Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Wait for a "DeGrowth" society in Africa

Today, all across Europe, in several debates, the word degrowth is coming up again and again. Deliberations of the 2nd International Conference on degrowth held at Barcelona stated that as society gets complex, material and energy consumption, inequities increase; the importance of lasting ecological sustainability, social equity will be sensed more and more.

In order to transcend to such a paradigm, societies have to move towards more of localized economies, simpler lifestyles, labour intensive agriculture with lesser energy inputs and larger energy output in the food it produces. Hence, there is a need for reducing energy consumption through all these forms. It can essentially translate to less mechanised forms of production, labour and skill intensive forms of production. Therefore, it doesnot always mean an efficient form of production though it can be ecologically sustainable. Then it can lead to more localization of production and lesser change of hands and transactions which can reduce the gross domestic product. Hence, such a production pattern can still mean that whatever is produced is consumed locally. Therefore, agricultural products donot travel long distances and donot create larger energy intensity till its final consumption point. Though owing to this form of production pattern the GDP can fall, it might not necessarily always mean lesser job creation if they are backed by  job guarantee schemes. Essentially, it has to mean a decoupling of job creation from economic growth path.

It can also translate to more informal jobs which are skill intensive and doesnot relate, translate to migration. More cooperative forms of  labour production, job sharing can emerge. However, all these possibilities are not connected to the modern westernized industrial society that we have been exposed to. Moreover this industrialization process itself has promoted ecological destruction and resource extraction from parts of Africa owing to constant rising demand for material and energy. However, the continent showcases and posits to us that here lies an opportunity in the continent if we as a civilization have to move towards a degrowth society.

Africa presents to us the future.

Reliance of Africa on agricultural products show that the continent can move on a path which is agriculture dependent and relies more on conservation of natural resources. This agriculture based economic path can be dependent on export crops like beverage crops, spices, other tree crops, intensive peri urban farming , rainfed farming. The path can be cushioned from sustained industrialization and materialism so that material and energy consumption is balanced while Africa grows.

However, while the economy charts out this path, growth of the middle income class will be inevitable in Africa from now onwards to future. Size of the middle income class will increase by 10 times to 68% of the total population in 2050 from a current level of  12% (Source - Africa 2050 Publication).

Such a growth will also mean a rise in aspirations of the middle income class and so it is more important for the continent to posit to the world the new paradigm of degrowth. This rise of middle income class in Africa would mean an increase in annual per capita incomes by 1.9% which will reach a level more than $6000 by 2050. The other scenario is, if by 2050, per capita income of Africa is lower by more than $10,000, then around 900 million people will not be able to reach the middle income class (Source - Africa 2050 Publication). However, they can still sustain a less material and energy intensive lifestyle with a larger reliance on informal and organized labour intensive agricultural production. It will also entail a sustained income generation from the informal sector which are not material and energy intensive. If Africa can do this and prove this to the world, then a quarter of the world population can show how economic activity can be restructured and reoriented in a different way  without making the same mistakes which has been made by the modern, western industrialized society.

Therefore, if a degrowth scenario is followed by a balanced material and energy consumption, it has to then mean that Africa might have  to grow less than 1% annually, and the per capita income in Africa in 2050 will be around $4000 (2010 US Dollars PPP) (Source - Africa 2050 Publication). However, it doesnot necessarily entail that the quality of life will not prosper in this continent even with such a growth paradigm. Such prosperity can emerge from employment generation and skill development which can thereafter in future lead to a less material and energy intensive growth. Measures to generate them can come from strong job guarantee, social security schemes, health safety nets, informal skill driven economies.  

However, loci of job creation has to be spread to rural areas and should not be city oriented. Gini Coefficients have to be brought down in 66% of the African countries to reduce inequalities and enhance social safety nets. Earning of the richest 20% of the population has to be distributed to the poorest 11% of the African population.  Savings have to be increased within the people to bring down inequality. This can ensure that countries can create larger prosperity by bringing better income distribution without following energy, material intensive high growth path.

Africa has a still growing population and between 2031 and 2051 it will account for 75% of the total growth in the labour force. Such a growth can lead to a labour intensive economy with inclusive innovation that will constantly include poorest segments of the population and not essentially be a material, resource, energy intensive technological innovation. In the next 40 years, Africa’s population will increase to 2.7 billion and the youth population will increase to 500 million from around the current levels of around 260 million. This increase complemented by extensive skill development will provide a degrowth path. Such a skill development will mean revitalization of technical, vocational skill development for youth through public private partnership, upgradation of skills of craftsmen, modernization of traditional apprenticeship systems, development of partnerships between schools, training providers, employers for training and lifelong learning, access to better secondary education creating a bridge between school and labour system, strengthening the labour intensive diversification of economies of Africa with a focus on rural urban migration, worker productivity particularly in the informal sector. Additionally, enhanced productivity of women (higher income earning) with a higher educational and vocational training, reorientation of the wage policies should also be thought of as some of the key complementary measures. 

Once these steps are taken along with degrowth measures, poverty can be tackled in the continent by contextualizing needs of the people of the continent to various political, cultural, religious and ethnic needs. This contextualization can be done by means of designing a social contract theory in the lines of Rousseau that binds them together though it gives them a freedom to make their own choices.

Freedom given should not however mean that it leads to a choice of lifestyle, which enhances the exhaustion and export of resources from Africa without sufficient development for the local people. It should mean a path for the continent where it is not exposed to resource exhaustion, depletion and the continent is decoupled from volatility of global commodity prices. In persevering such a path, the continent should not strive for competing resource uses. Further, any resource usage through the means of a technology has to be backed up by larger efficiency enhancement in the technological processes. Natural resources in Africa need to be managed carefully, sensitively by learning from success stories like Botswana and other countries. This will help in saving Africa’s resources which will automatically ensure a larger saving of some of future world’s resources owing to high endowment of natural resources in this continent of future. 














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