chapter  11
18 Pages

Agrarianism, capitalism or protectionism? Exploring economic restructuring and local responses amidst global change in Samoa

ByALEC THORNTON, ETIENNE NEL

Introduction Small island developing states (SIDS) face unique development challenges, in terms of their remoteness from markets, limited natural resources and their vulnerability to natural and human-induced disasters. The impacts of natural limitations and disasters cannot, however, be understood in isolation from a range of anthropogenic considerations related to pressures for economic change. Pressures for economic change variously result from responses to natural disasters, limited resource availability and isolation or, alternatively, the way in which countries are able to use their assets in an increasingly constrained global economic and trading environment. While SIDS have, at one level, had to embark on economic restructuring in response to natural disasters, changes in the global trading environment also require states to reorientate established economic activities. These changes can have negative impacts on land use, employment and economic practices on a scale as profound as that of the impact of natural disasters. Our core argument is that in a time of economic change, to understand what is happening within the economies of SIDS, both natural disasters and changing economic pressures need to be understood in parallel. Overall, how SIDS may respond has much to do with levels of local resilience (Aldrich 2012; Pike et al. 2010), which they have, to both respond to shocks and adapt to new conditions imposed by natural disasters and anthropogenic impacts. From an economic perspective, SIDS are under pressure to participate more fully in the global economy and to participate in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which has particular implications for small economies that are dependent on the production of traditional crops and lacking diverse and resilient economies. In the South Pacific, in response to these diverse challenges, the Government of Samoa (GoS) has embarked on a strategy of economic and social reforms to increase its economic ‘openness’ and efficiency, in an effort to offset vulnerabilities that result from environmental and economic uncertainties (Samoan National Human Development Report 2006: 104). In its search for an appropriate program of macroeconomic development, Samoa is now in the

process of being fully admitted to the WTO. Such membership is predicated on the requirement that member states should significantly increase their levels of trade openness, by reducing import tariffs and other forms of trade protectionism. As neo-liberalism becomes further entrenched as the ideological development pathway in Pacific Island countries (PICs), the accompanying pressure to ‘export or perish’, as primary-product suppliers, is expected to increase (Murray 2001). This trend may threaten the Samoan Government’s current policy agenda to develop innovative and value-added products from its natural resource base and its current support for selected industries. Despite this consideration, Samoa has significantly reduced protection for its agricultural and industrial sectors. Within this context of globalization and policy change, key questions emerge: to what extent can agriculture, as the primary employer, adapt to this new context? And how do vulnerable communities respond to potential changes in their livelihoods occasioned by globalization and reduced levels of state support? In parallel, many of these changes are often thrown into disarray by natural disasters, and such disasters can destroy local capacity to generate the natural resources and wealth that policy envisaged. The objective of this chapter is to discuss the research findings from a study that sets out to, first, explore the natural (cyclones) and human-induced (trade liberalization) factors impacting on the Samoan economy and the potential effects of climate change and globalization (or global change) on the country. Second, this study sought to understand perceptions and responses by the Samoan Government, civil society and local agricultural producers to the implications of global change. Third, given prevailing levels of poverty and the subsistence nature of the economy, a case is presented of how rural women are being supported by a non-governmental organization (NGO) to forge livelihoods to cope with reducing vulnerability to natural disaster and, as the economy continues to ‘open up’, with deeper integration in the global economy through WTO membership. The latter is presented as an example of both how new forms of livelihood can be sought, albeit with NGO support, and how communities may access niche overseas markets and reduce environmental vulnerability to livelihoods dependent on natural resources. In contrast with other PICs, in Samoa, since declaring independence in 1962, the fa’a Samoa (or the Samoan way of life) has endured, despite external pressures to modernize social, political and economic life. Since the mid 1990s, regional trade agreements in the Pacific, structural-adjustment policies, commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and entry into the WTO have been forcing change (Samoa National Human Development Report 2006). The existing literature has not, however, dealt adequately with how these changes will shape government thinking on economic and social development in the PICs, both in the short and in the long term, and this chapter seeks to help fill this gap. The research findings discussed in this chapter seek to contribute to the policy debate on the sequencing of economic reforms involving local and niche market agriculture in developing countries, and in particular in SIDS, which are deemed to be economically particularly vulnerable. The case study of NGO

support for communities indicates how alternatives do appear to exist to the loss of traditional forms of protection and the perceived threats of globalization. Following a summary of the methodology, this chapter is divided into four further sections. First, the chapter will discuss the challenges faced by SIDS in general and the diffusion of neo-liberalism and trade liberalization in the PICs. Second, the chapter will examine the Samoan context, the country’s economic vulnerability, current policies with respect to globalization and the implications of such changes for local industry. Third, the potential for change in the agricultural and other sectors is discussed. Finally, a Samoan case study explores the capacity of community-based and small and medium enterprises, with NGO support, to survive in an era of global change.