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Combating Desertification

By Ranjani Kamala Murthy

15 July, 2011

Roughly a month back June 17th was World Day to Combat Desertification (www.greeningtheblue.org)

Participants from Nigeria, Zambia, Bangladesh and India in a two day module on 'Changes in natural resources, climate change and its impact on conflicts and different marginalized groups' who discussed this issue over 13th and 14th of June, 2011 as part of a month long module on Gender, Diversity and Development organised by Visthar observed that over the last two decades (since emergence of a unipolar world based on unfettered capitalism), there was greater plundering of natural resources be it agriculture land, oceans, rivers, minerals, oils, natural gas, or forests. What set it apart from plundering of last century was that it was done openly by colonizers earlier, while now it was more hidden with companies coming not only from developed countries, but also China and India and investing in the other three countries with the consent of government and elite of the countries. According to participants, open changes in laws on use of agriculture land for "public" purposes promoted privatization in India and Bangladesh, while in Nigeria and Zambia the Breton Woods Institutions, had promoted privatization of government land with people given land titles for 99 years with an option to sell it. While this created opportunities for women to own land, traditional ways of protecting land was eroded.

Such plundering led to increasing desertification, as well as more frequent floods and erratic rainfall. Conflicts broke out between affected people and government, and in particular between rich and poor, different ethnic groups, different religious groups and different caste groups as interests were different and pre existing hierarchies got deepened. Migration was one coping strategy. Women/girls were worse affected than men/boys by desertification, climate change and conflicts due to increase in work load, sexual violence, health problems, and domestic violence with crisis in ability of men to be socially expected bread winners. Son preference got enhanced in India. People of diverse sexual and gender identities were also marginalized. Boys were forcefully conscripted more than girls.

Participants from African countries, suggested regional cooperation as a way out (and keep neo colonizing countries and companies out), perhaps South Asia should learn*. A paradigm shift from human development/unfettered rights towards human and environmental justice was suggested by participants with the bottom 25% claiming rights to resources, power and agency and top 25% losing. After all, the pie was limited. Security Councils at the regional level with representatives of poor countries dominating were seen as relevant (African participants), and non party social movements which challenge state, markets, community, institutionalized religion, colonial education, household, marriage and relationships towards justice (to all marginalized groups) were seen as crucial by participants from all countries. Only then will mother earth and human beings be left for generations to come, be able to live without fear.

Debates were unresolved on whether there should be income and asset ceiling or/and minimum level of land and asset for a life with dignity . It was felt that assets should be leased periodically by the community to people, with community institutions having representation of women (Nigeria and Zambia reported 35% of traditional councils having women). This will ensure that young people do not become landless. However dealing with caste, class, ethnic, religious and other hierarchies before through social movements was a must, and ensuring that poor and marginalized women are represented was also necessary. Should then land be owned by locally elected government or traditional councils?

While all of us felt that income and asset ceiling and assets for decent living cannot go without the other, a few participants felt that ceilings will not be politically acceptable. Sop schemes to address poverty, conflict and climate change, without ensuring right to assets would not work. Ways of ensuring equity across provinces were also shared, wherein participants from Nigeria shared that there was a tax on resource rich provinces (after much furor from these provincial government) to ensure that development was even was floated. Taxes for reserves for future were proposed. While a few participants held the myth that donor (World Bank and others) supported Poverty Reduction Strategy was a way out (happening in all participant countries other than India), many disagreed. Canceling debt repayment was an idea that emerged, with Bangladesh and Zambia being heavily indebted.

Ambedkar's concept of separate electorate for oppressed groups was discussed as far as state was concerned, as well as structure of regional/sub regional security councils (with poorer countries having two votes) with people feeling it is a good idea in principle, but were not sure of political feasibility. Shift from Corporate Social Responsibility to Just Corporatship was felt essential, and need for reservations in corporates was discussed. The idea of dignity of manual work, equivalent to what a class IV employee in government would get was also debated. Shift from institutionalized religions (one person one faith) to inter-faith spirituality with pathways leading to justice was discussed, but again there was no consensus. There were misconceptions about Muslims amongst some participants, which were debated, and discussed did we all think that the West was the way forward, or do we want diversity and justice at the same time? While discussions revealed that several local freedom/justice fighters (Rokeya in Bangladesh, Phule/Ambedkar in India and others from Nigeria/Zambia) believed that education was a must, there was a consensus that colonial education had to go, and education should be a movement toward justice. Just marriage/relationship values like those mooted by Phule were discussed. Domestic Violence was high in most countries, including the two African countries with forms varying across countries. In one country inter-religious marriage was not possible without conversion.

Justice based songs from all the four countries, Baul, kabir and meera songs added fun and enjoyment.



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