dissolution and human suffering.
The transition from the first of these two arguments to the second is complex. The first provides a relatively clear guide for action (though it has a poor record of success}; the second, at least until it is developed further, does not. But the most important difference between them lies in their implicit definition of variables. The ecologist focuses his attention on biological populations and defines geographical units in terms of ecosystems. A local population sees its situation in terms of its own- social boundaries (which generally overlap the boundaries of ecosystems) and of economic connections in a larger human use system. Its perceptions should be assessed in the context of the history of the larger cultural and linguistic area of which it forms a part. Other parties to the debate have different perspectives and draw different geographical boundaries around the same problem. For example, the planner may be primarily concerned with the national economy. This difference of perspective varies according to social position and again according to scientific discipline, so that an ecological problem becomes (as the arena of debate is opened up) an economic problem, a political problem, and a religious problem. If the argument is continued and the local ecological problem is considered in the larger geographical context defined in terms of overall political economy, ecological decline may be assessed against the background of technological evolution, and of Kondratieff waves of long-term macroeconomic fluctuation (See, for example, Rose 1981).
Even if it is still possible to argue that there are ecological values that are absolute according to criteria of productivity and species diversity, once the significance of the human factor is accepted an ecosystem takes on a historical dimension within which present trends must be assessed in relation to the past, and future possibilities in relation to the conditioning of the past. A realistic evaluation of an ecological problem demands reconstruction of the history of the natural resources and the environment in relation to the history of land use. Proof of over-grazing in the current year is not sufficient to condemn a land use system. On the other hand, a perfect record does not guarantee that a land use system is ecologically safe and will never lead to degradation (See Sandford 1982). Whether or not a land-use system remains adjusted or adapted in the long term to the productivity of the relevant ecosystem, in the sense that the relationship between them will remain in equilibrium, it is always vulnerable to exogenous factors such as fluctuations in the terms of trade or changes in national policy (especially as it affects investment). Examples of the role of these factors are given in the case studies in chapter three below. The role of ecology in administration and planning depends on economic, political and organizational factors in the first place and on ecological factors only secondarily.
A preview of the following chapters
The biggest ecological headlines in the 1970s were related to the Green Revolution and the Sahelian Drought. The one was generally positive and optimistic, an apparent victory for technology (though not entirely without disappointments). The other was negative, pessimistic, suggesting the inadequacy of technology, political mobilisation, and aid in the face of Malthusian limits imposed by stochastic climatic fluctuation. The current status of ecological understanding and technological ability- research and application - is inevitably assessed against the background of these recent experiences. In their aftermath, what have we learned from field projects and from theoretical synthesis? In what follows. answers to these questions are pursued in relation to dry lands only, on the basis of material generated mostly by the Sahelian drought and the UN General Assembly's call for a conference and an international campaign to combat desertification. First, in chapter two, a brief introduction is given to some of the basic concepts of human ecology, illustrating the degree to which they help or hinder the progress of ecology in development; this review is followed in the second half of the chapter by a survey of some of the attempts that have been made during the 1970s to reorient the field of human ecology, an assessment in the light of the argument so far, and an outline of the implications and possible roads to improvement. Chapter three investigates two special cases: one of irrigation in South-west Asia, with special reference to the Punjab in Pakistan; the other of pastoralism on the Iranian Plateau, with special reference to Iran. The final chapter recapitulates the argument in a reassessment and rationalization of changing orientations towards ecology in development, and suggests implications for ecological and development planning and future research.
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