Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Making the world a desert

“Capitalist production collects the population together in great centres, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-greater preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historical motive force of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil…. But by destroying the circumstances surrounding this metabolism…it compels its systematic restoration as a regulative law of social production, and in a form adequate to the full development of the human race…. All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is progress towards ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility…. Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the technique and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.” Marx, Capital, Vol. 1

Globally, 7.8 billion hectares of land are suitable for food production. About 2 billion hectares are already degraded, and of these 500 million hectares have been totally abandoned. These lands could be restored to fertility for future use. The livelihoods of over 2 billion people worldwide depend on 500 million small-scale farmers. Drylands, which make up nearly 34 per cent of the land mass and are a major source of food security especially for the poor, are being degraded day-by-day. The US National Security Strategy refers to climate change as a key global challenge that will lead to conflicts over refugees and resources, suffering from drought and famine, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of land across the globe.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), more than 1.5 billion people in the world depend on degrading land, and 74 per cent of them are poor. Desertification is a silent, invisible crisis that is destabilising communities on a global scale, says this international legal framework for tackling desertification, land degradation and drought, 169 of its 194 Parties have declared they are affected by desertification. For its part, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that desertification currently affects approximately twenty-five to thirty per cent of the world’s land surface area. About 1.2 billion people in at least 100 states are at risk. Africa, with around sixty-six per cent of its land either desert or drylands, is particularly affected by desertification. 400 million African farmers rely on rain-fed subsistence agriculture. Already, a number of large-scale famines have occurred in the Sahelian region, resulting in migration of people towards more hospitable lands.” Desertification occurs mainly through over-cropping, over-grazing, improper irrigation practices, and deforestation. These activities arise from poor land management, which, in turn, stems from the socio-economic conditions in which the farmers live.

The consequences are dire. “As the effects of climate change undermine livelihoods, inter-ethnic clashes are breaking out within and across states and fragile states are turning to militarisation to control the situation.” The effects of desertification are increasingly felt globally as victims turn into refugees, internally displaced people and forced migrants or they turn to radicalisation, extremism or resource-driven wars for survival, UNCCD continues. If we are to restore peace, security and international stability in a context where changing weather events are threatening the livelihoods of more and more people, survival options are declining and state capacities are overburdened, then more should be done to combat desertification, reverse land degradation and mitigate the effects of drought.’ Otherwise, many small-scale farmers and poor, land-dependent communities face two choices: fight or flight. When their lands cannot produce any more, they have little choice but to migrate or fight over what little is left. Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary explained, “It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.” 

On the nature of production in socialism Marx declared: “Freedom, in this sphere, can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control…accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.” (Capital, vol. 3)

Engels too sought an integration of urban and rural, “When one observes how here in London alone a greater quantity of manure than is produced in the whole kingdom of Saxony is poured away every day into the sea with an expenditure of enormous sums, and what colossal structures are necessary in order to prevent this manure from poisoning the whole of London, then the utopia of abolishing the distinction between town and country is given a remarkably practical basis.” (The Housing Question)

 Although the problems of waste treatment may have changed since the nineteenth century, the fundamental situation of re-cycling remains much the same. As long as agriculture is carried out on the basis of profit calculation, the robbery culture prevailing over society simply because the squandering exploitation of lands is more profitable in the short term, will continue. 

Rational farming is incompatible with the capitalist system. It requires the control of the “associated producers” i.e., the existence of “the land as permanent communal property, as the inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generations.” (Capital Vol.3)
 Capitalism has exhausted natural resources, polluted the environment, ruined the living world and changed the climate. The capitalists and corporations are only too ready to annihilate the whole of humanity to protect their interests rather than protect the planet. The probability for the survival of civilisation is fast approaching zero.