Saturday, May 21st, 2022 08:15:34

Surviving The Coming Scarcity When Resource Constraints Meet Conspicuous Consumption

Updated: September 25, 2010 12:28 pm


The international community must confront a dual challenge: ever-more acute resource constraints coupled with the entrance of new actors with a penchant for unsustainable consumption patterns. The resulting scarcity is already on the horizon.

The world appears to be in the midst of transitioning from one of relative surplus to one of scarcity. For many countries in the coming 15-20 years, “[a]ccess to relatively secure and clean energy sources and management of chronic food and water shortages will assume increasing importance.” While such longer-term forecast reports focus on the not-so-distant future, signs of scarcity in important resources like water, energy and food, are already manifesting:

                The European Commission issued a press release in June warning of a shortage of 14 critical raw mineral materials that could negatively impact European industries, technologies and innovation.

                Food shortages are expected in Russia and Pakistan, and other parts of Asia and Africa.

                Power shortages have become common place around the world during seasonal demand peaks.

The Food and Agriculture Organization defines scarcity as “an imbalance between ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ that varies according to local conditions”. It goes further by clarifying that scarcity is relative and is shaped by the factors of availability, access and infrastructure (inadequacy). Definitions are valuable, news headlines are interesting and the international community’s long-term assessments are compelling. But what story do the numbers tell about scarcity?


Today, in the developed world, the average adult uses some 1,800-2,500 m3 of water per year.

                By 2025, 1.8 billion will be living with absolute water scarcity, with access to less than 500 m3 per person/year; while two-thirds of the world’s population will live “under stress” with only 500-1,000 m3 of water per person/year. Given that it takes some 16,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of beef (for the animal’s consumption, care, and grain feed production), it will be much harder in 2025 to ignore the immediate social, environmental and human cost of beef production.

                The NIC’s Global Trends 2025 says: Clean water is set to become the world’s scarcest but most-needed natural resource because of new demands resulting from population increases and expectations that climate changes will reduce natural fresh water sources in some areas. Demand will increase for water for domestic use, as well as for agriculture (including new biopharma and biofuel crops) and industry processes.


The OECD-FAO forecast report “Agricultural Outlook 2010-2019” notes that in this one decade food production will just meet food consumption, with world demand likely to exceed supply for wheat and sugar. This report assumes crop production will be stable during this period, and cannot anticipate the impact of environmental or economic shocks. (Such as Russia’s decision in August to halt exports of wheat as a result of a loss of 20 per cent of its annual wheat crop due to drought. Russia is one of the largest producers of wheat in the world.)


The US Energy Information Association’s “2010 International Energy Outlook” anticipates world energy production will increase by 40 per cent in the next 25-30 years, while energy consumption will increase by some 89 per cent over the same period. Global Trends 2025 predicts future energy demand will be met with expanding fossil fuel production, while the per centage of demand met by alternative fuels will remain largely steady. This suggests that developing countries will likely continue to rely on lower-cost fossil fuels for their energy needs.

                The International Energy Agency in its “2009 World Energy Outlook Factsheet” anticipates that world energy production will be able to meet demand, but it confirms: “The continuation of current trends would have dire consequences for climate change.” The same report frankly states: “Price volatility will continue, but the days of cheap energy are over.” It is clear that high energy prices will have an impact on the cost of food production and transport, but how it will affect the availability of food is not. An additional factor that will boost demand for agricultural crops is expanding demand for biofuel production, which the OECD-FAO report anticipates “will create additional demand for wheat, coarse grains, vegetable oils and sugar”.

Managing demand: Demographics and development

This widening gap between rising demand and diminishing supply highlights another important challenge facing the ‘post-surplus’ world: managing the drivers of consumption. Long-term forecasts and other post-surplus scenarios of global scarcity assume consumption (individual and industrial) will continue at or (more likely) increase beyond current levels, as developing countries grow richer and demand in these areas rise.

                …with increasing affluence and an expanding middle class, food consumption in these countries should become less responsive to price and income changes, as is currently the case in OECD countries. This implies that larger changes in price and incomes will be required for consumption to adjust to any unforeseen shocks.

Economic development

The OECD expects that developing and emerging economies will account for almost 60 per cent of economic growth in 2030, which means these countries will have a greater impact on global demand for natural resources and global trade and consumption patterns. The OECD-FAO report argues that developing country demand for these goods will sustain global demand and will shape the markets.


The drivers of demand are people. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division report, “World Population to 2300”, the global population will reach eight billion people by 2025, while approximately 60 per cent of world’s population will be living in cities by 2030, according to the report “Water in a Changing World”.

                “Global Trends 2025” forecasts that 50 countries will experience a population increase by more than one-third, with an additional eight megacities to join the current tally of 19. Massive shifts in population proportions along demographic lines (such as youth or elderly population bulges) and due to migration are expected to give rise to political competition, conflict and change (especially along religious and ethnic divisions) in industrial countries with low fertility rates.

Long-Range Projections


In the 20th century, experts forecasting the next 20 years—roughly the timeframe of this study often missed major geopolitical events, basing their predictions largely on linear projections without exploring possibilities that could cause discontinuities. Before WW I, while tensions between European “great powers” were on the rise, few had an inkling of major changes in the offing, from the extent of mutual slaughter to the downfall of age-old empires. In the early 1920s, few envisioned the lethal situation about to unfold, ushered in by the Great Depression, Stalin’s gulags, and an even more bloody world war encompassing multiple genocides. The postwar period saw the establishment of a new international system—many of whose institutions—the UN and Bretton Woods—remain with us. Although the bipolar and nuclear age did not lack war and conflict, it did provide a stable framework until the collapse of the Soviet Union. The development of a globalized economy in which China and India play major roles has opened a new era without clear outcomes.

                Lessons from the last century, however, appear to suggest: Leaders and their ideas matter. No history of the past hundred years can be told without delving into the roles and thinking of such leaders as Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler or Mao Zedong. The actions of dominating leaders are the hardest element to anticipate. At several junctures in the 20th century, Western experts thought liberal and market ideas had triumphed. As demonstrated by the impacts of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Truman, leadership is key even in societies where institutions are strong and the maneuvering room for wielding personal power is more constrained.

                Economic volatility introduces a major risk factor. Historians and social scientists have discovered a strong correlation between rapid economic change—both positive and negative—and political instability. The massive dislocation and economic volatility introduced by the end of the “first” globalization in 1914-1918 and the rise of protectionist barriers in the 1920s and 1930s, combined with the lingering resentments over the Versailles peace settlement, laid the groundwork for WW II. The collapse of multinational and ethnic empires—begun after WW I and continuing with the end of the colonial empires in the post- WW II period—also unleashed a long series of national and ethnic conflicts that reverberates today. Today’s globalization also has spurred the movement of people, disrupting traditional social and geographic boundaries.

                Geopolitical rivalries trigger discontinuities more than does technological change. Many stress the role of technology in bringing about radical change and there is no question it has been a major driver. We—as others—have oftentimes underestimated its impact. However, over the past century, geopolitical rivalries and their consequences have been more significant causes of the multiple wars, collapse of empires, and rise of new powers than technology alone.

Managing competition and conflicts

These demographic pressures coupled with rising competition for diminishing resources have the potential to exacerbate already complicated problems. Indeed, the second major challenge facing the world as resource scarcity deepens is the management of competition and conflict.

                At present, the International Crisis Group is tracking over 70 open conflicts involving the deadly use of force around the world. But there are an innumerable numbers of small intra- and inter-state conflicts that will shape and be shaped by global resource scarcities, and especially by local economic imbalances a real risk to regional stability.

                The tools and techniques employed in the field of conflict management are as multifaceted as the problems they are used to resolve, suited to the needs and environment of multi-causal conflicts. While these are beyond the scope of this analysis, it is clear that conflict management and prevention will become even more the management of complexity.

                This is most reflected in the mandates of international agencies focusing on peace making and conflict resolution. For instance, the UN Public Administration Program has a project, ‘Capacity Building in Conflict Management’ that focuses entirely on transferring knowledge:

                To impart awareness and skills to government officials and their civil society counterparts, to assist them, to anticipate and respond to crises, to work effectively in conflict-prone environments and to increase their ability to defuse tension and address the inequalities that may lead to violence.

                In the future, security will be much more shaped by concepts such as collaboration, cooperation and prevention approaches that are much better suited to unwinding complex conflicts. Many nations, including the UK, US, China, France, Japan and New Zealand, address security in these terms in their annual security and defense white papers so much so that these are becoming significant principles of national policy.

 Winners and Losers in a Post-Petroleum World

It is believed that by 2025, there will be a technological breakthrough that will provide an alternative to oil and natural gas, but implementation will lag because of the necessary infrastructure costs and need for longer replacement time. However, whether the breakthrough occurs within the 2025 timeframe or later, the geopolitical implications of a shift away from oil and natural gas will be immense.

  • Saudi Arabia will absorb the biggest shock, as its leaders will be forced to tighten up on the costs of the royal establishment. The regime could face new tensions with the Wahabi establishment as Riyadh seeks to promote a series of major economic reforms—including women’s full participation in the economy—and a new social contract with its public as it tries to institute a work ethic to accelerate development plans and diversify the economy.
  • In Iran, the drop in oil and gas prices will undermine any populist economic policies. Pressure for economic reform will increase, potentially putting pressure on the clerical governing elite to loosen its grip. Incentives to open up to the West in a bid for greater foreign investment, establishing or strengthening ties with Western partners—including with the US—will increase. Iranian leaders might be more willing to trade their nuclear policies for aid and trade.
  • For Iraq, emphasis on investing in non-oil sectors of its economy will increase. The smaller Gulf states, which have been making massive investments designed to transform themselves into global tourist and transport hubs, are likely to manage the transition well bolstered by their robust sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). Across the Arab world, SWFs are being deployed to develop non-oil sectors of the economy in a race against oil as a diminishing asset.
  • Outside the Middle East, Russia will potentially be the biggest loser, particularly if its economy remains heavily tied to energy exports, and could be reduced to middle power status. Venezuela, Bolivia, and other petro-populist regimes could unravel completely, if that has not occurred beforehand because of already growing discontent and decreasing production. Absent support from Venezuela, Cuba might be forced to begin China-like market reforms.

                Early oil decline states—those exporters which had peaked or were declining as is currently the case with Indonesia and Mexico—may be better prepared to shift the focus of their economic activities and diversify into non-energy sectors.

Managing sustainability: From knowledge to action

The third challenge in the post-surplus future will be to coordinate efforts to shift human activities (as far as possible) closer to sustainability (especially consumption and production). …human activity is currently unsustainable in that it requires more than the total of all such productive land and sea area i.e., more than one planet to support it. On current trends, by 2040 it would require two planets.

                There is certainly the argument that market forces alone will be sufficient to modulate consumption and production. But as the era of global surplus begins to draw to a close, so too is the paradigm of blind trust in market forces and market actors. Changing the attitudes that shape demand and the policies that shape production will require a tremendous mobilization of knowledge and policy coordination.

 Strategic Implications of an Opening Arctic

Estimates vary as to when the Arctic is likely to be ice free during the summer. The National Snow and Ice Data Center suggests a seasonally ice-free Arctic by 2060; more current research suggests the date could be as soon as 2013. The two most important implications of an opening Arctic are improved access to likely vast energy and mineral resources and potentially shorter maritime shipping routes.

                Transiting the Northern Sea Route above Russia between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific would trim about 5,000 nautical miles and a week’s sailing time off a trip compared with use of the Suez Canal. Voyaging between Europe and Asia through Canada’s Northwest Passage would trim some 4,000 nautical miles off of a trip using the Panama Canal.

                Resource and shipping benefits are unlikely to materialize by 2025. The US National Petroleum Council has said that some of the technology to exploit oil from the heart of the Arctic region may not be ready until as late as 2050. Nonetheless, these potential riches and advantages are already perceptible to the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, and Norway—as evidenced by the emergence of competing territorial claims, such as between Russia and Norway, and Canada and Denmark.

                Although serious near-term tension could result in small-scale confrontations over contested claims, the Arctic is unlikely to spawn major armed conflict. Circumpolar states have other major ports on other bodies of water, so the Arctic does not pose any lifeblood blockade dangers. Additionally, these states share a common interest in regulating access to the Arctic by hostile powers, states of concern, or dangerous nonstate actors; and by their shared need for assistance from high-tech companies to exploit the Arctic’s resources.

                The greatest strategic consequence over the next couple of decades may be that relatively large, wealthy, resource-deficient trading states such as China, Japan, and Korea will benefit from increased energy resources provided by any Arctic opening and shorter shipping distances.

The Changing Character of Conflict

Conflict will continue to evolve over the next 20 years as potential combatants adapt to advances in science and technology, improving weapon capabilities, and changes in the security environment. Warfare in 2025 is likely to be characterized by the following strategic trends:

                The Increasing Importance of Information. Advances in information technologies are enabling new warfighting synergies through combinations of advanced precision weaponry, improving target and surveillance capabilities, enhanced command and control, and the expanding use of artificial intelligence and robotics. Future proliferation of long-range precision weapons will permit a growing number of states to threaten rapid destruction of an adversary’s critical economic, energy, political, military and information infrastructures. The growing importance of information technologies as an enabler of modern warfighting capabilities will make information itself a primary target in future conflicts. By 2025 some states probably will deploy weapons designed to destroy or disable information, sensor, and communication networks and systems including anti-satellite, radiofrequency, and laser weapons.

                The Evolution of Irregular Warfare Capabilities. The adoption of irregular warfare tactics by both state and nonstate actors as a primary warfighting approach in countering advanced militaries will be a key characteristic of conflicts in 2025. The spread of light weaponry, including precision tactical and man-portable weapon systems, and information and communication technologies will significantly increase the threat posed by irregular forms of warfare over the next 15-20 years. Modern communication technologies such as satellite and cellular phones, the Internet, and commercial encryption, combined with hand-held navigation devices and high-capacity information systems that can contain large amounts of text, maps, and digital images and videos will greatly enable future irregular forces to organize, coordinate, and execute dispersed operations.

                The Prominence of the Non-military Aspects of Warfare. Non-military means of warfare, such as cyber, economic, resource, psychological, and information-based forms of conflict will become more prevalent in conflicts over the next two decades. In the future, states and nonstate adversaries will engage in “media warfare” to dominate the 24-hour news cycle and manipulate public opinion to advance their own agenda and gain popular support for their cause.

                The Expansion and Escalation of Conflicts Beyond the Traditional Battlefield. Containing the expansion and escalation of conflicts will become more problematic in the future. The advancement of weapons capabilities such as long-range precision weapons, the continued proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the employment of new forms of warfare such as cyber and space warfare are providing state militaries and nonstate groups the means to escalate and expand future conflicts beyond the traditional battlefield.

Sub-Saharan Africa

More Interactions with the World and More Troubled

In 2025, Sub-Saharan Africa will remain the most vulnerable region on Earth in terms of economic challenges, population stresses, civil conflict, and political instability. The weakness of states and troubled relations between states and societies probably will slow major improvements in the region’s prospects over the next 20 years unless there is sustained international engagement and, at times, intervention. Southern Africa will continue to be the most stable and promising sub-region politically and economically.

                Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to be a major supplier of oil, gas, and metals to world markets and increasingly will attract the attention of Asian states seeking access to commodities, including China and India. However, despite increased global demand for commodities, increased resource income may not benefit the majority of the population or result in significant economic gains. Poor economic policies—rooted in patrimonial interests and incomplete economic reform—will likely exacerbate ethnic and religious divides as well as crime and corruption in many countries. Ruling elites are likely to continue to accrue greater income and wealth, while poverty will persist or worsen in rural areas and sprawling urban centers. The divide between elite and non-elite populations is likely to widen, reinforcing conditions that could generate divisive political and religious extremism.

                By 2025, the region’s population is expected to reach over one billion, notwithstanding the effects of HIV/AIDS. Over one-half of the population will be under age 24, and many will be seeking economic opportunity or physical safety via out-migration owing to conflict, climate change, or widespread unemployment. The earliest global effects of climate change, including water stress and scarcity, will begin to occur in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.

                Today almost one-half (23 of 48) of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are classed as democracies, and the majority of African states are on a democratic path, but the most populous states in the region and those with high population growth could backslide.

                Although Africa is already assuming more of its own peacekeeping responsibilities, the region will be vulnerable to civil conflict and complex forms of interstate conflict—with militaries fragmented along ethnic or other divides, limited control of border areas, and insurgents and criminal groups preying on unarmed civilians in neighboring countries. Central Africa contains the most troubling of these cases, including Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville, Central African Republic, and Chad.

                In contrast to other regions of the world, African attitudes toward the US will remain positive, although many African governments will remain critical of US policies on issues like the Middle East, Cuba, and global trade. Africa will continue to push for UN reform and for permanent representation on the UN Security Council.

Science and Technology Leadership

A Test for the Emerging Powers

The relationship between achievements in science and technology and economic growth has been long established, but the path is not always predictable. More significant is the overall effectiveness of a nation’s National Innovation System (NIS)—the process by which intellectual concepts are moved toward commercialization for the benefit of a national economy. According to a NIC-contracted global survey of scientific experts, the United States currently boasts a stronger innovation system than the developing economies of China and India.

                The idea of NIS was first developed in the 1980s as an aid to understanding how some countries were proving better than others at turning intellectual concepts into commercial products that would boost their economies. The NIS model is evolving as information technology and the effect of increased globalization (and multinational corporations) influence national economies.

                According to the NIC-commissioned study, nine factors can contribute to a modern NIS: fluidity of capital, flexibility of the labor pool, government receptivity to business, information communication technologies, private sector development infrastructure, legal systems to protect intellectual property rights, available scientific and human capital, marketing skills, and cultural propensity to encourage creativity.

                China and India are expected in 10 years to achieve near parity with the US in two different areas: scientific and human capital (India) and government receptivity to business innovation (China). China and India will narrow significantly but not close the gap in all remaining factors. The United States is expected to remain dominant in three areas: protection for intellectual property rights, business sophistication to mature innovation, and encouragement of creativity.

                Companies in China, India, and other major developing countries have unique opportunities to be the first to develop a host of emerging technologies. This is especially the case in those instances where companies are building new infrastructure and not burdened by historical patterns of development. Such opportunities include distributed electrical power generation, development of clean water sources, and the next generation of Internet and new information technologies (such as ubiquitous computing and the Internet of Things. Early and significant adoption of these technologies could provide considerable economic advantage.


Dark clouds are gathering over Kendujhar district in north Orissa, this chronicle reveals. As in other forested areas across India, adivasis are standing up to fight the takeover of their forest resources. What kind of wisdom is the forest department driven by when it undertakes large-scale commercial plantation after clear-felling natural forests that rightfully belong to them? they ask.

The district of Kendujhar (or Keonjhar, as the British pronounced it) in north Orissa, bordering the state of Jharkhand, has many a tale of woe. With a predominantly adivasi population, including many aboriginal tribes who the Indian state in its inherited colonial lexicon calls PTGs (primitive tribal groups), Kendujhar was part of an expanse that once signified the ‘dense and dark wilds’ thanks to the forests and wildlife it contained. That was before the traders set foot there. And first among the traders was the Indian Forest Department itself, which opened its ‘forest administration’ in the area in 1892, followed by the arrival of ‘a Dehradun-trained Ranger in 1906 to place the Department on an organised basis’.

                The princely state of Kendujhar coming under the British administration in 1911 was, according to the forest department today, what “marks the first milestone of forest administration at the district level”. The natural wealth of Kendujhar was well known. Interestingly, one of Hitler’s metallurgists is also reported to have remarked, “You cannot rule the world, unless you control the iron ores of Keonjhar!”

                But 100 years under the forest department many community forest management (CFM) groups in Orissa actually call it the Timber Department! have reduced Kendujhar’s ‘dense and dark wilds’ to 40% of the district’s total land area. And while the forest department has made its billions in these 100 years, the world of the 46 tribal groups in the district has shrunk in several ways.

                Decades of rampant mining in Kendujhar for iron ore, dolomite, coal etc have ravaged 33,000 hectares of forests. The Joda and Badbil areas are today a landscape that would resemble if you look hard Pablo Picasso’s Guernica! About 150,000 people from 32,000 adivasi families have disappeared from the frame, and from the face of the earth.

                But as in other forests, in Kendujhar too forest communities are fighting valiant battles against the takeover of their life-sustaining resources.

                On July 30, 2010 hundreds of Juang and Bhuyan adivasis (officially PTGs) swarmed the office of the DFO (divisional forest officer) in Kendujhargarh, the district headquarters. They had some simple questions to ask the DFO questions adivasis all over have been asking for the past 150 years or so: what kind of wisdom or scientific insight is the forest department driven by when it goes for large-scale commercial plantation after clear-felling large tracts of natural forests that rightfully belong to the adivasis? Why is the department pumping so much money into the forests and destabilising their sustainable, traditional economies?

                Says Duskar Barik, a local activist who stands in support of the adivasis, “Hundreds of forest folks from Juang and Bhuyan pirhs (traditional domains) of Bansapal, Harichandanpur and Telkoi blocks staged a dharna (demonstration) protesting against plantation of commercial species in Kendujhar district. The dharna that started on the morning of July 30 extended till 1.30 pm the next day when the DFO assured them that all their demands would be met. Despite his assurance, the department is still trying to carry on commercial plantation at the village level by offering money and liquor to the local people.”

                Even after the dharna, Duskar informs, the forester at Raidiha gave the villagers Rs 1,100 for a ‘community feast’; the money was returned to the DFO by the villagers warning him not to try giving any more bribes or else there would be widespread public outrage.

                A report in a local daily (The Dharitri, July 28, 2010) says that between 2001 and 2010, the department has carried out plantation of acasia and eucalyptus on 1,030.14 hectares under CAMPA (compensatory afforestation) and 5,104 hectares under the OFSDP (Orissa Forestry Sector Development Programme) covering 95 villages of the Juang and Bhuyan pirhs.

                “Why is the forest department cutting down trees such as sal, piasal, mohua, asan etc, which are precious to the livelihoods of the natives and their livestock, and planting useless trees like acasia, eucalyptus, teak, simbarua, chakunda etc?” asks Padu Juang from Nadam village. “If such plantation continues, we will soon be pushed into great hardship. The soil will degrade and our food security will be at risk.”

                Gadadhar Dehuri of the Pahadi Bhuyan community from Bhaliadala village is equally worried. He says, “These commercial species are enormously harmful to our primary livelihood system. They do not allow mushrooms, traditional roots, tubers, and other local varieties of species to grow around them.” Prafulla Dehuri, another Pahadi Bhuyan of the same village, adds, “We are losing our food base due to plantation of these species; animals are losing their fodder. Even the living space and fodder options for wild elephants are affected; as a result, elephants are now entering tribal villages and eating up stored grain, destroying huts, and killing people. Plantation of such varieties should immediately be stopped by government.”

                The Juangs and Bhuyans have also asked the chief minister of Orissa in a memorandum “why the government is hell-bent on destroying the natural livelihood resources of the adivasis”. They are waiting for an answer.

                Rabindra Juang, ex-sarpanch of Gonasika panchayat snaps, “The forest department is planting trees the leaves of which are neither eaten by our livestock nor wild animals. Even birds do not make nests on these trees. Grass does not grow under their shadow. How do you expect us human beings to survive on them?” After a brief silence, he adds, “Only the forest department can live on them because to them, such plantations are forests that grow currency notes!”

                The adivasis have always considered the forests which incorporate farmlands their primary provider and know only too well that any change in the natural biodiversity would invite utmost hardship in making ends meet. On the other hand, the forest department, with all its biodiversity and wildlife experts on board, knows only too well how to meet the ever-multiplying targets of revenue-generation from forests. So, the conflict is clear, very much present, and intensifying.

                The flurry of protest by the adivasis in Kendujhar began in 2005 when attempts by the forest department to make commercial plantations under CAMPA in Fulbadi village in Bansapal block were successfully resisted by the Juangs. The very next year, Juangs and Bhuyans in Kadalibadi, Talabaitarani and Talapada villages foiled the forest department’s attempts to plant foreign species on village commons. Then, in 2007, a massive campaign was launched in 32 Juangs and Bhuyan villages using RTI (right to information) provisions, supported by some peoples’ collectives against plantation of alien species on some 4,588 hectares of land. The district collector was forced to hold a meeting with the adivasi leaders on December 22, 2007 and hear them out, after which the department had to stop the madness, though temporarily.

                It no longer baffles anyone why and how the department is able to find ‘degraded lands’ to the tune of thousands of hectares on the maps that it carries. For the Juangs and Bhuyans of Kendujhar, however, there is no such thing as ‘degraded lands’ or even ‘degraded forests’. Even the famed NC Saxena Report 1998 (commissioned by the Planning Commission of India) had clearly stated that no forests in the country could be labelled ‘degraded’. It had also categorically refuted industry’s claims that the so-called ‘degraded lands’ do not support biodiversity and communities.

                Says a Bhuyan tribesman of Bansapal, “The forest department would come and arbitrarily mark an area degraded forest and then display a plan to regenerate it through plantation! We do not know what makes a forest ‘degraded’ here; leave an area to itself without tampering, and a dense forest will stand in front of you in five years. Why do you need plantation for that? And that too with species that are neither useful to us nor edible for animals.”

                Well, it’s about ‘unlocking’ a new-found ‘treasury’ in the forests, as the MoEF’s India: State of Forests Report 2009, hints. It says, “Putting a conservative value of USD 5 per tonne of carbon dioxide locked in our forests, this huge sink of carbon is worth Rs 6,000 billion (USD 120 billion); and if India’s forest cover increases at a rate higher than the historical rate by 2015, it will add a value of around Rs 60 billion (USD 1.2-billion) every year to India’s treasury of forest sink.”

                So, it is no longer simply about raising a plantation and harvesting it after a few years to sell the timber for revenue, as the department has been used to doing for decades. Now, the millions are turning into billions, as international carbon traders knock at the doors. That is why the investment amount too has shot up and is being publicised to attract ‘competing’ traders. Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh writes in the Foreword to the said document, “Our commitment to the forestry sector continues to be strong. India has more than doubled its budget for forestry this year to Rs 8,300 crore (USD 1.85 billion) and this financial increase is going to be sustained.” Besides this whopping budgetary allocation from public money, the MoEF also hopes to mobilise a mind-boggling Rs 44,000 crore (USD 9.5 billion) for the recently announced ambitious and controversial Green India Mission.

                In this ambiguous arrangement, one thing is clear: the investors are the new absentee landlords of India’s forests, but without upsetting the forest department’s ‘official’ zamindari (landlordism). And in order for the investors to stake their claim, expenditure needs to be visible. That is why standing natural forests (and even farmlands) have to be razed and replaced with ‘plantations’ the exclusive wisdom base of the forest department. So, with one deal, the virtual ownership of a forest will change hands from communities to companies.

                Sensing the thousands of billions of dollars ‘locked’ in the forests with the advent of carbon trading, the Orissa forest department has also intensified its ‘efficient forest management’ with huge ‘loans’ from IFIs (international financial institutions) such as JBIC (Japan Bank of International Cooperation), the World Bank, and Dfid (UK Department for International Development).

                In the case of the OFSDP, JBIC has put Rs 6,598 million into the forest department’s kitty for plantation never mind where and how, and whether it entails razing invaluable natural forests. No amount of public outrage or debate is going to make them refrain from playing this game of ‘treasure hunt’ in people’s forests. In addition to the JBIC money, the state is pumping in another Rs 1,310 million under the compensatory afforestation programme, or CAMPA, in which forests destroyed by industrial operations are supposed to be afforested elsewhere.

                On the annual Van Mahotsav day on July 6, 2010, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced in Bhubaneswar, with a proud smile, “To counter the effects of climate change and global warming the government will take up afforestation activities, better forestry management, mass plantation programmes, and thereby increase forest cover.”

                So, going by the sheer size, strength and assured political patronage the initiative enjoys, one may begin to write an obituary for the forest communities of Orissa. For it is clear by now that large-scale ‘plantations’ the priceless, packaged commodity in the global forestry carbon market are soon going to replace natural forests, thereby rendering forest communities displaced in their own homeland. For example, where would the forest department find 33,000 hectares of land the area of forests ravaged by mining in Kendujhar to fulfil the promise of compensatory afforestation, unless it promotes plantations on people’s farmlands or clear-fells large tracts of standing forests?

                Will the FRA (Forest Rights Act) 2006 which the government calls a tool to correct the ‘historical injustices’ meted out to forest communities come to their rescue?

                Consider this: the said report in the local daily states and Duskar Barik and his fellow activists corroborate it that the forest department is forcibly undertaking commercial plantation even on the 104.87 acres of land that 47 families of the Talaraidiha village of Juang pirh own after being legally entitled under the FRA 2006! As a result of the July 30 protest, forest officials visited Talaraidiha village on August 11 and told the 47 families that they would now get another piece of land elsewhere!

                Rabindra Juang, who is from the same village, says rather indignantly, “Can you believe this! The new piece of land they are talking about is some 10 km away from the village and is actually a dense sal forest while these families already possess documents of title deeds officially given to them for the land close to their village. So, now what it means is that the department will not go back on planting its chosen species forcibly on people’s land and that the dense sal forest will be destroyed too!”

                Do we call this unchecked despotism?

                Besides, land settlement under FRA 2006 in most places in the district is incomplete, with the mining-ravaged Joda and Badbil blocks totally unattended.

                The JBIC-funded OFSDP, which is on the plantation rampage at the moment, aims to cover a mind-boggling 196,650 hectares of what the department calls ‘degraded forests’ in 11 districts of Orissa, “to improve income levels of villagers by sustainable management of forests including JFM (joint forest management) plantation and community/tribal development, with the larger goals of improving environment and alleviating poverty”.

                Adivasis in Kendujhar have ripped this apart, calling it the ‘habitual lies of traders’. They say that the forest department, in the first place, is calling their affluent resource bases ‘degraded forests’ because they see revenue there. Second, far from improving the income level of any groups, their activities are breeding more poverty, especially in the Juang and Bhuyan pirhs. “Nobody is benefitting from such plantations; maybe JBIC is,” says Rabindra Juang.

                Third, they ask, “What scientific insight could justify clear-felling of natural forests, and how could monoculture plantations be termed sustainable management of forests? You may probably call it a foolproof formula to destroy forests and forest communities!”

                Fourth, “What is this JFM plantation? The JFM is a mechanism invented by the forest department to kill the democratic ethos and success of the CFM efforts in the state, and replace them with the fund-driven autocracy of the department. In fact, the JFM is illegal and should be abolished,” they say.

                It must be noted here that Orissa demonstrates the inspiring effort of communities throughout the state to regenerate and protect their forests since the beginning of the 20th century. Today, there are about 17,000 village forest-protection committees covering nearly 20,000 villages protecting about 2,000,000 (2 million) hectares of forests in Orissa. This means that more than one-third of the total forest area in the state is now under community control and care, even though ‘legally’ it is state property.

                However, the JFM the illegitimate but obedient baby of the forest department, which came into existence only by means of a ‘resolution’ and has no legal standing has been able to weaken and appropriate people’s efforts in many places. “Fortunately, where people’s movements are strong, the JFM has not been able to make an inroad, sparing the forest and its inherent biodiversity along with the interests of communities,” says Debasis, a local activist.

                Adivasis here also say that, besides the JFM menace, many NGOs are now hand-in-glove with the forest department in the plantation spree, especially after JBIC funds have poured in. “Why don’t all these entities understand that the forest is our home? It is not something that you can barter for currency! And why does the department harbour such mindless ideas about forest regeneration and forest management? In fact, they neither have any knowledge about the forest nor any wisdom as regards how to take care of a forest… and least about the people who survive on them,” said an old Bhuyan woman.

                “If the forest department does not cease these devastating activities, our resistance will intensify and spread to newer areas,” warns Duskar Barik.


By Subrat Kumar Sahu from Keonjhar

Limiting destruction and waste

Sustainable approaches to consumption will play a crucial role in limiting the destruction that occurs in present global consumption patterns. Whether the waste and destruction are at the point of harvest/collection, or in the production process or after the point of sale, how we use natural resources during the entire life cycle of a product is problematic.

                38 million tonnes of bycatch (unwanted and untargeted marine life) are caught, injured or killed at sea every year. (WWF)

                12-15 million hectares of forests are lost annually by deforestation. (WWF)

                3.5 million tonnes of garbage float in the northern Pacific Ocean.

                Mining can result in erosion and contamination of soil, ground and surface water and ultimately a loss of biodiversity.

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) has begun a two-year cycle during which it will examine the sustainable use and management of resources. The CSD will issue policy recommendations in 2011. The UN Environmental Program and many other agencies and numerous NGOs support the development and implementation of initiatives and policies for efficient and responsible consumption. Trends can only be turned around when sustainability becomes part of the mindset of consumers, policies of governments and the business practices of the private sector. (ISN)














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