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Poverty Times #1

Thinking green

There are many ways to improve the environment and reduce poverty: they include developing renewable energy and promoting organic agriculture.
By An. Ba. and Ma. Sn.

Looking after the environment goes hand in hand with reducing poverty. Green alternatives (renewable energy, organic agriculture, sustainable forestry, eco-tourism, invasive plant control) can create job opportunities and recycle money in low-income countries. For instance, solar energy may in the future fulfill the energy needs of countries in the South and provide an important new source of revenue through energy exports and local consumption.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy can help both the poor and the environment. In many developing countries the cost of extending central electricity supply to remote

Solar energy may in the future fulfil the energy needs of countries in the South and provide an important new source of revenue

villages is too high and means further dependence on fossil fuels. But energy generation from renewable energy can fulfill energy needs, recycle income and maintain local jobs because of its shorter supply chain. In turn increased investment in local- and regional-level economies may discourage migration from the countryside to the cities (1). Countries in the South can avoid the unsustainable development of industrial countries by building new infrastructure for renewable energy use (2).

Organic agriculture and sustainable forestry

A number of countries have successfully introduced organic agriculture and sustainable forestry to help reduce poverty. In Chile, the successful aquaculture of scallops has created job opportunities and helped increase marine biodiversity; in the Amazon, the sustainable harvesting of hearts of palm has created work and prevented further deforestation (3).


Few poor communities have naturebased tourism, but well-planned, ecotourism has the potential to conserve the environment and simultaneously
create opportunities for local and rural communities. Eco-tourism needs a long-term strategy - which includes careful monitoring, evaluation and preventing damage to fragile ecosystems by visitors - to ensure that tourist expenditure (currently US$ 444 billion worldwide) strengthens local economies and does not just benefit commercial ventures and rich countries (4).

Invasive plant control

Initiatives to control invasive, alien plants have helped create work and also improved the environment. In South Africa, the Working for Water Program had great success in reducing the impact of alien vegetation on water availability and increasing jobs in some of the country’s most underprivileged areas. The nationwide alien plant control program uses mechanical, chemical and biological control methods, and has created jobs for 21,000 people and cleared 238,000 hectares of alien infested land (5).

An. Ba. and Ma. Sn.

1. Disaster Reduction, Biodiversity, Renewable Energy, United Nations General Assembly, Fifty-sixth General Assembly, Resolution GA/EF/2970, Second Committee, 31 October 2001, New York, 2001.

2. The Jo’burg-Memo: Fairness in A Fragile World, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin, 2002.

3. Support to Investment: Land Management, Soil Conservation and Soil Fertility, The FAO Investment Centre, FAO, Rome, 2002.

4. World Resources Report 2000 - 2001, WRI, Washington DC.

5. Working for Water, 2000, in Annual Report, Department of Water Affairs & Forestry, Pretoria.