Natural Resource Policymaking in Developing Countries: Environment, Economic Growth, and Income Distribution

Natural Resource Policymaking in Developing Countries: Environment, Economic Growth, and Income Distribution

by William L. Ascher, Robert Healy

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Drawing on case studies developed over a two-year period, 1987–1989, by Fellows in the Program in International Development Policy at Duke University, including experienced representatives from developing countries, the World Bank, and scholars, the authors integrate the growing interest in environmental protection and resource conservation into the existing body of knowledge about the political economy of developing countries.
This book is about the links that tie resource use, environmental quality, and economic development, and the way in which those links are affected by the distribution of income and resource ownership. The links may be relatively simple, as in the case of peasant farmers too poor to conserve resources for the future and with nothing to gain from sound environmental practices. Or they may be very complex—as the authors find when they demonstrate how achievement of higher incomes by the rich can increase environmentally destructive behavior by the poor. Many of the links in some way involve rural land use, whether for agriculture or forestry. Natural Resource Policymaking in Developing Countries argues that the policies that matter are not merely those dealing with resources and the environment, but a much broader set that includes income distribution and asset ownership.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822397335
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 06/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 444 KB

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Natural Resource Policymaking in Developing Countries

Environment, Economic Growth, and Income Distribution

By William Ascher, Robert Healy

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1990 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9733-5



Each year the forest recedes a little farther up the hillsides, and each year more soil washes away. The locale may be the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, the uplands of Honduras, or the islands of Luzon or Mindanao in the Philippines. The process at work is by now a familiar one, the subject of both scholarly studies and innumerable media accounts. Impoverished peasant cultivators, impelled by physical scarcity of land or by institutional barriers mat keep them from more easily cultivable land, are trying to make a living by bringing new land into production.

The land they are clearing is marginal, in several senses of the word. It rarely yields a bounteous crop, and its meager production tends to decline over time as topsoil and nutrients are lost. Cultivation on the slopes is inconvenient, sometimes even dangerous, to the farmers. The loss of forest cover reduces wood supply, diminishes wildlife numbers and diversity, and can ultimately change the area's microclimate. Perhaps worst of all are the effects downstream—higher floods, silted hydroelectric reservoirs, clogged irrigation works. The poor farmers are at once mortgaging their own future and imposing substantial economic costs on others.

The details of this process of resource misuse, environmental degradation, and impoverishment obviously vary greatly from place to place, due to physical, social, and institutional factors. But common to a diversity of specific situations are links that tie together resource use, environmental quality, and economic development, and that tie the resource-use system to inequalities in the distribution of income and resource ownership. The links may be relatively simple, as in the case of the peasant farmers too poor to conserve resources for tomorrow and with no incentive to mitigate the externalities they impose on others. Or they may be very complex—as we find when we demonstrate how achievement of higher incomes by the rich can increase environmentally destructive behavior by the poor. Many of the links in some way involve rural land use, whether for agriculture or forestry. These links and their relationship to public policy make up the subject of this book. But we suspect that similar mechanisms could be discovered in urban and industrial development, energy supply and consumption, and national choices involving trade, technology, and sectoral subsidies.

Some of the ground we cover will be familiar; it is difficult for any well-informed person to be unaware of the Third World's resource and environmental crisis, whether it takes the form of Deforestation, Soil erosion, or rampant pollution. In the course of this book, we will document the extent of this crisis and set forth the many ways in which it manifests itself. But our purpose goes well beyond that.

First, we want to integrate recent thinking about resources and environment into the mainstream of development theory. Over the years society has learned many lessons about how to promote development and researchers and practitioners have created an enormous body of hard-won knowledge. It would be most unfortunate if resources and environment, which in the real world have such complex links with the overall development process, are not clearly placed within this larger theoretical context. This leads us very directly to looking at the distribution of income. Since the early 1970s, income distribution—particularly the share of income going to the very poor—has become an explicit focus of development policy. Encouraged in great part by the World Bank's emphasis on the alleviation of "absolute poverty," concern for distribution has affected the allocation of development budgets at both national and international levels. Distribution has also become an important focus of the theoretical and empirical literature on development. This literature has indicated mat income distribution is not only an effect of development but is in many cases a determinant of both levels and patterns of development.

We will argue in this book that distribution is central to resource and environmental management as well. For example, the distribution of income determines how individual decisionmakers compare future consumption to current consumption and thereby helps determine the rate at which they will consume resource capital. The distribution of ownership rights to income-producing assets, such as cropland and forests, is crucial not only to the determination of absolute and relative incomes but also to how these assets are managed. The distribution of management authority among individuals, governments, and community institutions is critical to Resource allocation. In many cases, the effective lack of management authority leads to a "tragedy of the commons" in which forest, soil, or wildlife resources are used at unsustainable rates and thereby destroyed. When we consider the many links between resources/environment and development, distribution regularly appears as a key mediating factor. Therefore, in relating resources and environment to development theory it appears worthwhile to look with particular care at the theory of income and asset distribution.

Second, we want to emphasize the role of public policy, reflecting our conviction that development can be promoted or retarded by public institutions. These institutions subsidize certain activities or products and tax others, ration access to physical resources or to markets, regulate private business, and engage in investment and production through state-owned enterprises. Surely public policies must have a great deal to do with why resource-rich countries fail to develop, while other nations take fuller advantage of much more modest endowments. We will argue in this book that the policies that matter are not merely resource and environmental policies, but a much broader policy set, including policies on income distribution and asset ownership.

We adopt the analytic approach of the policy sciences to explain why current styles of resource-based development so often produce little economic growth and negative environmental and distributional consequences. The policy sciences approach emphasizes the policy process, rather than outcomes alone. There have been a number of recent studies of political and institutional factors in resource management, both in the United States and other developed countries and, increasingly, in the Third World. Our study is the first, however, to apply a formal policy process framework to resource management in developing countries.

Reflecting both the policy sciences approach and our own somewhat practical bent, our object is not to outline a set of ideal policies and leave others to worry about the realities of implementation. The policy sciences approach gives equal attention to policy formulation and to policy implementation. In the Third World, implementation difficulties are often particularly prevalent, and in many instances one might identify a serious "implementation gap." The implementation gap is the complex of obstacles that makes it extremely hard for the institutional system to obtain results even after a problem has been correctly diagnosed and a sensible policy has been framed. It includes such familiar pitfalls as political rivalry, regional and ethnic jealousy, bureaucratic ineptitude, and outright corruption. We believe that institutions matter—and so do the human beings who run them. Therefore our attempts at policy analysis will include a heavy dose of institutional analysis and concern for how policies actually are implemented.

The Theory of Economic Development

Early post-WWII thinking about economic development emphasized growth in per capita income as the primary objective of development efforts. Early development theorists were not oblivious to world poverty but generally believed that it could best be alleviated within a setting of sustained overall income growth. Basing their expectation largely on the experience of Western industrial countries during the nineteenth century, development theorists anticipated that the operation of labor markets would ensure that the benefits of increasing per capita gnp would automatically "trickle down" to the poor. Even if trickle-down failed to occur or took place only slowly, it was thought, economic growth would enable governments to provide services to the poor.

As development theory evolved, there was a series of emphases on specific ways to achieve income growth—physical capital, human capital, food self-sufficiency, basic needs, appropriate technology, export promotion, and high technology. During the 1970s, in part due to the ceaseless emphasis on the subject by World Bank President Robert S. MacNamara, new attention was paid to equitable distribution of income as a parallel and in many ways coequal goal of development (MacNamara 1973; Chenery 1974). Distinctions were made between the relatively poor, defined as those receiving less than a specified level (often one-third) of national per capita income, and the absolutely poor, often defined on the basis of inadequacy of nutritional intake. Through the 1970s, the World Bank increasingly directed both concessional and market-rate lending to the poorer countries and to types of development projects, such as rural development, that were intended to benefit low-income populations (World Bank 1983). This emphasis on poverty alleviation was also adopted by other development institutions, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

During the 1980s, attention has turned to natural resources and the Environment. It is argued that abuse of these endowments is not only harmful in its own right, but can ultimately constrain income growth. Forests, watersheds, grasslands, and fisheries provide important flows of economically valuable services, particularly vital in countries with large rural populations. One observer has called these Renewable resources "the often-forgotten underpinnings of much economic activity" (Eckholm 1986, 7).

Sustainable Development

The slogan "sustainable development" has been coined to bring attention to the role of resources and environment in economic development. As a slogan and a symbol, sustainable development has taken on many connotations and implications. From our perspective, however, it is useful to begin by defining the term analytically, and only then sketch out its history as a slogan.

Sustainable development can be defined most generally as the development path that maximizes the net long-term benefits to mankind. Thus sustainable development is not merely the maximum exploitation of a particular resource for an indefinite period of time (or "maximum sustainable yield," to use the forestry term). That strategy would not necessarily yield the greatest benefit; it does not permit drawing on the natural resource endowment (or converting that endowment) in order to increase reproducible capital or employment opportunities that might, in some circumstances, produce greater long-term benefits. The idea of a sustainable yield forever is not even theoretically meaningful for exhaustible resources. Thinking about sustainable development requires thinking about the possibilities of reconstituting the resource base; about shifting from reliance on one resource to another; about converting part of the natural resource base into other forms of wealth and capital. In short, thinking about sustainable development requires thinking comprehensively and, when it comes to resource management, acting comprehensively. Thus the idea of sustainable development is an inherently complicating element in determining a natural resource exploitation strategy; such a strategy must go beyond the natural resource base to analyze the pace and purposes of using the capital generated from the natural resource endowment.

Therefore it is rather curious that it was largely the environmentalists who invoked sustainable development to argue that while resource abuse can severely limit development, wise use of resources and safeguarding the free services provided by environmental systems can actually spur the overall development process. From their perspective, sustainable development legitimizes conservation by casting it as the guardian of long-term growth potential. It is for this reason that the idea of sustainable development has been embraced by the worldwide environmental movement, which is manifested through thousands of nongovernmental environmental organizations (NGOS in United Nations parlance) in both developed and developing countries.

Yet sustainable development has also been widely adopted in rhetoric and often in practice by a variety of development institutions. For them, the concept legitimizes development, by a) defining the ultimate objective as a net long-term benefit for mankind (and not in terms of preserving particular natural systems for the sake of such preservation); and b) emphasizing that development, a reasonable degree of conservation, and careful husbanding of natural resources are all compatible. Sustainable development thinking is influencing both environmental policy and development policy.

The concept of sustainable development arose virtually simultaneously with the increase in public interest in the Third World's environment. At the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, it was widely believed that there would be a split between the developed nations, seen as willing to accept somewhat slower economic growth in exchange for environmental protection, and the developing countries, expected to want growth at any price. But the split was effectively contained by Western environmentalists' endorsement of the need for Third World economic development and continual reference to the argument that continued development was necessary to finance environmental protection. Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos, in preparing the book associated with the conference, devoted three of fifteen chapters to the developing regions, with much of the text devoted to problems of development as well as traditional environmental concerns. "It is not difficult ...," they wrote, "to understand the driving dedication of governments in developing countries to get their peoples out of a trap of poverty more locked and complicated than any experienced in earlier times" (Ward and Dubos 1972: 147).

A milestone in the creation of both the concept of sustainable development and the environmental NGOS' commitment to the concept was the 1980 publication of the World Conservation Strategy (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources 1980). The Strategy was a product of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), a prestigious international scientific organization based in Switzerland; the World Wildlife Fund, an important environmental ngo; and the United Nations Environment Programme.

The authors of the Strategy argued that' 'humanity's relationship with the biosphere ... will continue to deteriorate until a new international economic order is achieved ... and sustainable modes of development become the rule rather than the exception" (IUCN 1980, 1). The Strategy then asserted that among the prerequisites for sustainable development is the conservation of living resources, a process involving three specific objectives:

(a) to maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems;

(b) to preserve genetic diversity (the range of genetic material found in the world's living organisms);

(c) to ensure the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems.

The first two of these objectives are preservation-oriented; they express limits on development strategies. Even with respect to these, however, the Strategy tended to describe benefits in human-centered, sometimes even economic, terms. For example, it pointed out the role of ecosystems in cleansing pollution and recycling nutrients, and the importance of preserving gene pools to improve strains of cultivated crops. Ignoring the preservation objectives, the Strategy contended, could threaten "human survival and development" and "the security of the many industries that use living resources" (IUCN 1980, 1).

The last objective, however, was what really put environmental considerations (and the environmental NGOS) into the center of the economic development debate for the first time. The Strategy began its discussion of sustainable use not with an admonition to limit development but with an endorsement of the need to develop in order to be able to conserve: "Probably the most serious conservation problem faced by developing countries is the lack of rural development." This was followed by a quite startling offer: "This section [of the Strategy document] recommends means of helping rural communities to conserve, as the essential basis of the development they so sorely need." As conceived in the Strategy, environmental and resource considerations were not merely constraints on development, but sources of development.

After its initial publication, the Strategy was reprinted in several countries and translated into several languages. Its release was followed by the preparation of a large number of "national conservation strategies" that represented attempts to apply its principle of development through conservation to a wide variety of specific situations. At least twelve national conservation strategies have been prepared to date, representing countries as diverse as Great Britain, Nepal, Australia, and Zambia. An additional thirty-nine are reported to be in preparation (World Resources Institute 1988; for example, see Johnson 1983; Government of Australia 1984; Bass 1987). The prominence of sustainable development in a number of reports issued by environmental organizations in developing countries indicates the eclipse of the presumption that the Third World cannot afford to worry about the environment and natural resource abuse.


Excerpted from Natural Resource Policymaking in Developing Countries by William Ascher, Robert Healy. Copyright © 1990 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1 Introduction,
2 Vicious Circles,
3 Agricultural Modernization,
4 Moving the People to the Resources: Resettlement Schemes,
5 Grandiose Designs: The Construction of Large Dams,
6 Irrigation,
7 The Policy Process and Complexity in Natural Resource Policymaking,
8 Reforming Natural Resource Policymaking,
1 Introduction,
2 Vicious Circles,
3 Agricultural Modernization,
4 Moving the People to the Resources,
5 Grandiose Designs,
6 Irrigation,
About the Authors,

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