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AT Sourcebook/Local Self-Reliance/Local Responses to Global Problems: A Key to Meeting Basic Human Needs
Onsite copy of File:Local Responses to Global Problems.pdf.
Local Responses to Global Problems: A Key to Meeting Basic Human Needs, Stokes, Bruce. 1978. Washingston : Worldwatch Institute. 0-916468-16-X.
Copyright Information: (c) 1978
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Executive summary of the article
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Roof Over Their Heads
- 3 Small is Bountiful
- 4 Taking Responsibility For Health
- 5 The Consumer as an Energy Producer
- 6 References
Solving the world’s crisis will not be achieved by huge corporations and international efforts. But people doing it themselves; through local people solving their own food crisis’s, improving their own health and upgrading their own housing. When most affected by a problem – successful communities take responsibility in solving it. In this fashion – individuals gain the political and economic issues for their region – and as a result, produce the best solutions possible. For example, aid organizations are already beginning to fund grassroots movements in impoverished nations. These small groups of people working together are able to combat their problems more effectively than non profit organizations who operate with financial restrictions and are not directly emotionally connected to the issues.
“The building of a more equitable global society is proceeding in localities where people participate in, rather than just observe, the solving of their problems”
Roof Over Their Heads
Human societies around the world, no matter how poor, always find a way to put a roof over their head. However, there remains a housing problem worldwide. In 1977, 800 million people lived in badly built buildings, with increases in world populations the amount of people in a bad state has definitely increased. Most people in the poor and middle class are fixing there own homes. Public housing has become an option in the past century, highlighted by the Soviet Union's control on the public housing markets. However, they have only been able to alter horizontal slums into vertical ones. What should be done about the inability for all people to have houses? Leave it to the individual the author says. Give them land to construct their own housing. In India, a place with small disposable income and arguably a very happy people, 85% of the homes are owned by the people. In comparison to the U.S., which is affluent but may not be the happiest people (how much Prozac is sold each year to keep people chugging through the day) , 66% own there own houses.
In 1977 the cost to renovate a home in the U.S. was $15 000 per unit compared to new home construction at $45 000 per unit. Obviously, it pays to renovate peoples current homes, instead of giving them brand new 'affordability' residences. Basically, the poor need help in terms of land, basic services and the means and opportunity to improve their communities and homes. Handing the poor properties that they have nothing invested into (free or heavily subsidize public residences) and that are at a great distance from their jobs - this only perpetuates poverty.
The most important contribution the government could provide is free access to land. Funds from the government should focus on self help repairs and be done with long-term financing - without credit checks from the banks (as most in poverty would not qualify for bank credit). Leveraging the local market is the best method to achieve the means, and although difficult to measure the benefits of self-help housing to the community and the individual directly it is an effective method of building a solid community. Further, housing the poor should be best used with their own builders, as they will undoubtedly take the initiative by investing more time and labour into their own dwelling.
And as John Turner Said: “When dwellers control the major decisions and are free to make their own contribution to the design, construction, and management of their housing, both the process and the environment produced simulate individual and social well being”
Small is Bountiful
In the 1970’s there was an increase in efficiency of the farming process to ensure those who needed food most got it. This was caused by the increase of food prices and national food shortages. Countries began to rely more on their own resources and started to gain an interest in home gardening and collective agriculture. Self reliance has given greater support to owner operated farms and less to imports. With the increase in population and decreasing supplies there has been apparent decrease in per capita fish consumption and per capita grain consumption. This decrease in supplies was caused by past abuse of croplands and oceanic fisheries. This lack of supplies has increased the vulnerability of countries who suffer from unpredictable changes in climate, economics and politics. These factors have made it particularly difficult for consumers and farmers in the current organization of agricultural production. The World Food Conference in Rome in 1974 came out with a strategy to assist countries with insufficient supplies of food. This strategy focused on avoiding future food shortages and sudden price changes with a world food reserve and providing greater aid to small farmers in developing countries.
Food self-reliance has begun at the local level, as seen in the United States, with an estimated 32 million households, approximately 43 percent of all families raised fruits and vegetables in 1977 on an area equivalent to approximately seven million acres. These areas consisted of backyards, city lots and balconies. These numbers were consistent over the last few years and with a recent poll performed by the government seven million people stated that they would garden if given a plot owned by the government. In Europe the interest in gardening exceeds the supply of land available to do so. There was a growth in the number of people on British waiting lists for a government-owned plot of land from 21,000 to 57,000 in 1974. With such great interest in small scale food production the United States government allocated $1.5 million in 1977 towards a pilot urban gardening project in six cities and because of the success has been further expanded to 16 cities 1978, with $3 million in funding. To coincide with this program many school systems now encourage gardening, as witnessed in Cleveland, Ohio with as many as 21,000 children performing such tasks.
A well maintained backyard garden can produce a pound of vegetables per square foot. This means that the average American could satisfy their annual vegetable needs with a 10-by-30-foot plot. These results could be even greater with more sophisticated gardening methods. It’s not only the economy that motivates consumers to become producers but also the better quality of the vegetables that are produced along with the satisfaction gained from the relaxation and exercise.
Besides the many benefits of gardening, there are some downsides to the process. Currently, there is growing evidence of high levels of lead, cadmium and other heavy metals in vegetables grown in polluted urban areas.
As witnessed in both Ghana and the Philippines, food self-reliance strategies have provided improved nutrition through home vegetable growing. The Jamaican government introduced the “Grow Our Own Food” campaign and the proportion of homegrown food in the household diet grew from 38 to 56 percent from 1973 to 1975. The amount of income spent on food decreased and child malnutrition dropped significantly. Most of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are also turning towards consumer food production. They have shown a greater commitment towards private production from small plots allotted to workers on collective and state farms. This small-scale production is very important to offset some of the shortfall in food production on larger state holdings. More than one fifth of the potatoes, fruits, and vegetables and one third of the livestock products now come from private production. In Hungary, 36 percent of agricultural produce also comes from small scale operations on 15 percent of the agricultural land.
In China, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of total household income in the early sixties came from the private production of vegetables, poultry and pigs. No more than five percent of the produce from the worked plots of land can be used to supplement the grower’s family food budget or is sold to the commune’s purchasing cooperative. It can also be sold by the gardener directly to their neighbours. During the cultural revolution private plots of land were not used which contributed to the overall decline in food production. In 1971, Premier Chou En-Lai believed that private plots of land were necessary to stimulate initiative of the peasants. This allowed them to add these earnings to their daily income and also provide them with nutrients in their diet. Currently, Chinese officials monitor the use of private plots so that individual profit motive does not undermine the collective economy.
The use of private plots should be thoroughly evaluated relative what small producers can and cannot accomplish. Currently, private plots provide one quarter of food production in many socialist countries. On average the American gardener saved $375 on their food bill in 1977 while benefitting from increased nutrition and recreation.
In the past bigger was seen as better, this consisted of large machinery, more land and a capital-intensive approach to farming. Now this is changing and the advantages of small scale farming of become more apparent. Governments are now trying to provide more funding towards small scale farming so that they can decrease their dependence on imports.
Up until the mid seventies, American farms dominated and most of the food put on American dinner tables was represented by this. Food was grown in mass quantities and marketed by major nonagricultural corporations whose national and international production considerations caused a decline in farming geared to local consumption. Now these trends have changed and state governments provide loans for young farmers to buy land. This impeded further corporate acquisitions and improved the market for small farmers.
Over the last century, the Chinese have chosen to take a collective approach when it comes to farming. First they focused on feeding the people in the country side to meet their basic peasant needs before urbanization and industrialization. Private ownership was replaced by communal, rather than state ownership. The farms are now owned by those who own them so that production first benefits the owner and then the community it feeds. This approach has increased food supply steadily and the recurrent cycle of famine has been broken.
Organization of agriculture in other parts of the world is less defined. Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have placed majority of their focus on the family farmer. In Taiwan the number of farm families who owned all the land they cultivated increased from 36 percent in 1950 to 78 percent in 1972. This was caused by the “land-to-the-tiller” program. In South Korea the number of farm families who owned the land they cultivated increased from 14 percent in 1945 to about 70 percent in 1965. In many other parts of the world land is not distributed as equally.
Whether rated by yield per acre or by the cost of production, small farms compare favorably with large farms on all continents. A 1970 survey for the United States Agency for International Development (AID) indicated that small farms in India, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala had higher productivity per acre than large farms. Also, a similar study of 40 different countries undertaken by the World Bank indicated that small holdings and relatively equitable land distribution were associated with an increase in output per hectare. Small farmers are also users of renewable energy, such as wind, draft animals, and human labour. Policies that encourage reliance on these renewable resources enable much of the world to bypass the energy-intensive and increasingly costly agricultural methods used by the industrial world.
Recent studies in Iowa by John F. Timmons and Wade Hauser of Iowa State university show that tenant farmers annually lose to erosion 20.9 tons of soil per acre, while farmers who own their land lose only 15.6 tons per acre. This shows that tenure problems are a major road block to the adoption of soil conservation.
When it comes to farming, society worries most about maximizing production and minimizing expensive energy use. Where as the individual farmer worries most about increasing personal income and improving rural living conditions. Based from a study performed by Isao Fujimoto, of the University of California at Davis, it was determined that land holding patterns create differences in social life. Small farm communities were more diverse than large farm communities on an economic, political and cultural level.
Taking Responsibility For Health
The main health concerns dominating people’s lives are how long they will live and how often they will be sick. These concerns motivate individual and community efforts to focus on living healthier and longer lives by changes in personal life-styles, habits, and diets. However in developing countries, improved access to simple medical care and preventive health measures will be required to solve health problems.
The potential of individual efforts to protect health in both developed and developing countries is an opportunity the medical community wants to explore further. The World Bank estimates that one-fifth of the world’s population is without minimal health care and changes in the delivery of medical services may allow for primary care in places such as China and Cuba where doctors are not commonly available.
Self awareness, common sense and traditional home remedies can act as powerful assets improving health. Self-help medical programs run by medical establishments have also proven quite successful in the United States where individuals look for ways to treat the problem themselves through support and advice of group members. With the rising cost of health care, these programs may help reduce emergency room visits and improve current conditions.
A great potential for self-care is found in countries where little or no organized medical services exist. The spread of self help medical care will promote interest in personal care and make them better patients by giving them the initial responsibility for good health. Since it is known that the assistance of trained personnel would reduce mortality and morbidity an organized self-care program should include some professional monitoring to ensure that serious health problems are not mistreated.
In addition to self care, a growing responsibility of the individual and community involves preventative measures. As an example, better nutrition is an important contribution to improved health. Individuals and governments have both taken steps to reduce the cause of disease through healthy diets, regular exercise and programs and facilities to allow for these changes. Developing healthy habits are extremely important for maintaining good health. Government preventive health campaigns can also help sustain these habits and provide communities with the information they need to make healthy choices.
Self-care and preventive health care have important roles to play in responding to basic health problems, however some basic medical treatment is often needed in places where it is unavailable. The United States is trying to prevent a growing separation of the medical system and people’s basic needs by training more general practitioners. The government also opened a series of Neighborhood Health Centers in 1965 which treat over 1.5 million patients each year. Rural areas are still lacking physicians trained in basic health care. Medical auxiliaries, who can perform basic medical procedures, are helping to improve the accessibility of basic health care.
"There are a growing number of such physician’s assistants in the United States, where 48 states now license doctor’s helpers. They take blood samples, give immunizations, and stitch up wounds - all things that can be safely and more cheaply done by trained non physicians."
More importantly, door-to-door health workers with the skills to treat basic illnesses should be more available to help mobilize individuals and communities in preventive health efforts.
While emphasis on primary health care is a growing concern in the in developed world, there is a much greater need for basic medical care in the developing world. Governments and international industries have begun to encourage decentralized delivery of services utilizing ties to Western medicine. China’s barefoot doctors are an example of improving primary care by using both traditional and Western medical techniques. These doctors are not full-time medical assistants, but part-time workers trained to diagnose and treat common diseases without assistance. They make attempts to solve health problems before making references to hospitals and clinics. By training during the agricultural slack season, living in the village and remaining in contact with patients, medical care is woven into the existing social and economic fabric at the grassroots level.
The Consumer as an Energy Producer
Self-reliance has become a part of energy policy to remove communities from the volatility of energy prices. This can be achieved through renewable energy initiatives and conservation measures. Renewable energy is sustainable, efficient, socially manageable and locally available.
The last quarter of the 20th century is the end of the energy era. Economic development based on oil creates a dependence on imports and a balance of payment issue. Coal has limitations due to air pollution in energy production and environmental degradation after mining. Nuclear power, thought to be a potential solution, has issues with high costs of commercial reactors, waste disposal, the availability of uranium and public perception.
Dependence on non-renewable energy, energy imports and subsequently centralized energy systems leaves societies susceptible to price variability and interruptions in supply. IN 1976, the US Federal Power Commission reported 35 major as well as thousands of minor failures that affect millions. Centralized energy systems create social and economic costs by concentration political and economic power. Electricity grids were created because of believed increases in efficiency and effectiveness. The lack of control due to not have local energy sources, can translate into higher inflation and unemployment as well as a lack of local vitality.
The most effective, abundant, efficient and safest way to meet our energy needs is through conservation and solar power. The largest savings through conservation measures will be see in the industrial world while solar power will be best applied in the Third World. Experience shows government support of conservation measures, through taxation and levies, albeit well intentioned, are not effective till an individual changes their mindset.
The US wastes half the energy it consumes through inefficient systems like cars that are too heavy, engines that have poor mileage and transportation via truck and not train. Housing is another area where losses occur due to architecture that doesn’t accommodate for local conditions and poor and nonexistent insulation.
Indian Energy analyst, Arjun Makhijani, says twice as much energy is used for cooking in the third world compared to America so savings can be made through increased efficiency. Individual and community concern for energy efficiency results in large energy savings in some European countries like Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. Government policy as well as industry and personal practice has lead to less energy consumption through better insulation, cogeneration and smaller houses compared to their American counterparts. Higher energy prices and government incentives have propelled this increase in efficiency.
In the US, over 80% of homes had some insulation by 1977. This 18% increase over two years is primarily a result of individual initiates. In some cities, proposals are in place to make public capital available for individuals to insulate their homes. Architecture that takes advantage of natural insulation and smaller more energy efficient cars are emerging. Inability to conserve energy in private transportation emphasizes the fact that individual conservation measures are only a part of the solution to an energy-short world.
Energy conservation efforts only succeed when they are backed by government, which is shown in Sweden and the city of Davis, California. They have respectively, spent almost $1 billion in grants and loans between 1974 and 1977 to encourage energy efficiency and since 1968 improved building codes, bicycle paths and public transit. Savings are created by not having to invest in new energy supplies.
Solar power is appropriate for community and individual control. Technology to harness the abundant power is currently available. Solar technology is adaptable for many situations and ideal for poor countries that have a lot of sunlight and green plants. For example barrels of water made of local materials can be used to create a solar heater when placed on a roof.
Consumer energy production gives technical and political power to the user. Truly, “Power to the people”. Nuclear power and oil based energy economies require security to protect wastes and advertising respectively. Social controls would not exist in a solar based society.
Solar heating is a simple and effective use of direct sunlight. Stone or water can be used to trap heat, where it can be used later for heating or simply to provide warm water. Over two million Japanese and 30,000 Australians depend on solar water heaters. The roofs of builds are the most appropriate place for solar water heaters.
Photovoltaic cells directly convert the energy from the sun into electricity. Initial costs of solar cells are dropping quickly; as they become more economical solar cells will meet more of the energy demand at a local level. Contrary to non-renewable energy, solar cells are better suited to be decentralized which also reduces transmission and storage issues. This added competitiveness will break up monopolies held by utilities companies.
Hydroelectric plants are also an effective source of energy that has typically taken the form of large plants. Smaller more efficient use of hydropower along streams disrupts the environment less, but aren’t being utilized to their capacity. China’s self reliance strategy works well with hydroelectric power as they had 15,000 stations by 1968 with plans for more. A survey by the American Army Corps of Engineers cited 50,000 potential hydropower sites. The potential power production from these sites is larger than that currently produced by nuclear plants.
Windmills are technically simple and inexpensive and can be adapted for local needs including grinding flour. A community like Gelebs in Ethopia is an example of the application of windmills. Missionaries installed a windmill which pumped water from an aquifer for irrigation. This allowed for year round cultivation and a steady source of water not provided by the limited rainfall in the region.
Homeowners can sell power to the utilities in their area, an example of this is shown in New York. A group placed a windmill on their roof that powers a light and pumps water through their solar panel. Although a limited amount of power was produced the lack of dependence on the grid meant their lights were still on during a 1977 blackout.
Sustainable firewood supplies are kept by South Korean village associations. The associations receive government assistance while the villages reap the benefits result in two million acres of tress being played by 1977. Firewood has a future as a source of energy making communities self reliant. Finland and Sweden provide 14 and 7% of their respective energy budgets from firewood, relying mainly on industry waste.
Biofuel: Organic Waste Material
Methane gas is produced from the decomposition of organic matter in anaerobic digestion. Controlled fermentation can produced a product suitable to replace natural gas. Biogas plants intake waste and produce usable energy and high quality fertilizer. Attempts to begin using biogas began in the 1940s in India. Although they see limited use in India, 25,000 small plants, there are widely used in China with 4.3 million units by 1977.Social structures and barriers may have played a part in the different acceptance levels of biogas in India and China. The Chinese were more responsive to the technology since they are already acclimatized to working together while the inequality in India’s caste system does not help to spread the benefits of biogas.
Biofuel: Energy Crops
In Brazil, a government push to reduce dependence on imported oil has lead to a 1981 goal of 20% of gasoline being replaced by alcohol from energy crops. These crops include cassava and sugar cane. This increase demand for the plants requires decisions to be made about land use and production of food versus energy crops.
Stokes, Bruce. Local Response to Global Problems. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute, 1978 (c).
This Book was summarized by Jerome Arthur, Graeme Armster, Landon Gardner & Bryn Sexton