109 Pages

Part III Resource Scarcity, Institutional Arrangements and Policy Responses: Commentary

ByLyla Mehta

The preceding sections examined why scarcity matters and its role in economics. This section now turns to specific resources and resource scarcity with a focus on food, agriculture, water and energy. The chapters on food and agriculture concentrate on the problems of hunger and agricultural production in both the north and south

In Chapter 8 Nicholas Hildyard focuses on how scarcity often emerges as a political strategy. While numerous empirical studies locate the cause of deprivation in power imbalances and struggles over access to and control over resources, neo-Malthusianism has shifted focus to population growth as a cause of absolute scarcity in the future. Neo-Malthusianism is used to colonize the future to serve particular interests, be it to privatize the commons or water or promote biotechnology. The scare of unbridled population growth in the future is used to legitimize the present takeover of a range of resources. Projections and scares of future resource crises and a Malthusian world (witness, for example, current debates on climate change, mass migration and resource scarcity) are privileged over practice/lived reality. This is clearly demonstrated in Chapter 9 by Ian Scoones on soil fertility which looks at two ways of seeing scarcity. The global vision focuses on different levels of nutrient imbalance based on aggregate input-output models (which is reproduced in the Commission for Africa report). In contrast, local farmers view scarcity in a very different way, often identifying lack of fertility as an opportunity. In Chapter 10 Erik Millstone argues that even though productivity in agriculture has increased more rapidly than the population, the problem of chronic hunger persists. In different parts of the world, obesity and starvation are often two sides of the same coin in that they both result from political forces that distort prices, putting food out of the reach of some and making only unhealthy food available to others. In industrialized countries, rising productivity and government intervention in markets have led to the generation of surpluses, the production of foods that people won’t eat, and the creation of human-induced scarcities.