Environment and development
By Abraham Thomas
Increasingly, environment and conservation groups are making the links between environmental and development issues. All too often, inappropriate development has had a devastating impact on the environment.
Developing countries face increasing pressures to develop their resources. This pattern of development is a direct legacy of their colonial past: to satisfy colonial masters, unique ecosystems were plundered and devastated for mineral extraction and the development of plantation economies.
Sadly, today this still occurs. Burdened with crippling levels of debt, Third World countries are destroying their forests and natural resources; they perceive they have little choice but to mine or destroy the land in order to generate income.
As a result of their colonial history, many Third World countries have skewed economies in which food is exported while the population are denied basic foodstuffs. Sri Lanka is a typical example. In the last century, before the advent of the tea plantations, Sri Lanka was self-sufficient in food. It now has to import most of its food because its best agricultural land is used for the production of cash crops — tea and rubber.
Many Third World countries desire to lessen their dependence on cash crops but find it difficult to do so because they rely on the cash these exports generate.
To ask them to become self-sufficient is not only unrealistic but also unjust.
When these countries gained political independence, they inherited economies heavily dependent on the export of a few raw materials. They also found that because of the export of raw materials to Europe, the processing and manufacturing industries which used their materials had become well established there, rather than in their own countries. This provides a major obstacle to the development of local industries, which must compete with well-established industries in the industrialised countries.
One way countries such as Sri Lanka can lessen their dependence is to develop other sources of income. However, it is often difficult to diversify because there are often already surplus supplies in other countries.
Another way is to increase income from present exports. They can do this by processing the commodity in their own country. The World Development Tea Co-operative is encouraging this process through having all Tradewinds teas packaged and blended in Sri Lanka. The flow-on effect is that their packaging industry is being developed and more employment is created.
Abraham Thomas is marketing manager of evelopment Tea Co-operative.