The book of Genesis tells us that God created the earth, animals, plants and human beings. He said human beings will depend on the plants and animals as sources of food, and then entrusted humananity with the responsibility of managing natural resources He created.
God wanted all human beings to benefit from this bounty. Today, we see a dramatically different picture to what He intended. By Simon Vilikazi.
In modern societies, the management of natural resources has been delegated to government officials. They are the ones who manage these resources on behalf of all, the rich and the poor people. Rich people have been able to obtain the ownership of natural resources from government officials. This has been done through obtaining licenses that guarantee them the ownership of the resources.
In most coastal countries in SADC, the ownership of natural resources has fallen into the hands of private farmers and multi-national corporations, who have licenses that enable them to utilize and own large volumes of the resources. Big fishing corporations and food producing commercial farmers control rights of access to marine and land natural resources. In coastal countries that include Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Tanzania, large fishing corporations from the European Union are given fishing licenses. They are the ones who have large scale fishing rights in the region’s oceans.
The role of commercial establishments (mostly, the multinational corporations and commercial farmers) with access to almost all natural resources in the region is affecting poor people’s access to these resources.
In a statement of the Southern Africa People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN) in 2006, the region’s people voiced their concern about the growing trend of privatizing the region’s natural resources by governments and international businesses and institutions. They said “such programs of privatisation, in various forms, have had drastic effects on costs and access for our people and especially women and children, to … social welfare, water and other basic [resources] as their human rights. Privatisation also impedes the role of public institutions in furthering our national development potential.”
Unequal relations in terms of wealth and influence between the people who have assumed ownership of natural resources and the poor people have eroded the poor people’s access to natural resources. People who own land and parts of oceans where the resources exist have assumed ownership of the resources. The poor and the powerless find themselves restricted from accessing the resources that were initially created for them as well. In more recent years, the gap in access to natural resources between the rich and the poor people has widened.
Most governments in the SADC region have no policy on natural resources management. It is for this reason that their resources end up privatized and become the property of few rich people and multinational corporations. People with access to the resources then block the poor people’s access to such resources. This impacts negatively on the livelihoods of the poor people who need the resources for food.
In countries where such policies do exist, they are in favour of big multinational corporations who undertake large-scale commercial exploitation of the resources. In South Africa and in Namibia poor people staying in coastal towns complain that they are restricted to low quotas of fishing whilst multinational corporations from the European Union, China and other overseas countries have quotas that enable them to do large scale-fishing for their home markets.
Considering the crucial role that access to natural resources plays in enabling people to enjoy food security, the Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (EJN of FOCCISA) calls for the creation of appropriate natural resources management policies in all SADC countries. All countries of the region need to have policies that safeguard their poor people’s access to fisheries, water and fauna resources. We call upon all countries of the region to ensure that poor people are not prevented from benefiting from these resources by commercial interests.
Community members (including the poor people) should be made custodians of the natural resources in their vicinity. We agree with a statement that says the “conservation of natural resources’ goals should be pursued by strategies that emphasise the role of local residents in decision making about natural resources” (Whande, W. 2007, Community-based natural resource management in the southern Africa region: An annotated bibliography and general overview of literature, 1996–2004. Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape.)
Effective and inclusive management of natural resources will contribute significantly to addressing the food security challenges facing our region.
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