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Globalisation and sustainable

development: a political ecology

strategy to realize ecological


John Byrne*, Leigh Glover and Hugo F. Alrøe


Organic farming and the challenge of sustainability

Political ecology as one approach to globalisation and sustainable development....53

Growth without borders

Growth within limits

Growth and ecological injustice

Commons as the basis of ecological justice

Defining commons in the contemporary era

State and corporate solutions to commons protection

From commons to commodity

Ecological commons

Overcoming commodification

Reclaiming the commons idea

Globalisation and trade

Free trade versus fair trade

Traditional and indigenous agriculture in developing nations

Putting ecological justice into practice: guidelines for policy

A role for "fair trade"

The "nearness" principle

Identifying organic production and produce

Sustainability targets

Non-certified organic agriculture

Ecological justice assessment


* Corresponding author: Center for Energy & Environmental Policy, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716-7301, USA. E-mail: jbyrne@udel.edu ©CAB International 2005. Global Development of Organic Agriculture: Challeng

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Summary Organic agriculture is, like mainstream agriculture, faced with the challenges of globalisation and sustainable development. Ecological justice, the fair distribution of livelihoods and environments, has emerged as a key concept in efforts, on the one hand, to resist negative consequences of globalisation and ecological modernisation and, on the other to propose new agenda and institutional arrangements. This chapter investigates the role that ecological justice as a political ecology strategy may have in addressing the present problems of organic agriculture in a global political economy. The investigation has two interacting elements, a theoretical analysis of the political, economic and ecological aspects of ecological justice and a discussion of how its key concepts can be put into practice. The political basis of ecological justice is the idea of shared responsibility for livelihoods and environments, or what we have termed commons based governance. Typically, ecological justice positions social and ecological interests ahead of market liberalism and economic growth. Therefore it may suggest ways to resist the pressures of globalisation and associated structural and technological developments. The concepts of commons and ecological justice when joined, define a post-globalist pattern of governance that may facilitate the spread of organic agriculture and other socio-ecological practices that thrive on cooperative, sustainability focused relations.

Introduction Release of the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, in early 2005, revealed the parlous condition of the global environment. In an era when environmental awareness is high and there are unprecedented international efforts to create global environmental governance, nearly all major indicators of the world's ecological health are in decline. Global economic growth and industrialisation, under the influence of the forces of globalisation, are increasing natural resource consumption, drawing down non-renewable resources, stressing ecosystem processes, and generating unprecedented amounts of wasted nature.

As Chapter 1 describes, modern agriculture has become part of the problem.

Farming in industrialized nations and increasingly in the developing world bears many of the hallmarks of industrialism and of the goals of modernity.

Indeed, the recommended path for feeding the world by globalization's

proponents typically features the following elements:

• Greater mechanization, standardization (including production techniques, varieties and breeds, and mono-cultural production), "factory farming" and increasing scale of production;

• Rising inputs of fossil fuel energy, fertilizers, pesticides and GMO; and Globalisation and sustainable development 51

• Integration into a network of transnational and transcontinental markets shaped by conglomerate "agribusinesses" and highly complex technology.

Industrial agriculture is inextricably woven onto the modern world through its techniques of production, its market ideology, and its technology. Further, globalization has ensured that the demands, preferences and practices of the developed nations are being diffused throughout the world, connecting developing nations to the markets of the developed world.

Modern agri-food production presents an array of environmental concerns associated with intensive water and fossil energy consumption, rising greenhouse gas emissions, increasing application of artificial fertilizers and biocides, and the uncertain effects of biotechnology. Addressing the goal of global ecological sustainability therefore, necessarily challenges the assumptions and practices of industrial agriculture. In this chapter, the role for ecological justice as a political ecology strategy in developing and guiding organic agriculture along a pathway of sustainable development in a globalised world is explored.

Organic farming and the challenge of sustainability For several reasons, organic farming is providing a sustainable form of agriculture in this era of globalization, at least for industrial nations. Organic production, processing, distribution and sales have grown immensely in size and efficiency in the past two decades, and the movement can no longer be regarded as merely a niche activity serving the needs of a normatively motivated wealthy few. The International Federation for Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) epitomizes a "coming of age" for the initiative with an adopted worldwide goal of ecologically, socially and economically sound food production (IFOAM, 2004). But, like mainstream agriculture, organic farming is faced with the trends of globalisation and the ensuing challenges of sustainable development (see Byrne and Glover, 2002, for a discussion of the general problem).

Yet the case for promoting organic agriculture as ecologically sustainable is complex. Organic farming cannot be considered entirely free of the grip of industrial agricultural practices. Adhering to the standards of organic farming can secure more sustainable development in specific areas, such as regulation of fertilizer, pesticide use, cautions about genetic engineering, opposition to additives and calls for the protection of animal welfare. But for other aspects of agricultural production, the pathway of organic farming is not as clear and its contribution to sustainability still to be addressed. For example, how will organic

farming interface with the following attributes of the modern food regime:

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• Sale through supermarkets, sometimes using supermarket brands

• Trade of feed, seed and other inputs through conventional companies, and

• Global trade.

Successful partnership of the movement with non-organic actors has been an important factor in the recent growth of organic production and expansion of organic food markets. On the other hand, this development can, in itself, lead to unwanted social and environmental impacts, by way of reduced landscape diversity, increases in "food miles", greater distance between producers and consumers, and unfair competition from large players. Further, partnership can and has put pressure on the integrity of the organic agro-ecological production systems by imposing constraints on the selection and diversity of crops, varieties, and breeds.

Globalisation and ecological modernisation together constitute the mainstream approach to sustainable development (Byrne and Glover, 2002).

Globalisation is here understood as "the erosion of the barriers of time and space that constrain human activity across the earth and the increasing social awareness of these changes" (Byrne and Glover, 2002). It embodies a normative interest in modernity's technological, economic and political architecture. Specifically, globalization seeks to remove barriers to state- and market- based organization of society. Its politics privileges ideals of rationality, efficiency, objectivity, and competitiveness.

Sustainability was placed on the global agenda in a large consensus-building work under the World Commission on Environment and Development, which gave an often quoted description of sustainable development: "Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (WCED, 1987: 8). The Commission pointed out that sustainable development implies limits — limitations imposed by the existing technological and social development — in the form of environmental resources and the abilities of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities. But they also stated that humanity has the ability to create a sustainable future through a marriage of economy and ecology which is today known as "ecological modernisation" –– a reform of economics, technologies, and social institutions.

While globalisation and ecological modernisation constitute mainstream approaches today, they have also generated great resistance from many stakeholders, most noticeably developing nations, local communities, advocates of civil society, and environmentalists. Although diverse, there is a general philosophical theme that unites this resistance, that of the cause of "ecological justice" (Low and Gleeson, 1998, Byrne et al., 2002a and b). Ecological justice seeks to promote justice in relation to the environment for both present and future generations. In this sense it extends the more familiar concept of environmental justice through a broadening of the ambit of political concern to Globalisation and sustainable development 53 include future generations and to ecological interests (both living beings and ecological processes). To give a first impression of what this means, some examples of ecological injustice are shown in box 2.1.

Box 2.1: Examples of ecological injustice A large Coca-Cola factory in Plachimada (a hamlet in the state of Kerala, south India) pumps large amounts of ground water daily for use in producing the famed soda. The pumpage has been shown to deplete groundwater in the area, and polluting the local basin (AIPRF, 2002, India Resource Centre, 2004). While urban consumers far from the plant enjoy the beverage at a relatively modest price, the health and livelihoods of people in the local communities who depend on local natural resources are put at risk.

The construction of China's Three Gorges Dam (CNN, 2001) and India's Narmada Dam (Wagle, 2002) has disrupted the lives of millions of peasant farmers, inundating villages, settlements and agricultural lands, causing great social upheavals, and creating great ecological losses through habitat loss, changes to streamflows and other hydrological effects. Distant cities and downstream communities will benefit from the electricity and flood control created by both projects, but at substantial cost to the rural lives and ecologies of the disrupted valleys.

The corporate dominated world banana industry is characterized by ecologically and socially destructive practices. Chiquita and Dole operate huge Latin American plantations, monocropping bananas over thousands of acres using heavy applications of fungicides, insecticides, and other chemicals. This has fueled significant environmental and health problems, including deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and pesticide poisonings (Murray and Raynolds, 2000).

Anticipated changes in climate are caused by the industrialised, high-income countries (Byrne and Inniss, 2002). In general, these changes will have their greatest impact on those that have the fewest resources available to respond (Byrne et al., 2004). In particular, rising sea levels will have major consequences for low-income, lowland countries like Bangledesh and many small ocean states (Byrne and Inniss, 2002). Because anthropogenic releases of carbon to the atmosphere will remain for up to 250 years, the inequality wrought by climate change will continue into the 22nd century (Byrne et al., 2002b).

Political ecology as one approach to globalisation and sustainable development Sustainable development as described by the World Commission emphasises the possibility for a new era of economic growth through better technologies and social organization (WCED, 1987). But the complex and interdependent relationships between globalisation, economic growth, sustainability, and Byrne et al.

54 ecological limits have become contested questions. These relationships lie at the core for the discussion of the role of organic agriculture in a global perspective.

Elsewhere, two of the authors of this chapter (Byrne and Glover, 2002) identify three basic positions with regard to globalisation and sustainable


• Growth and free trade without ecological borders (market liberalism)

• Growth and free trade within certain limits (ecological economy)

• Opposition to growth and free trade on the grounds of ecological injustice (political ecology)

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From a neoliberal economic perspective, globalisation does not present a problem. On the contrary, globalisation is seen as an improvement of the possibilities for free market forces to allocate resources, which in this view is economically and socially ideal and a prerequisite for liberal democracy (Byrne and Yun, 1999). The solution to world poverty and environmental problems lies in growth and open markets, according to advocates, because growing wealth will furnish more than enough capital to repair whatever damage the growth may have caused.

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