Extractivism: The crisis of civilisation

Extractivism is a violent, disruptive form of accumulation – it has destroyed previous modes of production with millions of people being deprived of land, water and their modes of subsistence.

These were among the observations made by participants at a People’s Dialogue seminar focussing on exctractivism as a mode of capital accumulation. The two-day event, held in Cape Town in March, brought together a range of activists from different parts of Southern Africa and Latin America. The main host in South Africa was TCOE.

Professor Edgardo Lander, a fellow of the Transnational Institute (TNI), from Venezuela pointed out that extractivism is an “imperial” capitalist model, as well as a model of consumption. He noted that “certain conditions are created where extractivism is central and becomes difficult to imagine any other way.”

“The only fields in which countries of the Global South have competitive advantage are natural resources and thus extractivism has been seen by South governments (whether left or right-wing) as the only path to finance development policies and projects, regardless of the socio and environmental consequences. They also make people believe that there is no other alternative towards development.”

“We are facing a crisis of a civilisation that is destroying life itself, based on the logic of permanent accumulation: there is a contradiction between the reproduction of capital and the reproduction of life”

The event explored extractivism in the context of mining, fishing, agriculture and forestry.

Mining, which encompasses gas, oil and mineral mining, involves different legal instruments in conceding mining licences, the appropriation of land, water and the environment and the transfer of property rights as local populations are dispossessed.

In the context of agriculture, even though 70% of the world\’s population source their food from small-scale farmers and fishers, these small-scale produces are increasingly under ecological pressure, losing access to land, water, livelihoods, biological diversity and more and more being linked to high technology production.

Mariam Mayet from Africa Centre for Biodiversity in South Africa warned that “industrial agricultural corporates have taken over knowledge production, enforce intellectual property rights and have taken out patents on life, seeds and agricultural inputs and technology.”

“We are entering a very difficult period with greater concentration of ownership and power over food production and costs”, she adds.

Reflecting on how the model of extractivism has impacted on fishing, Jackie Sunde from the University of Cape Town, narrated a pattern of dispossession, where people\’s traditional fishing activities are criminalised or they are removed from their traditional and spiritual homes. This comes amid a narrative of conservation – to protect marine stocks or the eco-system – and a greater push for marine protected areas (MPAs) resulting in private coastal enclaves and coastal tourism.

However, she warns that “women bear the brunt of these shifts.”

“As government allocations diminish, men push women out alleging fishing is traditionally a male activity. Women are also excluded from traditional activities such as sea weed collection,” she noted.

Similar to agriculture, fishing is seeing the introduction of new technologies, spatial planning and marginalisation of traditional knowledge and practices. In addition, the drive is to impose individual fishing rights rather than community fishing rights.

Roger Domingo from  Southern Cape Land Committee (SCLC) in South Africa observed that what was happening in forestries was very similar to what was happening in fisheries. Forestry communities grew as a result of becoming workers in the forests, but in the Southern Cape regions, communities have been resisting their removal from forests.

Among the lessons that emerged from the People’s Dialogue was the need for interventions before “development” started.

Activists and communities also need to conduct extensive research of their own, so as to know more than the government and also be familiar with information gathered by appointed consultants and be able to point out contradictions.

Organisation and actions must be conducted at all levels, including on the legal side.

As a movement against extractivism, we will also need concrete examples of resistance. These are ways to inspire people and a movement.

The meeting proposed that the People’s Dialogue arrange a special Assembly on Extractivism to create conditions for greater dialogues. It was proposed that this assembly be held in South Africa in August in 2018, to coincide with the anniversary of the Marikana massacre.

Following our aim to socialize updated information and insights from struggles on the ground, our intention is to publish bi-monthly. Please note that while we are building our own People’s Dialogue website, we will publish our articles on the Rural Women’s Assembly blog.





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