CASID Conference!

5 05 2009

I’ve been wondering lately whether or not to attend the upcoming conference at Carleton University in Ottawa. It’s the annual conference hosted by the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID).

The theme this year is International Development in Times of Crisis and Opportunity so it could be really interesting. Also, the people I meet at these events are always really interesting. It will run from May 27 to 29, Wednesday to Friday.

It’s open to the public as well, so if you’re interested in development, you should at least check out the program.

– Sarah Topps





The Land Tenure Debate

14 04 2009

hernando-de-sotoHernando de Soto Polar, a famous Peruvian economist, first suggested giving title to land as a way to use globalization to fight poverty at the most basic level in his book: The Other Path in 2000, and has since won international acclaim for his suggestion. Hernando de Soto himself explains the process best, using the simple analogy of an apple at a 2001 speech in Brussels:

I hope by now you have noticed that I have an apple here on the desk. This apple is my apple. […] what makes this my apple is a consensus about its ownership. However, if we look closely at this apple, there is nothing on or in it that says it is mine. Nothing in the physical context of the apple gives us that information. A stolen apple and a legitimate apple both look the same. […] Nothing in the apple says whether I can pledge it, lend it, deposit it as a guarantee, use it as collateral, or whether I can export or import it or cut it up among partners. In other words, the commercial and social life of my apple is not determined by the apple itself, but rather from the rules which we establish among ourselves to allow the apple to be traded and be attributed with commercial and financial functions that allow it to be globalised. […] Globalisation as we know it today is only possible through law that provides rules and through neatly organised standards that provide information.”

De Soto estimates that there are millions of dollars trapped in what he calls ‘dead property’ around the world due to the fact that its owners do not have official title to their land. Over 80 percent of the assets owned by the poor in developing countries cannot enter the market because they have no legal representation, he claims (De Soto 2001). Through changing property law, he sees us overcoming these hurdles and connecting a further 4 billion people to the capitalist land markets of the world. Giving title to property, he argues, gives the poor leverage to change their ownerships into capital – collateral or credit, will stem development as they take on entrepreneurship and not stay trapped in their subsistence agriculture or other small livelihoods (De Soto 1986).

De Soto’s idea was revolutionary and captured the minds of many, but not everyone agreed that his solution would work in all cases. John Bruce questions whether just handing out titles to plots of land is necessarily going to help the poor, arguing that “Tenure change cannot create more land” (Bruce 1993). He explains that giving title to those who informally own the land is useful if there is a system in place to recognize that legal title, if it is carefully documented when the title to the land changes hands and if there is a market – i.e. a demand for the land which is being titled. If there is no one who wishes to buy the land, he argues, then it is not helpful to be able to legally sell it and banks will not be willing to give you credit for such undesirable collateral (Bruce 1993).

Speaking specifically of indigenous lands, he says that critics of indigenous tenure systems often fault the indigenous for being unwilling to recognize the sale of their land, or to make investments in the land which cannot be converted to liquid assets. He also notes problems with community-sanctioned land use; certain innovations may tie down land use for longer than is appropriate, destroying the ecological balance or disrupting the community commons (Bruce 1993).

Bruce argues against these critics, saying that: “The causes of insecurity are diverse, and many have little to do with the rules of indigenous systems. It may arise from the abuse of power by traditional land administrators in hierarchical systems, or from their ineffectiveness in enforcing rules in political or economic circumstances which have undermined their authority. Competition between ethnic groups, land grabbing by new elites, and such arbitrary government action as taking without compensation or granting concessions inconsistent with existing rights are emerging sources of insecurity of tenure that may prove in the long run more serious than deficiencies in the substantive rules of indigenous systems” (Bruce 1993).

*The following is an excerpt of a paper I wrote on the land tenure debate in Peruvian indigenous communities*

“Despite growing international pressure to recognize and protect the rights of indigenous communities, and the fact that Peru signed and ratified the ILO Convention 169 on the group rights of indigenous peoples, Peru made very little progress in these matters during the 1990s (Smith, et al. 2003). This was due mainly to the Fujimori government and the state’s non-interventionist neo-liberal stance – little attempt was made to protect the communities, focusing instead on individual land titling: exactly what Hernando de Soto had recommended (Smith, et al. 2003). Unfortunately, this was not in the indigenous communities’ best interests, because they generally had no individual rights to the land they were using – particularly in the case of the Machiguenga and other neglected Amazonian groups.

While de Soto’s arguments may hold true for urban slum dwellers and highland indigenous farmers, the jungle-dwelling Machiguenga and the island-constrained Taquileans had very different starting points and neither is an appropriate case for implementing de Soto’s theories in order to gain credit access.

The Taquileans already had title for their lands, but could not use it for collateral to gain credit access because of community consensus that non-Taquileans should not be landowners on the island of Taquile. In addition, Taquileans had already created their own access to capital due to their burgeoning tourist trade.

The Machiguenga on the other hand, had a strong desire for capital, but have two restrictions on gaining title to their lands for use as collateral: first, they require the use of a wide range of land for their traditional type of subsistence swidden-fallow horticulture, and secondly, as Bruce has pointed out, there needs to be a demand for the land before it is worth taking as collateral by banks, who manage the credit. The sustainable use of their forest reserves involves moving their dwelling and their field to a new location about every five years (Henrich 1997).

These constraints on the Machiguenga may change as more and more of them become involved with western-style labour markets and as the demand for the natural resource bases contained within their land (such as gold, timber, forest products, natural gas) increase. Then the Peruvian government may be faced with the dilemma of trying to reconcile the sale of precious nature reserves by the so-called conservationist indigenous groups, the Machiguenga among them, to resource extraction companies, with the fact that it is a simple and legal (currently) way for those indigenous people to advance their own development, and obtain the things that the westernized world sees as so desirable: health care, education, houses, electricity etc.

Alternatively, the individuals in the Machiguenga group may suffer because their community leaders are trying to freeze-frame their culture and way of life and if the land rights are communal, then individual actors are disempowered to make choices about their own futures because they can’t legally sell their land and go elsewhere.
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Entirety of the above article written by Sarah Topps © April 14th 2009

If you are interested in reading more about Hernando de Soto’s work – read this interview with him by PBS.

**References:
Bruce, J. “Do indigenous tenure systems constrain agricultural development?” In Land in African Agrarian Systems, by T. Basset and D. (eds.) Crummey, 35-56. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
De Soto Polar, Hernando. “Most People Cannot Participate (Speech) .” Brussels, October 21, 2001.
De Soto, Hernando. The Other Path. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1986.
Henrich, Joe. “Market Incorporation, Agricultural Change and Sustainability Among the Machiguenga Indians of the Peruvian Amazon.” Human Ecology 25, no. 2 (1997): 319-351.
Smith, Richard Chase, Mario Pariona, Ermeto Tuesta, and Margarita Benavides. “MAPPING THE PAST AND THE FUTURE: GEOMATICS AND INDIGENOUS TERRITORIES IN THE PERUVIAN AMAZON.” HUMAN ORGANIZATION 62, no. 4 (2003): 357 – 368.





Appropedia – The wikipedia of appropriate technology

7 04 2009

In my recent internet wanderings, I came across this relatively new website:

www.appropedia.org/

Upon entering the site, it immediately becomes clear that this is a fast-emerging new project, designed to share solutions that have been reached from around the world, of collaborative projects in sustainability, poverty reduction and international development.

Browsing around the site for ideas, I encountered the fantastic new HexaYurt.

Hexayurt is a refugee shelter system, designed for roughly one family unit. It comes in three sizes, can be assembled in about an hour by 3 adults with minimal training. The cost is between $200 and $500 for each unit package, which provides not just a shelter, but a comprehensive family support unit which includes drinking water purification, composting toilets, fuel-efficient stoves and solar electric lighting.

hexayurt

For a detailed one-page report on the Hexayurt, click here.

– Sarah Topps





Global Giving helps you find a project to support

6 04 2009

Hi, would you like a little world-changing idea this morning?

How about a little idea with your coffee today?

Hi there, would you like to change the world?

These are the phrases that GlobalGiving is using to sell itself to passer-bys on the street walking to work in the morning.

http://www.globalgiving.com/

GlobalGiving is an online marketplace that hosts pre-screened charitable causes who are in need of some funding and need a way to connect with donors that won’t add to their operating costs. GlobalGiving categorizes the projects by region and by topic – e.g. women, environment, health, human rights, etc. to allow you to find a cause you believe in more quickly. Even a quick browse through the site will have you emptying your online pockets of spare change (metaphorically speaking) because each cause just seems so worthwhile and they ask for donations ranging from the tens of thousands to mere pennies. So if you feel like you’ve got a few spare pennies, and even if you want to just check it out… watch this promotional video explaining how GlobalGiving works:

– Sarah Topps





Uniting the pro-development Canadians

5 04 2009

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to a conference which was c0-hosted by the new Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill University and the Public Policy Forum.

The conference was entitled “The Challenges of Development Today: Practitioners’ Perspectives on Where to Move Forward” and was addressed by several impressive speakers, including David Morley (President and CEO of Save the Children Canada), Canadian International Development Agency President Margaret Briggs, and International Development Research Centre President David Malone, along with the Right Honourable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada.

Rt. Hon. Joe Clark had something very interesting to say, which I had always thought was the case, but apparently it is not yet, and that is that ALL of the groups who are interested in promoting international development in some way, across Canada, ought to have some kind of forum, a means of communicating with one another, sharing ideas, technical advice, knowledge and expertise, contacts, and meeting shared common goals together.

He suggested that it would invite and involve the entire development community, from the NGOs to the not-for-profits to the youth groups to the government to the individuals to the religious groups to the university students and everyone in between. He said that ideally, it would not focus on specifics, except to learn from one another, but instead it would ask: how will we, as Canadians, build a road to a brighter global future, together? How can we collaborate and work side by side to obtain this new world?

Personally, I would love to see a forum such as the one suggested by Rt. Hon. Joe Clark being set up… but it does beg the question: who is in a position to set up such an arrangement? How would it be done?

I would like to propose some kind of online working group, internet forum or other idea-sharing tool, to facilitate this kind of broad cross-national participatory approach, which would be complemented by an annual (or bi-annual) conference to enable and empower those who strive to do global development work across Canada.

What are your thoughts?

– Sarah Topps





1125 Billionaires ($US), 3.25 Billion with $2

4 04 2009

There are 6.74 Billion people on the planet – according to census data gathered over the last ten years.
The global economy, or world GDP currently sits at an estimated 70.65 Trillion US dollars.

Let’s do some basic math…

:              6 740 000 000 human beings on the planet
: 70 650 000 000 000 dollars floating around the world today

In 2003, the world owed $5 Trillion ($5 000 000 000 000) in debt globally.

Where do you think the greatest debts are found? The media would lead us to believe that the poorest countries, in Africa, Asia and Latin America would be the culprits. But take a look at this map, provided by Jeremy at Make Wealth History:

Global Debt by Country

Global Debt by Country

The darker the colour, the more heavily indebted that country is.

External debt is made up of both personal and public debt – that is, credit cards and mortgages AND government loans. External debt is the total amount owed to someone OUTSIDE of the country.

When you look at global external debt, the results look like this:

Top Ten Countries by External Debt (October ’08)

  1. United States – $13,703,567 million
  2. United Kingdom – $10,450,000 million
  3. Germany – $4,489,000 million
  4. France – $4,396,000 million
  5. Netherlands – $2,277,000 million
  6. Ireland – $1,841,000 million
  7. Japan – $1,492,000 million
  8. Switzerland – $1,340,000 million
  9. Belgium – $1,313,000 million
  10. Spain – $1,313,000 million

Not exactly poor countries are they?

This compares to:

169. Equatorial New Guinea – $338 million
183. Fiji – $127 million
194. Kiribati – $10 million     …. side note: it is actually pronounced “Ki-ri-bas” according to this book (very funny read)
202. Palau – $0

– Sarah Topps





The Girl Effect

2 04 2009

“One of every six people in the world is an adolescent girl living in poverty. That’s 600 million people – twice the population of the United States. Each one could change our world for the better, if given the chance.”The Girl Effect

– Sarah Topps








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