Socio-Economic Aspects of Sustainable
THE QUESTIONS OF ATTITUDES AND PERSONAL INTEREST
OF DIFFERENT POPULATION GROUPS
BY FRITHJOF KUHNEN
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
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?
- 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,
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sustainability should be understood comprehensively and
is not just 'care of the environtment.' Sustainability includes.
The system should be self-regulating and replace whatever
has been taken out. Exploitations of resourches is not tolerable.
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!.
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
- everyone should aim at a fair share of resources, and
no generation should limit the opportunities of other societies
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
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
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.