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A time to choose Scenarios of the post-pandemic world

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Since its onset in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the frailties of global political leadership, preparedness, and governance. To a level unequaled by other disruptive moments in recent decades—the HIV/AIDs and Ebola crises, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2008 financial crisis—COVID-19 has shaken the credibility of national and international institutions to manage supranational crises.

 

Image: Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Image: Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

 

By standards of earlier pandemics, such as the Black Death or the flu pandemic of 1918-19, COVID-19 deaths remain relatively few. Nonetheless, the increasing frequency of pandemics in the interconnected postwar world signals an ominous challenge for global solidarity and governance. Vaccine nationalism, border closings and U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organisation are but three of many symptoms of weakening multilateralism. As a third wave of the virus grips both advanced and developing nations, fissures in the global body politic are certain to intensify.

Numerous pre-existing conditions are exacerbating the impacts of the pandemic, especially among the most vulnerable populations. The conjuncture of COVID-19 with the climate, biodiversity and inequality crises is no coincidence. Instead, the spread of the virus is inextricably linked to a host of stressors in the global socio-ecological system, severely complicating an effective and equitable global response.

Will 2020 be an inflection point in which multiple forces conspire to reshape the arc of planetary change? Historically, such moments have occurred on a grand scale, transforming core beliefs and structures pertaining to knowledge, power and values. On a grand scale, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, the Treaty of Westphalia and the birth of the nation-state, the Industrial Revolution and the postwar economic globalization and multilateralism illustrate such transformative chapters in the saga of global change.

While it may be premature to add COVID-19 to the list of these historic conjunctures, it nonetheless raises the possibility of a transformational moment whose contours already are unfolding. In a world facing rising discontinuities and widespread violation of social norms and biophysical boundaries, the next few decades are fraught with existential dangers. Yet transformation in the opposite direction is possible if the pandemic drives concerted action toward system redesign instead of remediation and restoration of the pre-crisis order.

Visions of a Post-pandemic World

Uncertainty can lead to resignation and paralysis or, alternatively, transformative thinking and action. To advance the latter, scenarios serve to stimulate the imagination and fortify intersectional movements aligned with a just, ecological resilient future.

For more than two decades, the Great Transition scenarios have provided a prism for interpreting global mega-trends such as those associated with the pandemic.[i] By stepping back from the crisis du jour, these scenarios provide a structured template for bringing order to the messy complexities of the contemporary world system. Consider three possible post-COVID-19 futures, each rooted in a different suite of values and power, knowledge and culture that shape starkly different outcomes (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1

Figure 1

 

Conventional Worlds is the first. If the current conjuncture marks a mere temporary acceleration of the market-driven stresses of the past three decades, both the national and international response to the pandemic, however imperfect, will eventually tame its worst repercussions and return the global body politic to its pre-pandemic conditions. Within this Conventional World are two variants: Market Forces and Policy Reform. In the parlance of current debates Market Forces most closely resembles the status quo and “return to normalcy” of societies dominated by individualism, consumerism and limitless growth.  Extreme economic and social disparities and ecological degradation persist with minimal effort to reverse such trends. In the Policy Reform variant, some advancement in social safety nets and taming corporate power occur, along with limited embrace of planetary boundaries by political leaders, civil society and some corporations. But the will and resources to forcefully implement such reforms falter in the face of powerful vested interests that protect prevailing systems, leaving societies modestly better off compared to a Market Forces future.

Barbarization—with its two variants, Breakdown and Fortress World—constitutes the second post-pandemic scenario. This future envisions an acceleration of trends already underway, including those accentuated by COVID-19 such as an exacerbation of the wealth and health disparities and ecological degradation. In a Fortress World, the extant wave of autocratization—think Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Hungary, Philippines, Venezuela—intensifies as nations drift toward social control, xenophobia and nativism. The wealthy retreat to enclaves, and the poor become increasingly marginalized. In the Breakdown variant, the rule of law, basic civility and social cohesion collapse as competing forces lead to political stalemate and debasement of governmental institutions, in some cases leading to failed states. Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen demonstrate many attributes of the Breakdown scenario. In both forms of Barbarization, multilateralism suffers as the influence and resources of global organisations such as the WHO, WTO and ILO diminish in the face of rampant isolationism and disregard for international norms and accords pertaining to human rights, worker rights and the environment.

Great Transitions (GT), the third scenario, comprises two variants, Eco-Communalism and a New Paradigm rooted to deep and enduring planetary consciousness and practice. In Eco-Communalism, a “small-is-beautiful” ethos expands in both the global south and the global north, fueled by an anti-globalization vision of self-reliance and ecological sensibility. The New Paradigm variant allows space for such a world but within an inclusive, global cosmopolitanism in which planetary consciousness undergirds an upgrade of existing, and the creation of new, transnational governance institutions.[ii]  This scenario embraces a worldview rooted in interconnectedness and recognition of ecosystems boundaries coupled with universally accepted norms that foster well-being, justice and solidarity.

Mixed Signals, One Choice

These scenarios are not forecasts but archetypes of plausible futures. Indeed, a scan of the global landscape today reveals features of all three. Both the blending and distinctiveness serve as instruments for stimulating and structuring debate among activists, enterprise, labor, government and other stakeholders.

In the context of the pandemic, the scenarios depict possibilities that will emerge from the disruption occasioned by COVID-19. The sudden onset of the pandemic and its rapid planetary expansion fueled by three waves of infection have claimed more than one million lives. With at least another year before universal  vaccination is likely, the pandemic represents a crucible for foresight and preparedness for both national and multilateral institutions. With few exceptions, both have proven woefully inadequate as pre-pandemic conditions lead to disproportionate burdens on the poor and marginalized coupled with the enrichment of the already privileged.[iii]

Relative to other global crises, COVID-19 stands apart in terms of complexity and reach. The pandemic is a case of extreme multi-dimensionality, transcending the realms of economics, health, ecology and geopolitics to expose the higher-order, systemic failings of early twenty-first-century global capitalism. Beneath the immediate devastation  lies the longstanding conditions that spurred its emergence and diffusion and hobbled national and international responses. As world leaders engage in superpower blame shifting (Trump), detachment (Putin) and elevated social control (Xi), the contagion continues to disrupt commerce and cooperation on a planet under stress.

In conformance with a Conventional Worlds scenario, governments are overwhelmingly relying on traditional monetary and fiscal interventions in response to escalating socio-economic stress. As unemployment rates surge and whole business sectors (tourism, aviation, traditional retail, logistics, higher education) struggle to endure, governments in advanced nations continue  to seek a return of economies to pre-COVID normalcy without fundamental changes in the capital-labor relations that have exacerbated the pandemic’s impact.

COVID-19 has laid bare the fragility of social safety nets in the US, exposing millions of workers to loss of health insurance and millions worldwide to collapsing incomes and food insecurity. Nations without robust fiscal and monetary capacity in Latin America, Africa and South Asia face escalating stress. Rising unemployment and migration reflect the plummeting demand for commodity exports and fraying supply chains associated with plummeting global demand in many sectors. In short, the pandemic is stretching to the breaking point the capacity of policy reform to halt, much less reverse, growing economic and social disruption that fuel the drift toward barbarization.

Amidst the gloom, glimmers of a GT have emerged in multiple quarters. In the EU, early discussion of fiscal unity—a heretofore no-go zone—has emerged as countries collectively struggle to recover from the wreckage of the pandemic. The possibility of common debt, common taxes and a shared budget to support the recovery signals at least the possibility of a post-Brexit reset in the direction of supranationalism.

A rethinking of the definition of work and workers, especially the nature of “essential” work, is visible across academia, labor and civil society. Universal basic income and job guarantee policies, until recently at the fringe of mainstream policy debates, are moving to the center as the full effects of the pandemic become increasingly urgent. “Essential” work is undergoing major revisions as the lifesaving role of health professionals, homecare givers (including family members), grocery clerks, sanitation and a host of other under-recognized jobs are starting to attract recognition they deserve. A global consortium of some 5000 academics recently argued for a major shift toward “decommodification” of labor and workplace democratization in both ownership and control, the latter a longstanding goal of progressives now gradually shifting toward the mainstream.[iv]

As the complexity of the pandemic becomes increasingly evident, forecasting is fraught with uncertainty. From a GT perspective, this very complexity may prove to be an asset rather than an impediment to systemic change. Because of the intersectional nature of actors and impacts, COVID-19 signals an inflection point for mobilizing across boundaries and issues.

The time is ripe for a surge of such formations, powered by shared grievance, conscious of a rare conjuncture of events, and enabled by technology.  Will we seize the moment?

Source: Transnational Institute

Allen White is the Vice President and Senior Fellow of the Tellus Institute and the Co-Founder of the Global Reporting Initiative.

Allen White is Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Tellus Institute, where he directs the institute’s Program on Corporate Redesign. He co-founded the Global Reporting Initiative and Corporation 2020, and founded the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings. He has advised multilateral organizations, foundations, government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and NGOs on corporate sustainability, governance, and accountability. Dr. White has served on boards, advisory groups, and committees of the International Corporate Governance Network, Civic Capital, Instituto Ethos (Brazil), the New Economy Network, Business for Social Responsibility, and the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University. Dr. White has held faculty and research positions at the University of Connecticut, Clark University, and Battelle Laboratories and is a former Fulbright Scholar in Peru.

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Our Population Challenge Beyond Climate Change

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Do we plan for a secure and better life, or carry on blindly toward a minefield of lethal limits? 

 

By Brian McGavin, writer and environmentalist, is a director of Scientists Warning Europe. 

Most people are left in ignorance by politicians and mainstream media, who rarely think beyond the here and now. When informed about unsustainable consumption and human population growth they are shocked or deny the depth of interconnected challenges and the steps we need to take for a sustainable future, that go well beyond action on climate change.

 

The media invariably cloak population growth in terms of ‘increased demand’ – which narrow thinking growth economists portray as ‘good’ for growth. The key driver of overpopulation is at best ignored for ‘downstream’ sticking plaster responses by politicians and too often by ‘Greens’ who target ‘rights’ over ecological and resource realities.

 

“There is no social justice on a wrecked planet” –Brian McGavin

 

The type of powerful question put to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – and his reply was notable. We need to frame more clear questions to our politicians like this.

 

“Human population growth has more than doubled in the past 50 years. The planet cannot sustain this growth. I realize this is a poisonous topic for politicians, but it’s crucial to face. Empowering women and educating everyone on the need to curb population growth seems a reasonable campaign to enact. Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key feature of a plan to address climate catastrophe?”  

Sanders responded unambiguously: “Well, Martha, the answer is yes.”

 

Issue avoidance

A WWF reference to ‘mitigate human and elephant conflict’ in a newsletter doesn’t shout ever more human overpopulation pressure as a causal factor, or anything WWF wants to do about this. WWF advertising is a constant reset button of ‘save’ animals and give money so we can fight this decline – and it has been going on for over 50 years as our amazing bio-diversity crashes. NGOs and politicians need to engage in a much more honest dialog.

We face Systemic Population Denialism that is intellectually bankrupt and dangerously ignorant.  Where drastic exaggeration is used by people resistant to reality. When we raise our voices, we are obstructed by ill-informed media commentators with predicable recycled challenges on ageing population scares and how we need to increase births and immigration. Low birth-rate countries like Japan are NOT suffering a socio-economic crisis – and there are still 38 million people in the Tokyo metropolis alone!

Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger observes:

‘Good democracy relies on good information’.

 

Professor John Beddington, UK Government Chief Scientist in March 2009 warned that:

Our food reserves are at a 50-year low, but by 2030 we need to be producing 50% more food, we will need 50% more energy, and 30% more fresh water.”  

In 2017 over 20,000 scientist in 189 countries signed a Second Warning to Humanity, warning that humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in solving foreseen environmental challenges and most of them are getting much worse.

We simply don’t have the time for a gradualist message and we have to speed up the timeframe for action in people’s minds. Simplistic propositions by ill-informed, growthist commentators that developed economies were ideally placed to take in Africa’s exploding populations need shredding. Nor are we facing a ‘fertility collapse’, as growth pundits try to claim.

If governments won’t talk population, then they are not serious about cutting emissions, ensuring food supplies and a secure quality of life for our future.

At the heart of green politics is the simple premise that our prosperity depends completely on a healthy, functioning planet. Go on abusing the planet, go on ignoring climate change, go on ignoring population growth, and all else fails – including our deepest yearning for human rights.  (Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist)

We face huge interconnected challenges but it is easier to attract support for simple projects like saving a forest, than addressing ‘big-picture’ global problems. Major environmental groups keep their marketing too simple for the scale of the problems. Many environmental problems impact poor communities, but the social justice movement shows little interest in working with environmentalists on key challenges like biodiversity, resource depletion and overpopulation, deeming the latter as a racist agenda. We need to be clear and assertive not apologetic.

Environmental groups like XR and WWF talk about climate breakdown and ecological collapse but refuse to acknowledge the underlying over population demand driver, as they see it as ‘divisive, threatening or toxic’.

Unless we work collectively and stop creating wilful barriers of ignorance, because it might disturb people’s beliefs and comfort zones, we are leading our children to the abyss. A toxic intergenerational contract.

 

The ‘coercion’ taboo

Population concern organisations often run scared of any hint of population coercion. This can’t be sustained much longer as key resources decline and societies start to fall apart. In fact, society readily accepts values that could be interpreted as ‘coercive’ for the common good, with legal sanctions on the ‘freedom’ to drive at high speed in built up areas and fiscal incentives to discourage harmful behaviour. If we are to have any chance of a sustainable future we need to ‘incentivise’ fewer births rather than more, through the tax system and increase understanding so people make informed, socially responsible decisions in family size rather than merely saying it’s an individual choice.

 

Many people driven by self-centred beliefs will completely ignore calls for socially responsible decisions if this is all we are prepared to say. Yet social justice lobbies call for us to change to a vegan diet and travel less to compensate for ‘unavoidable’ population growth pressures.

 

 A long-term sustainable population is a ‘life-affirming’ message with many benefits for living standards and reduced infrastructure pressures.

 

Several countries, like Taiwan, Japan, Iran and Bangladesh) have transitioned to lower birth rates without coercion.

What about the rights of children to a sustainable future, rather than the ‘rights’ of parents to have large families?

 

The Ageing Population Scare – a transition not a crisis. The challenge of supporting aging populations is grossly over emphasized.  We spend more on cosmetics than we will need to support a temporary rise in older people. It is a phony argument that we need more people and more immigration to support ageing populations. Young people generally cost society more – in crime, in education and other ways. With typical short-term vision, we forget that all these extra young people get old too and will need support. The media and politicians never highlight this.

Mainstream media invariably frames any population decline as a ‘bad’ that has to be reversed for our continued well-being and economic growth.

 

A typical example appeared in The Times (UK) July 4, 2019 headlining Italian birth rates fall to lowest since 1861, “Prompting fears that the country is facing a sharp demographic decline.” “Russia is facing an even graver demographic crisis after the UN warned that its population could fall to half the present level by the end of the century.”

 

Another country with a ‘worryingly’ declining population is ‘stagnant’ Japan.  Yet the greater Tokyo metropolis is currently the world’s most populated city at around 38 million. Japan is well organised and on current fertility rates is projected to leave the list of world’s largest cities to be replaced before 2100 by Lagos at 88 million, Kinshasa 83m and Kabul in 10th place at 50m. (Population predictions for the world’s largest cities in the 21st century, Daniel Hoornweg, University of Ontario and Kevin Pope) 2017).  These cities are already chaotic at their current populations. Imagine them facing such numbers.

 

Sustainable numbers and UN Goals

The Second Scientists Warning to Humanity in 2017 listed 13 action points. The last point (m) said: “estimating a scientifically defensible sustainable human population size for the long term. Rallying nations is the UN’s job, but how do we define a long-term sustainable population?   

Global population is still growing at 1.036% a year and consumption at 3% a year, with resources declining rapidly.

Using Global Footprint data, the current average ecological footprint per capita would mean a sustainable population size for the long term would now be around 4.4 billion. But since there is no allowance made in this regularly updated snapshot for leaving any bio-capacity to conserve biodiversity, or depletion of non-renewable resources and enabling developing countries to reach more equitable living standards, we have to look at a lower population stabilisation nearer 3 billion – a number endorsed by respected ecologists like David Pimentel and Paul Ehrlich.

 

Unless we work collectively and stop creating wilful barriers of ignorance, because it might ‘disturb people’s beliefs and comfort zones’, our society and much of the planet’s bio-diversity will collapse before the end of the century, as critical food, energy and water resources become ever scarcer. Some might survive in an oppressive dystopia. We must plan for an equitable and responsible transition that preserves much of the diversity of our planet and a viable future for our children.

 

Cycle of silence.

Media coverage of environmental issues varies but remains historically low given its critical importance. There has been an upswing of concern with climate change and Extinction Rebellion protests but the media soon drifts back to celebrity gossip, economic growth and sport.

 

Today’s social media, with its narrow-framed ‘follow’ tags and identity politics, too often fails to see a wider connected picture. Dealing with complex issues on Twitter in 140 characters is practically impossible in a chain of slogans and responses. Celebrity manufactured social media gossip is off the scale of any proportionality and meaning. The baby boomer generation, not content with hoovering up household wealth and pensions of the generations below them are stealing from the future to pay for the present, while millennial media bubbles obsess with identity politics and seeking ‘safe space’. What matters is shaping the complex interactions and events we are all living through – absurd house prices, growing ecological collapse and the declining hope that tomorrow will be better than today

 

We are facing multiple and urgent global challenges, while the sheer stupidity of global turf wars for domination in fragile countries across the Middle East and Africa continue. We must appeal to sanity and the wider issues we must tackle.

 

Overpopulation and demand drives people to destroy the very resources they need to survive – freshwater, soils and forests. The social justice movement shows no interest in working with environmentalists. They simply have no concept of the impact of endless growth in our numbers and demand on biodiversity, infrastructure pressures and food security.

Religious extremism, from fundamentalist Christians, to ultra-orthodox Jews, to patriarchal Muslim cultures who all believe large families are integral to their beliefs and ignore the multiple environmental and social impacts is another barrier to sustainability. The denial of fertility management support translates into coercive child-bearing.

.

Given the immense challenges that will likely see starvation and conflict over remaining resources in the lifetime of people alive today, why would we think it better to create energy shortages, food shortages, lowered quality of life, a housing crisis, grid-locked traffic, bio-diversity loss, and many more calamities caused by ever increasing population pressures?

 

A lower population offers an enormous upside to environmental and social problems.

 

  • We avoid awful things like mass starvation, resource wars, rising pollution and catastrophic bio-diversity loss.

 

  • Small families in developing countries helps parents to afford their children’s education.

 

  • Ever more people simply drives humanity to a lower and lower standard of living.

 

  • Climate breakdown is an acknowledged danger, yet governments ignore the simple, most cost effective step we can take to reduce emissions – having fewer children. Several studies have shown this. (See drawdown.org and Wynes and Nicholas).

 

A number of tactics are widely used to grossly exaggerate claims and suppress discussion. There are common sense answers to all these challenges.

 

  • Population shaming Worrying about population growth and advocating for stabilisation and reduction is motivated by morally reprehensible characteristics like racism.
  • Population growth is good. Economies thrive with more people – increasing consumption. Population and technology gamble will resolve environmental problems of more people. Population fatalism Population may be a problem but there’s nothing we can do about it. Don’t scare the kids is a new media angle since climate warnings by teen activists.
  • Large families are caused by poverty. But large families amongst the rich go unnoticed. Regular TV shows showcase large families without any thought of the impact on others.
  • Lack of infrastructure is the fault of austerity not demand. Lack of housing and hospital beds is blamed on government cutbacks. We simply turn swords into ploughshares and infrastructure will be delivered. But the need to reduce total throughput and impact is ignored.
  • China’s former One-Child policy was coercive and denied ‘human rights’. In fact, China’s one-child policy was widely supported by the people because they were well informed by the government on the benefits. It lifted millions out poverty, helped China’s spectacular rise in living standard and only applied to people in cities. People in rural areas could have two children.  Now China has dropped the limit, with a still huge population because it swallowed the scare that there will be too few young people to support the transient phenomenon of an ageing population.
  • The Ageing Population Scare – a transition not a crisis. The challenge of supporting aging populations is grossly over emphasized. We spend more on cosmetics than we will need to support a temporary rise in older people. It is a phony argument that we need more young people and more immigration to support an ageing population. Young people generally cost society more – in crime, in education and many other ways. We forget they get old too and will need support. The media and politicians never highlight this.
  • Malthus was wrong. We are doing fine. Thomas Malthus’s essay in 1798 on the Principle of Population, predicting mass starvation if human numbers kept on rising, was only wrong in his timing. He couldn’t then know of the one-time binge the discovery of fossil fuels would give to global economic growth and how oil enabled the development of intensive agriculture.

 

Population Ignorant statements

Many media commentators ignore “doomsday” warnings, not because there is no supporting evidence, but because it does not fit with their long-held convictions of how the world works. Other tactics include ‘the practice of ‘Defamation’ to censor inconvenient truths.

Being a ‘National Treasure’ appears to be a license to talk rot.  (Alex Massie. The Spectator, 26/9/2013). Take the case of Sir David Attenborough. The poor booby is another neo-Malthusian. Which is another reminder that expertise in one area is no guarantee of good sense in another.

 

Australian bishop raps Green Party campaign on population fears 19/8/ 2010. Bishop Anthony Fisher. “The fears of a population explosion are absurd. Australia has close to the lowest population density in the world. Most of our country by far is uninhabited.”   (Yes – it’s desert!)

 

We have to change the mind-set of political leaders. Swedish Minister Ylva Johansson said her country “would take in refugees and “improve its population demographics with a smile.”

 

Brian McGavin, writer and environmentalist, is a director of Scientists Warning Europe. 

 

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Local food sourcing saves people and climate

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World traffic in food by massive corporations harms environment, jobs, and health; yields no net change in food availability; and harms jobs and food security everywhere. Swedish linguist Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of International Society for Ecology and Culture (now Local Futures), tells Helen Lobato of Women on the Line how prioritizing local food production and distribution will build back local economies and roll back corporate oil-dependent hegemony.

Source: WINGS: Womens International News Gathering Service

 

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How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

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How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

In October 2020, a group of 79 Kenyans filed a lawsuit in a UK court against one of the world’s largest plantation companies, Camelia Plc. They say the company is responsible for the killings, rapes and other abuses that its security guards have carried out against local villagers at its 20,000 hectare plantation, which produces avocados for European supermarkets.

Such abuses are unfortunately all too routine on Africa’s industrial plantations. It has been this way since Europeans introduced monoculture plantations to Africa in the early 20th century, using forced labour and violence to steal people’s lands. Camelia’s plantations share this legacy, and the abuses suffered by the Kenyan villagers today are not so different from those suffered by the generations before them.

Abuses and injustices are fundamental to the plantation model. The question that should be asked is why any of these colonial plantations still exist in Africa today. Why haven’t Africa’s post-colonial governments dismantled this model of exploitation and extraction, returned the lands to their people and emboldened a resurgence of Africa’s diverse, local food and farming systems?

One important piece of this puzzle can be found in the archives of the World Bank.

Last year, an alliance of African organizations, together with GRAIN and the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), produced a database on industrial oil palm plantations in Africa. Through this research, we found that many of the oil palm and rubber plantations currently operating in West and Central Africa were initiated or restored through coordinated World Bank projects in the 1970s and 1980s. The ostensible goal of these projects was to develop state-owned plantations that could drive “national development”. The World Bank not only provided participating governments with large loans, but it also supplied the consultants who crafted the plantation projects and oversaw their management.

In case after case that we looked at, the consultants hired by the World Bank for these projects were from a company called SOCFINCO, a subsidiary of the Luxembourg holding company Société Financière des Caoutchoucs (SOCFIN). SOCFIN was a leading plantation company during the colonial period, with operations stretching from the Congo to Southeast Asia. When the colonial powers were sent packing in the 1960s, SOCFIN lost several of its plantations, and it was then that it set up its consultancy branch, SOCFINCO.

According to documents in the World Bank’s archives, SOCFINCO was hired by the Bank to oversee the development and implementation of oil palm and rubber plantation projects in several African countries, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinée, Nigeria, and São Tomé and Príncipe. SOCFINCO oversaw the development of blueprints for national oil palm and rubber plantation programs, and helped identify lands to be converted to industrial plantations.  It was also paid to manage the plantations and, in some cases, to organize sales of rubber and palm oil by the state plantation companies established through the program.

SOCFIN received lucrative management fees through these projects, but, more importantly, they positioned the company to take control of the trade in agri-commodity exports from Africa – and eventually to even take over the plantations. It was a huge coup for SOCFIN. As the World Bank projects were operated through parastatal companies (companies owned or controlled wholly or partly by the government), local communities could be dispossessed from their lands for plantations under the justification of “national development” – something that would be much more difficult for a foreign company like SOCFIN to do. Indeed, a condition for World Bank loans was that the governments secure lands for the projects, a step made easier by the fact that most of the projects were being implemented by military regimes.

The World Bank projects also allowed SOCFIN to avoid the costs of building the plantations and their associated facilities. Under the projects, the African governments paid the bill via loans from the World Bank and other development banks.

It was not long before the parastatal companies set up by the World Bank were mired in debt. Of course, the Bank blamed the governments for mismanagement and called for the privatisation of the plantations as a solution – even if those plantations were already being run by the high-priced managers of SOCFINCO and other foreign consultants.

In the privatization process that then followed, SOCFIN and SIAT, a Belgian company founded by a SOCFINCO consultant, took over many of the prized plantations. Today, these two companies control a quarter of all the large oil palm plantations in Africa and are significant players in the rubber sector.

Nigeria is a good example of how this scheme worked. Between 1974 and the end of the 1980s, SOCFINCO crafted master plans for at least seven World Bank-backed oil palm projects in five different Nigerian states. Each project involved the creation of a parastatal company that would both take over the state’s existing plantations and develop new plantations and palm oil mills as well as large-scale outgrower schemes. Overseeing all of SOCFINCO’s work in Nigeria was Pierre Vandebeeck, who would later found the company SIAT.

All of the World Bank projects in Nigeria generated enduring land conflicts with local communities, such as with the Oghareki community in Delta State or the villagers of Egbeda in Rivers State. After dispossessing numerous communities from their lands and incurring huge losses for the Nigerian government, the parastatal companies were then privatised, with the more valuable of the plantation assets eventually ending up in the hands of SOCFIN or Vandebeeck’s company SIAT.

SIAT took over the plantations in Bendel state through a subsidiary and then, in 2011, it acquired the Rivers State palm oil company, Risonpalm, through its company SIAT Nigeria Limited. Vandebeek was SOCFINCO’s plantation manager for Risonpalm under the World Bank between 1978-1983.

SOCFIN, for its part, took over the oil palm plantations in the Okomu area that were also developed under a World Bank project. It was SOCFINCO that first identified this area for plantation development as part of the study it was hired to undertake in 1974. The Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc. (OOPC) was subsequently established as a parastatal company in 1976, and 15,580 hectares of land within the Okomu Forest Reserve of Edo State was “de-reserved” and taken from the local communities to make way for oil palm plantations. The company hired SOCFINCO as the managing agent to oversee its activities from 1976-1990. Reports vary, but at some point between 1986 and 1990, OOPC was then divested to SOCFIN’s subsidiary Indufina Luxembourg.

This sordid history explains why so many of subsidiaries of SOCFIN and SIAT in Africa still carry national sounding names, like SOCAPALM in Cameroon or the Ghana Oil Palm Development Company. It also explains why these companies are so well designed to extract profits into the hands of their owners, and the crucial role of the World Bank for facilitating this corporate profit-seeking process in the name of “national development”.

 

Courtesy of Local Futures, This post is adapted from a GRAIN blog

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Manifesto and Principles

An Empowered World2 weeks ago

The World Unites for World Ecologic Forum on December 10

An Empowered World2 weeks ago

Action Plan for Re-Thinking Humanity

Editorials2 weeks ago

Mea Culpa

An Empowered World2 weeks ago

Communities unite for World Ecologic December 10th

Editorials2 weeks ago

Idjitz Stoopidshitz and-Dumfux

An Empowered World3 weeks ago

Decentralized Production Hub for Humanity’s Next adventure

Editorials3 weeks ago

Rethinking Climate Change Solutions

An Empowered World3 weeks ago

Dive in to the Ecosystem of Opportunity

An Empowered World3 weeks ago

It’s what you want, the way You want It

An Empowered World3 weeks ago

The Mobilized Exchange

The Web of Life3 weeks ago

Communities Take a Stand for The Rights of Nature

The Web of Life3 weeks ago

Excuse Me, But What is in that “Food” I’m Eating?

The Web of Life3 weeks ago

Healthy Soil for Healthy, Nutritious Food and Healthy Climate

The Web of Life3 weeks ago

A Paradigm Change Starting with Your Lawns

The Web of Life3 weeks ago

Communities Fight Against Polluters and Miners

The Web of Life3 weeks ago

Cooperatives as a Better Community Service

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Truth or Consequences

A web of Life for ALL Life4 weeks ago

Environmental Summit

A web of Life for ALL Life1 month ago

Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope

A web of Life for ALL Life1 month ago

Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy finds that existing coal, oil and gas production puts the world on course to overshoot Paris climate targets.

Featured1 month ago

Sign Up

Featured1 month ago

Environment

Featured1 month ago

COMMUNITY MEDIA EVENTS

A web of Life for ALL Life1 month ago

About Mobilized

A web of Life for ALL Life1 month ago

See the opportunity to return to the sacred

A web of Life for ALL Life2 months ago

Climate Change and Earth Overshoot: Is there a better “Green New Deal?”

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