Trade can

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
says that fair trade is essential for sustainable development and environmental protection

In the Biblical story, there was a place called Babel, whose people were quite advanced in knowledge and in science. They therefore decided to challenge God. ‘We shall build a tower which will be so tall that we shall go and visit God through it.’ They started building, but when they had gone many stories up, the tower collapsed.

Now new people are trying to build a new ‘Tower of Babel’ – a false edifice. Nature has engineered our globe quite well: the mountains, the rivers, lakes, wetlands, etc. If we use them well, they can sustain us for a long time; but if we try to change them without serious thought about the likely effects, to ourselves, our neighbours and the universe, the results may be catastrophic.

The population of Africa has increased from 118 million at the beginning of the last century to 778 million, putting increased pressure on natural resources. We are bound to have a very big crisis if we do not wake up. As a consequence of the population expansion, about 500 million hectares of land – 60 per cent of it arable – have been affected by some degree of soil degradation.

Our water resources are suffering from pollution; for instance the aquatic animals in Lake Victoria are being starved of oxygen by algae which thrive on the nutrients from the soil washed into the lake.

The African continent lacks safe water. Uganda, however, is making some progress in delivering it to our people: about 54 per cent of them now have access to it.

An unsustainable lifestyle
Africa – and perhaps the entire developing world – is now undergoing a new form of aggression. Our partners in the developed world have a lifestyle which is simply not sustainable. A lifestyle which generates pollutants and greenhouse gases which threaten to change the nature of our atmosphere and the entire planet is not sustainable. A hole has developed in the ozone layer over the Antarctic, created by some of those greenhouse gases, of which 96 per cent were produced by developed countries.

This is not acceptable in this era of a global village. This form of aggression must stop, especially if we are people who believe in God: loving your neighbour as you love yourself. This is partly what was addressed at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.

How do we solve these problems? We cannot go on commiserating – we must find a solution. Solutions are available; the problem is divergent points of view, which are normally due to divergent, selfish interests. If somebody is pursuing a selfish interest, he will not easily evolve a convergent point of view with others. In order to find solutions we must harmonize our thinking.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) could help fund reforestation and afforestation programmes and investments in clean, alternative sources of energy, especially hydroelectric power and solar energy. Emphasis must be put on electricity which, if it were available in the less developed parts of the world, would be one of the solutions for our environmental problems. In Uganda, about 94 per cent of all energy comes from biomass and, as a result, we burn about 18 million tonnes of wood annually.

Clean energy
How can we successfully protect our planet when we are stripping it naked at this rate? Since we cannot stop cooking, the only option at our disposal is to generate enough electricity from clean sources. This is why in Uganda, we are building hydroelectric power dams on the river Nile to generate power both for our people and for export.

You cannot, however, build electricity stations on a big and sufficient scale unless you also get economic growth and transformation. Otherwise people cannot afford the electricity.

One of the stimuli that will enable us to achieve sustained economic growth and social transformation is market access to those rich markets of the Europeans, the Americans and the Japanese. Aid on its own is petty and just symbolic, and cannot solve these problems. It is aid in order to stimulate production and enable trade that is useful. Many of the African countries got independence 40 years ago and have been getting aid ever since, but have not made the transition from backward to modern countries. What more proof do you need that aid cannot transform a country? Trade, however, can.
If we work together, it is within our means to promote sustainable development
The leaders of developed countries in Europe, America and Japan are unfair not only to the rest of the world, but also to their own people. I am, among other things, a beef farmer and I sell meat, at $1 per kilo equivalent in local Ugandan shillings. The traders who buy it from me charge the consumers $2 per kilo. A kilo of beef in London is $17, in Japan $200. I asked those people: ‘What sort of beef is that of $200?’ They told me that they call it Kobe beef. When I asked what that was, they said that you play music for the cow, give it alcohol, and massage it; it is supposed to make the meat more marbled.

The western world is cheating its own people, overcharging them, and suppressing our growth by denying us markets to sell what we produce. If they took my meat at $4 and sold it in London at $8 including transport etc., it would be much better for both the Europeans and us!

Value addition
The other stimulus for growth in this part of the world is value addition. Africa must stop selling raw materials. Take coffee: 2.5 kilos of bean coffee would fetch $1.25 by present day prices. Once they make it soluble coffee, they sell it for $70 in London. Why can’t the blending, roasting and grinding be done locally? This massive loss of value must stop.

We should not keep blaming the developed countries regarding the environment, but first of all try to minimize local pollution. We can protect riverbeds by ensuring that we do not cut trees up to the riverbanks. There are laws to ensure this but sometimes our people do not implement them; by leaving strips of forest along rivers, and around lakes, we can stop the soil being washed into the riverbed and into the lakes. We can plant trees on the hillsides to stop soil erosion, and ensure that human and other industrial waste does not go into water by a number of very cost-effective means.

Local effort
Protecting our environment is in our own interest and we must take all the necessary measures locally within our means to ensure it. That is when we can justifiably quarrel with the developed countries about their export of pollution and seek foreign assistance to supplement our local effort.

We can maintain much of the forest cover and at the same time get money by stressing multi-purpose trees rather than merely ornamental ones. We can get money from honey by having trees with flowers which will attract bees. People will be encouraged to grow trees only if they know they are of economic value; telling them to plant trees for the sake of the atmosphere may not make much sense, especially to our mostly rural population in developing nations.

If we work together, it is within our means to promote sustainable development and have a world we can proudly hand over to posterity

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is President of the Republic of Uganda.

PHOTOGRAPH: Willy Mack/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Looking through new lenses | Development with a human face | Trade can transform | Achieving win–win–win | People | Promises to keep | As precious as gold | Expanding the circle | At a glance: Globalization, poverty, trade and the environment | Acting local | Cooperation is catching | Books & products | Getting through the bottleneck | Investing in the environment | Bishkek Mountain Platform | You can’t breathe money | We will succeed | Fair trade? Fair question


Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Global Environment Facility, 2002
Issue on World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002
Issue on Food, 1996
At a glance: Africa Environment Outlook (Global Environment Facility) 2002

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population and natural resources
Population and Land Use
Population and ecosystems