Strengthening tradition, innovating: peasant contributions to technological innovation for sustainability
Fuente C., Mario
Rosas B., Mara
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OBJECTIVES: We face an important challenge in collaborating with communities to use state of the art science and technology that will also permit them to use their own capabilities and knowledge as part of a process to strengthen their communities on many different levels: political, social, productive, cultural and environmental. As social scientists, we join this effort from the paradigm of Ecological Economics (Barkin y Rosas, 2006; Burkett, 2006), a heterodox advance guided by three ethical principles: intergenerational equity, social justice, and sustainability. Its implementation requires methodological innovations that assure consideration of solutions to the aforementioned challenges in an interdisciplinary way, with a pluralistic approach, and with a historical perspective that takes into account cultural, material and environmental heritages. An integral part of this method is the incorporation of the “Precautionary Principle” that privileges productive processes that avoid social and environmental risk in contrast with orthodox systems that try to measure the relation between benefits and costs, selecting those results with the highest return (Reichman y Tickner, 2002; Harramöes, et al., 2002). The proposal incorporates innovations using well known or state of the art scientific and technological advances that can enhance traditional capabilities in the communities, raising productivity in traditional activities or contributing to introduce new activities consistent with social and productive structures that also help to protect or rehabilitate their ecosystems. The point of departure for this proposal is the combination of different forms of knowledge that permit the users to better protect their societies from the homogenizing and most destructive effects of globalization; in the practice of the European Union, this current is known as “Post- Normal Science” (Ravetz, 1996; Funtowicz y Ravetz, 2000). METHODS: The implementation of this proposal implies a series of modifications in economic analysis of great import. One of the most significant is the rejection of the common practice to “discount” the future, that is, to value future benefits as if the sacrifices from present investment will always produce welfare improvements; in contrast, in our view, the use of resources and the decline in environmental quality will (inevitably) lead to a fall in living standards for future generations. Rather than discounting future flows, some even consider a premium for environmental protection or reductions in non-renewable resource use or even in renewable resources to a rate consistent with their replenishment. Other basic elements in the methodology that affect the methodology include: the consideration of social conflict as an integral feature of social behavior and the need to construct institutions for conflict resolution; the consideration of the contradictions of energy use as a permanent characteristic of the open system of which the economy is a part (II Law of Thermodynamics and entropy); the inability of society to replace natural resources consumed in production (now or in the past) with produced capital, thus rejecting the thesis of weak sustainability used my most economists in favor of the stronger version; the recognition of the need for social and political participation in decision-making about strategic routes, a process that denies the unquestioned right to property holders to decide on the use of natural resources and real property irrespective of their socio-economic and natural impacts; and, finally, an inability to value natural resources and processes. RESULTS: The approach suggested by the methodology outlined above is designed to promote strategies that lead to the “Sustainable Management of Regional Resources.” Its basic principles are: Autonomy, Self-sufficiency, Productive diversification, and Sustainable resource management. These strategies are drawn from an ongoing interchange with the participating communities, leading us to implement projects that respect their structure of social and political organization, and their relations with their ecosystems. The means by which we apply this approach depend on available knowledge for the use of the local resource base and the priorities set by our collaborators. All the projects have various facets: economic – producing goods that enjoy privileged access to protected or solidarity markets; environmental – conserving or rehabilitating ecosystems; and social – with elements that privilege gender equality and strengthen traditional authorities. Among the projects in which we have advanced are: 1) The production of ‘low-fat’ pork on the basis of a modified diet that uses waste avocados that were formerly discarded in local ravines. Local informants led us to discover that avocados reduce ‘bad’ and raise ‘good’ cholesterol, allowing us to transfer this insight into a process to benefit women responsible for backyard production. 2) The production of enriched ‘Omega-3’ eggs to improve their nutritional and health impacts in consumers on the basis of enriching the diets of hens with an herb rich in this fatty acid, requiring the construction of a sewage treatment plant to supply water for the feed. 3) The water treatment plants themselves led to the discovery that disposable diapers have polymers that can be used to regulate water supply to fruit trees, improving their survivability. 4) The discovery of the value of the mulberry tree in temperate forests and their historical importance led us to propose a project to ‘rescue’ a millenarian tradition of production of silk thread in indigenous communities. 5) The environmental, cultural and economic value of perennial cotton offers important prospects for diversifying and strengthening communities in the western mountain range of Mexico where its production can be spread. All of these projects reflect our efforts to elaborate on the development of a new theoretical framework to promote the Sustainable Management strategy described above. The paper will combine the analytical elements with the practical results to propose a new approach for advancing in the application of science and technology to promote social welfare.