Politics of Poverty

Mapping big oil, mega mining & small-scale agriculture

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Josefa Zambrano (pictured) and her husband Augustin are subsistence farmers in Bajo Porcón, Peru in the Andes Mountains. She is pictured here in her barn. The Yanacocha gold mine is currently operating nearby above the city of Cajamarca, and farmers have taken action to try to protect Cerro Quilish, a small mountain that comprises the top of the watershed that supplies the Zambranos' farm and many others. Photo: Jessica Erickson / Oxfam America (Read more here: http://bit.ly/1kFXpF8.)

Minerals and fossil fuels drive the global economy, but increasingly at a cost to the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in developing countries.

We all depend on the minerals and fossil fuels that drive, for now, the global economy. But those products are produced at a cost, and increasingly that cost is the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in developing countries.

These farmers suffer the community displacement and destruction of water resources that are often linked with large mining and oil projects. And the money that these projects produce rarely comes back in any meaningful way to these communities, thus intensifying their poverty.

Finding a way to reconcile these two sectors, which often overlap and which are both key for the development prospects of many countries, is one of the most pressing current issues in international development.

As a contribution to this debate, next Thursday Oxfam America will release a new report entitled Geographies of Conflict. The report, which is a collaboration with Clark University’s Graduate School of Geography, looks at two countries—Ghana and Peru—where the conflicts between small-scale agriculture and large-scale oil and mining are readily apparent. The basic methodology is fairly simple – overlaying oil and mining concession maps onto maps of agriculturally productive areas in both countries. But the findings are striking.

In recent years both countries have significantly increased the number of oil and mining concessions in agriculturally productive areas. Peru has been hit by a wave of protests against mining projects, largely led by small-scale farmers. Ghana also has seen significant numbers of small-scale farmers driven off their land and forced to take up small-scale mining. Fisherman in Ghana are also now starting to feel the negative impacts of offshore oil drilling. Our Ghanaian partner, Friends of the Nation, has done important work on this recently.

Geographies of Conflict now provides additional graphic evidence to substantiate the tension between oil and mining and small-scale agriculture, and hopefully, to create a basis for policy reform.

What is also clear from the report, and what we know from our own experience, is that there is very little attention given by the respective governments to the overlaps between these two sectors. The governments grant concessions with no formal review of the potential impact of extractive industries development on agricultural production in a given area. They are also granted without first obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of potentially-affected communities. This is obviously a recipe for conflict.

Belatedly, the governments of both Peru and Ghana have begun to realize they have a problem on their hands. Both have recently announced efforts to promote greater collaboration between their ministries in charge of agriculture and those in charge of mining. Peru has also supported a national effort to promote “ordenamiento territorial” [land use planning] in which Ana Leyva from our Peruvian partner organization, FEDEPAZ, has played a leading role.

While these efforts are positive, they haven’t gone far enough to establish robust policy frameworks for ensuring that oil and mining and agriculture can coexist more peacefully. These must include a more transparent, comprehensive, and participatory assessment of the potential impacts of oil and mining on local small-scale agriculture before concessions are granted. An essential component of this in Peru is addressing the cumulative impacts of several mines located in proximity to each other, an issue about which Oxfam sponsored research with the Center for Science in Public Participation.

Governments should more thoroughly and independently assess the potential economic impacts—both positive and negative—of the extractive sector on small-scale agriculture. In theory, oil and mining provide revenue that can be invested in agriculture. Indeed, in Ghana, the “Oil for Agriculture” campaign helped persuade the Ghanaian government to commit more of the country’s new oil revenue to support agriculture. In practice, however, this happens much less that it should. In addition to this campaign in Ghana, Oxfam supported extensive research on this issue in the province of Espinar, a remote rural agricultural area of highland Peru, that is the site of several large mining projects.

Governments should carry out long-term development planning that articulates how these sectors can fit together and be mutually reinforcing. Doing so requires greater transparency and participation in local fiscal management and greater accountability to the needs of local agricultural communities. Community members themselves should receive training and support from governments and NGOs to better articulate their long-term development interests. This will help create demand from below for better governance of these sectors.

Development-focused institutions ranging from the World Bank to Oxfam tout small-holder agriculture as the pathway out of poverty for rural populations in developing countries. This year’s Africa Progress Panel report will also drive home this point.  If this is actually going to work in countries like Ghana and Peru, it will require informed decision-making that helps create the conditions necessary for this to occur. It will require greater access to information and the establishment of priorities that benefit agriculture – even if to the detriment of other politically powerful sectors like oil and mining.  Hopefully our new research can make a meaningful contribution to these processes.

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