Backlash of the ‘Green Revolution’ and Western ‘Development’
According to this Bedouin boy, Ali, his family is one of 10,000 that have been force to resume a nomadic lifestyle as a result of the ‘Green Revolution’ in Egypt. The high-yield hybrid grains that were introduced in the fertile farmland of the Nile Delta are dependent on high doses of pesticides, which are often sprayed by air. The pesticides drift beyond the farmland and fall on vegetation that goats and sheep browse on, thus poisoning the animals. Therefore, during the planting season sheep and goat herders are forced to move out of the Delta with their animals. Twice a year Ali and his father, along with hundreds of others, make a 120-mile journey on foot with their flocks to the Suez area, where—although the pickings are slim—vegetation for grazing is uncontaminated. The family sends the women and younger Children ahead by bus.
Although bright and eager to study, Ali still cannot read and write. The pattern of biannual migration made necessary by big landholders' devastating use of pesticides makes formal education and an escape from poverty almost impossible. The boy wanted to enroll in the adult literacy program, but so far only girls are being allowed to participate in it.
With its demands for costly fertilizers and pesticides, the Green Revolution has driven poor farmers off the land practically everywhere it has been introduced, including in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. What is happening to Ali and his family is one of countless examples of how Western-B conceived technologies imposed on underdeveloped countries without adequate concern for social and political factors and long-term environmental consequences often lead to the further underdevelopment and impoverishment of both the land and its people. Almost invariably, major development policies imposed by the North have widened the gap between rich and poor.
Huge dams are another example of a development strategy that causes incalculable human and environmental disasters. Egypt is no exception. The High and Aswan Dams have done far less than was hoped to increase the total agricultural production of the Nile flood plains. Instead, they have deprived the flood plains of the seasonal deposit of silt which formerly made the Nile Valley one of the richest agricultural lands in the world. Today this silt is uselessly filling up the reservoirs behind the dams, reducing their effectiveness as water reserves. Deprived of the natural fertilizer that comes with seasonal flooding, farmers must depend increasingly on chemical fertilizers. The high cost of fertilizers and pesticides drives many small farmers off the land, concentrating land and wealth in fewer hands. For those subsistence farmers who remain, the decreasing fertility of the Delta means that to produce the same amount of food today, people must put in twice the work and expense as they did before the dams were built. What is more, without the seasonal flooding the average climatic temperature of the Nile valley has risen to a stifling and unhealthy extent, increasing the incidence and mortality rates of many diseases, especially diarrhea and dehydration.
But the worst consequence of the dams and the vast network of irrigation canals has been a devastating pandemic of Bilharzia (schistosomiasis, a disease caused by a type of blood fluke for which the intermediate host is a water snail). In some communities more than half of the population is infected with this chronic, severely debilitating disease.
Big dams throughout the developing world have led to displacement of native peoples, ecological devastation, suffocating debt burden, and ravaging increase in diseases ranging from Bilharzia to river blindness. Yet the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, USAID, and other major development agencies continue to promote these giant dams. In the short run they benefit the privileged few at the expense of the many. But in the long run they diminish and endanger us all.
One of the biggest and potentially most disastrous giant dam projects today—sponsored in part by the World Bank—is on the tributaries of the Narmada River in India. To support the efforts of the local people to stop this misguided mega-development project, write to Baba Amte/Maharogi Sewa Samiti, Warora/At. & Post: ANANDWAN/Via Warora, 442 914/Dist. Chandrapur, Maharashtra/India.