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puce Stakes of land, water and natural ressources governance

Philippines. Ifugao.Conflicts around the world over land, water, and natural resources are happening more and more frequently. They are also more and more serious, and concern at the same time:

- access to resources; and
- recognition and management of the rights of the different individual and collective – as well as private and public – actors.

The part of the ‘common good’ that is the land – soils, forests, water and maritime resources – is not sufficiently recognised.

It is also less and less well-managed, because of inadequate policies at the local, national, and/or supranational level. The privatisation of resources is often presented as the only viable alternative.

The deficiency in the policies that manage the common good results in a navigation to view at the global level, of which the consequences – because of their size and irreversibility –are dramatic:

Nicaragua. Esteli.- Hundreds of millions of peasant producers are marginalised and ruined on all five continents.
- The gap between the poorest and richest grows ever larger and becomes more and more important.
- Hunger and malnutrition continue to affect hundreds of millions of human beings.
- Forests and biodiversity are disappearing forever.
- The ocean’s resources can no longer recover from overfishing.
- Water, as well as being a strategic and rare resource, is threatened by pollution is becoming the source of disputes and wars.
- Ecological and social balances break down.Local knowledge is lost forever, and some millennial cultures die.

All of the planet’s natural resources are in danger. More and more serious threats jeopardise democracy and peace in the world. We are in the middle of a major crisis of governance.

What do we mean by governance ?
Gouvernance is an Old French word that refers to the art of governing. It shares its Latin root with the word ‘rudder’ – gouvernail in French, the part that steers a ship. The term has become fashionable through the use of the American term ‘governance’ –first used to designate the set of techniques of organisation and management of businesses (corporate governance). Then the World Bank, the IMF and the European Union began to use it to refer to public business, but this time in the context of imposing neoliberal policies. The word and its use have caused a lot of debate, because promoters of ‘good governance’ very often tended to back a process of weakening states and their redistributive functions in order to subordinate political logic to the liberal economy’s logic.

We chose to use it anyway, however – and to use Pierre Calame’s definition – partly because it includes better than any other term the various notions of rights, politics, institutions and management, but also because it refers to the way things operate, to the representations[not sure what you mean here], and to the organisations of the different social actors. It refers to the interactions between the state and society and enables one to look more widely and deeply at social rules. The place and role of society’s different actors in the definition of the rules and policies and their application are therefore fundamental (English-speakers call this notion ‘empowerment’). What we mean by governance corresponds therefore neither to the original definition, nor to the more recent conceptions promoted by business or international financials institutions.

The meaning of governance that we subscribe to can be applied in many ways at all levels: local, urban, territorial, European, and global governance. It can also apply to particular spheres: governance of natural resources, of land, of the ocean’s resources, of water. It encourages diverse thinking and allows a dialectic vision: there is not only one model of governance, but multiple ‘systems of governance’ that are constantly evolving. For this reason universally applicable development ‘recipes’ are forbidden, but at the same time there are some significant principles that are common to all situations.

To learn more about governance, read Pierre Calame, La démocratie en miettes, pour une révolution de la gouvernance, Charles Leopold Mayer (ed), Descartes & Co., Paris, 2003. The French version is downloadable from the Editions Charles Leopold Mayer website, and will soon be translated into English. (See page with links)

The disastrous consequences of the bad management of land and natural resources around the world means that we now need to look differently at these issues. Concepts that seemed natural and universal to us – such as owning land – and references to the market – either to regret its imperfections or to wish its disappearance – are no longer sufficient or appropriate. When it comes to the governance of land and natural resources, a new explanation is needed, along with a new management system.

A lot of information on these issues is available in libraries or on the internet, but it is widely dispersed, contradictory, and very difficult to use. To be able to make good use of this material, we need:

- access to good syntheses of existing material;
- to compare experiences and place them in their social, geographical and historic contexts;
- to communicate in several languages, because translations are still rare;
- and a lot of time and sufficient resources.

The current serious governance crisis shows that governments and international institutions don’t adjust quickly enough. They have trouble thinking deeply about the issues, and often don’t truly take into account the interests of all of society’s different groups.
Philippines. Cordillera.
From now on, civil society’s contributions are indispensable. Access to such work is far from the grasp of the immense majority of civil society, both people and organisations. Yet, these are the people who make history through their struggles, their experiments and their proposals. Because they are so often facing crisis situations, their priority is survival. Finding and building the new elements with which to construct alternatives will not be easy. And it is particularly difficult to overstep the limits of your own culture, of your own continent. This constraint can produce standardised ideological visions, which can be dangerous and counterproductive.


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