Destruction inherent in development

Experimental visualization of narrower problems

Every act of development, planned or unplanned, involves at least two acts of destruction: one in the ecosystem and one in the societal system of man. Planned development involves the destruction of flora and fauna, even to the extent of the elimination of whole species. Then there is destruction of traditional knowledge regarding food production, herbs and medical treatments; loss of knowledge of integrated living with the natural habitat; and loss of ethnic diversity and cultural heritage. Modern man, living within his own developments, is also systematically destroying the material, cultural and spiritual resources that sustain these developments.

Three important harms arising from development activities are: displacement of persons, modernization of agriculture and the introduction of new hazardous products and technologies.

Many different kinds of events and activities cause displacement of populations. Some events (e.g., natural disasters) may go beyond the range of human control and others (e.g. population growth which forces migration, or the ravages of war or mass violence deliberately directed toward minorities) may be very difficult to control. But many activities causing displacement can be subjected to control, notably through measures designed to recognize and secure rights of people to be protected from activities which cause displacement and rights to compensation for losses inflicted when displacement does occur. Activities which can be subjected to legal controls include: (a) Large-scale development projects (such as dam building or the creation of plantations); (b) Deliberate degradation of environments (such as initiation of "development" projects which destroy forests, pollute rivers and fishing grounds); (c) Negligent failure to protect rural communities from environmental degradation (such as the failure of governments to work with communities threatened by deforestation, overuse of grazing lands or over-cultivation); (d) Relief and food-aid schemes which lead to the wide-scale substitution of imported, subsidized food commodities for locally grown staples, and then to declining food production and vulnerability, particularly in rural areas to food shortages and famine when prices for imports rise and local harvests decline; (e) Failure to protect "tribal" peoples and other minorities from territorial encroachments by industries or by spontaneous migrations, or by resettlement programmes which result, in effect, in the expropriation of lands held by aboriginal groups who lack political and legal powers to protect themselves.

Displacement often inflicts the severest kinds of impoverishment. It strips families of means of livelihood and produces new classes of landless workers or new communities of squatters who face continuing risks of further eviction. While attempts are sometimes made to "compensate" victims of displacement, there is considerable evidence to suggest that these programmes fail to provide adequate reparation for all the losses inflicted. Similarly, efforts to "resettle" displaced people all too often are flawed in both the planning and administration stages, and these practices violate rights and inflict economic and other tangible harms. For example, resettlement projects often use coercive means; the people "transplanted" often suffer losses of animals and unharvested crops-and hunger, disease and other hardships. The ultimate outcome of relocation into unsuitable environments is often further displacement. Displacement produces political and cultural harms as well as economic damage. Poor people who lose possession of land usually lose status and dignity; their way of live is destroyed along with their traditional livelihood; communities and cultures are dissolved. Displaced people are usually "refugees" even if they never cross international boundaries; as refugees they are peculiarly powerless and thus vulnerable to all kinds of other human rights violations. Dependent on officials or others for satisfaction of essential needs, they are often easily deterred from engaging in any meaningful processes of political participation; at the same time they sometimes become political pawns of those on whom they have become dependent.

Modernization of agriculture refers to changes in types of crops produced along with changes in the organization methods, and technologies of production. This combination of changes results in the conversion of peasants and small farmers into producers of export crops under the aegis of projects organized by agribusiness firms, usually in collaboration with government agencies, frequently with the assistance of international donors. Agribusinesses (both private and "public") are the dynamos of modernization. They organize projects and create new systems of production, sometimes by acquiring lands and smallholders and transforming them into large-scale units, sometimes by making contracts with smallholders (e.g. "putting out" contracts) which convert them, in effect, to producers for the firm. Agribusinesses furnish the new seeds, inputs and technologies, and they usually process or market the crop. These operations (supply of seeds, inputs and factors, organization of production, processing and marketing) may be carried out by several firms, but usually all of them are subsidiaries or surrogates of a larger, transnational entreprise. The various companies involved may be purely private businesses, but often some are public corporations, or they are companies organized as joint enterprises between government and private companies. Other governmental and international organizations aid the processes of modernization in various ways, e.g. by channeling research and extension, credit, and physical infrastructure towards modernization objectives.

The social impacts of agricultural "modernization" on smallholders and other rural workers have been widely discussed. The harms inflicted include: 

[Landlessness] Modernization often calls for – or results in – the extraction of land from small-holders, e.g. by firms which create plantations, or by wealthier, "progressive" farmers who use various methods (notably money-lending), first to impoverish their marginal neighbours and then to take over their land.

[Indebtedness] Small farmers drawn into production of cash crops requiring purchase of new seeds, inputs and other factors from agribusiness are unusually vulnerable to impoverishing indebtedness which leads to loss of control of lands and income.

[Worker exploitation] Landless (or land poor) rural workers are often forced, by circumstances, to become workers for agribusinesses. The terms of employment and physical conditions under which they work are often exploitative. Agribusinesses often monopolize both markets for cash crops and the sale of inputs needed to produce new crops – with the result, again, that producers are exploited.

[Crop displacement] There is always the risk, all too frequently realized, that the market for the new "modern" crops (on which producers must now depend for their livelihood) will deteriorate. Seldom are producers insured against this outcome; yet they are the primary losers.

[Environmental degradation] Depletion of soil resources is often the result of mono-cropping and other practices introduced by modernization. Another threat, serious over the long run, is the loss of valuable genetic resources when traditional plants are replaced by new foreign varieties.

[Food shortages and hunger] Modernization often means loss of land needed to maintain local self-sufficiency in food production; the result is that economically marginal families become increasingly dependent on other producers and on uncertain markets to purchase food supplies.

[Exclusion] Smallholders and rural workers are regularly excluded from any form of meaningful participation in the planning and management of modernization projects. Denied rights of participation and access to decision makers, they are denied opportunities to protect their interests and the power to impose accountability of those whose activities cause the harms noted above.

Processes leading to the introduction of hazardous products: (a) The growing power and lack of accountability of the transnational chemical industry; (b) The growing tendency on the part of third world governments to accept without question the introduction of a high technology as a panacea for "development" and a means of avoiding problems of structural reform and redistribution of wealth and power; (c) The secrecy surrounding (and exclusion from participation in) decisions on policies and projects reflecting technology choices; (d) The ignorance concerning risks associated with new chemical technologies – an ignorance encouraged by the chemical industry which makes hazard assessment and monitoring of health and environmental impacts virtually impossible.

These developments are part of the context within which processes take place leading to the introduction, on an increasing scale, of hazardous products into third world environments. These processes include: the development (in third world countries) of businesses (both public and private) engaged in the manufacture or marketing of hazardous products; the "dumping" of hazardous products into third world markets and the export of dangerous technologies; the failure of governments to assess, carefully, the character of these products – the risks they impose on communities (notably communities of the poor); the failure of governments to enact laws which regulate hazardous products and impose accountability on those who manufacture or distribute them. A growing literature has portrayed the damage to health, life, and environments which occurs as a result of these projects, for example: (a) physical harm to workers in industries which manufacture, store, or distribute hazardous products; (b) physical harm to agrarian workers who use and often misuse them – due to lack of information, adequate warnings and other precautions by the industry; (c) physical harm to other people, notably poor rural people when chemical pollutants enter their "food chains" (e.g. when their animals eat tainted plants); (d) physical harm to environments (including food producing environments), notably the habitats of the poor.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
17.10.2021 – 11:05 CEST