Socio-Economic Aspects of Sustainable Agricultural Development:



1. The Notions of Sustainability

The history of mankind is a continous struggle for food. Globally, the abilities of men to increase agricultural productivity have succeeded in adjusting food production to increasing population. While Malthus' visions never became reality, for shorter periods and certain regions, many frictions have happened. Famine - caused by different factors - is an experience which mankind has been making until today.

In recent times, the industries countries have been experiencing a strong desire for a more affluent life. The technological development corresponded to this and led, in some countries, to a degree of wealth which was difficult to imagine in former times.

But in recent years, we have been realizing more and more the 'failure of our succcess.1) The high level of production and efficiency have led to cost for the environmennt: damages to the ecosystem, health problems, abuse of non-renewable resources, etc. This development made a new term popular: sustainability. It is used with different meanings. What do we mean by sustainability?

  1. Sustainability primarily means survival. In forestry, the term is used since long ad indicates the maximum number of trees which can be cut on condition that the stock be continously renewed: what is harvested has to be replaced. Thaer and aeroboe, early agricultural scientists, put special emphasis on the nation of sustainability in their discussion of optimal land cultivation. The nation of carrying capacity, the maximum
    number of people which the ecosystem can support in the long run, also includes the nation of sustainability. Obviously, the level of living has to be included in this calculation.
  2. Sustainability has social, economic, and emotional dimensions, social sustainability refers to the survival of cultivating families and rural sociaties over centuries. The does not exclude social change. Economic sustainability is expressed in the nation of an 'economic holding,' which absorbs the labour capacity of a family and supplies this
    family's living. The moral dimension becomes obvious in the farm-centered thinking of the peasant family and in its understanding of itself as a trustee who can use the inherited land, but has to hand it over to the heirs in a well-maintained condition.
  3. Sustainability should be understood as being dynamical. There will be a grater demand for food because of population increase on condition that the natural resource base be maintained or improved. Sustainability is not the same as low-input agriculture. Sustainability does not aim at continuation but includes incentives and approaches for further development. It is not using constant or back ward technologies for production, but selecting these technologies which maintains the productivity of the land.
  4. Sustainability should be understood comprehensively and is not just 'care of the environtment.' Sustainability includes.

    Ecological health

    The system should be self-regulating and replace whatever has been taken out. Exploitations of resourches is not tolerable.

    Economic viability

    The system should have the ability to survive and progress as a whole and in its components. Thereby, private interests cannot predominate over public inters!.

    Social justice

    Equality in the control of resources (land, labour relations, participation, etc.) is a precondition, while the lack of access to resourches leads to environmental damages. The squatter who illegally accupies land and cultivates even steep slopes is an appropriate example illustrating damages done to resourches becouse of proverty.

    Humanity of agricultural production
    A human agriculture values the 'respect of life' as for ins4ance in human relations, in relations to animals as well as in questions of quality of products. Cultural roots are as important as plant roots.

This corresponds to 'world ethies for sustainable living' as formulated by the 'Strategy for Sustainable Living 2) Its elements are stipulated as follows:

  • every human being; is part of the living community consisting of all living creatures;
  • all human being have the same rights (life, security, freedom, religion, expression, standard of living;
  • every form of life warrants respect;
  • everyone should assume responsibility for his/her impact on nature;
  • everyone should aim at a fair share of resources, and no generation should limit the opportunities of other societies and generations.

Sustainability understood in these ways is a continuous process towards a never-ending goal: the management of the natural resource base and its capacity of regenerating in such a way that its productivity is maintained and incresed over time.

This requires a new definition of economic and human development. Sustainable developmentshould concentrate on fulfilling the real intersts of the current generation without damaging the ability of future generations to satisfy their needs. Socio-economic development is what is the real interst of the total population, not what is tecnicaHy possible.

I ought to mention that the notion of sustainability is often used with a different meaning in discussions on technical assistance. Here, a project is called sustainable if it continues to have an impact, at least for some time after external support has ceased.

But in the present paper, I concentrate on sustainability as management of the resource base in such a way that productivity is maintained over time.
Sustainability, care of the resource base are topics which are widely discussed nowadays. We can hardly read our daily newspaper without finding at least one article on those subjects.

But how is this notion understood by land-cultivating families? To what extent are they interested in these aspects, and how far are they able to act correspondingly?

1) Jackson, Wes, 1988: Ecosystem Agriculture: The marriage of Ecology and Agriculture.
2) Caring for the Earth, Strategy tor Sustainable Living, IUCN/UNEP/WWF, Gland 1991.