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Regional themes > Environment and climate change Last update: 2020-11-27  

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Changing the political economy of poverty and ecological disruption

David Reed

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

July 2005

SARPN acknowledges Eldis as the source of this document -
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This publication presents an intervention approach that is designed to help community organizations, civil society groups, government offices and development agencies in their efforts to change the underlying causes of poverty and ecological disruption. Building on a political economy perspective, this approach seeks to change the interactions among social groups, private economic actors and the state as they compete and seek to accumulate wealth and build political power. The explicit purpose of this approach is to increase the ability of poor communities to compete and thrive in the emerging economic order and to increase their ability to manage natural resources in a sustainable manner, be they in rural, peri-urban or urban contexts.

We believe that this approach can serve as an important complement to poverty reduction strategies adopted by international development agencies and national governments. Reviews of those strategies have underscored that, in relying on export-oriented growth strategies, those approaches tend to relegate environmental and sustainability issues to the margins of development plans and investment programs. It is our belief that growth strategies must be accompanied by explicit policies, programs and development processes that increase the ability of the poor, notably the rural poor, to interact with and compete in markets, influence institutional arrangements and improve prevailing natural resource management regimes in a multitude of ways.

This intervention approach was developed, tested and further refined through a range of activities carried out over a four-year period at local, subnational and national levels in five countries—China, El Salvador, Indonesia, South Africa and Zambia. The interventions led to outcomes that in some cases surpassed all expectations, whereas in others they created expectations that could not be fulfilled, largely because of a lack of political influence and the control that vested interests exert over institutions and political processes.

In the following pages we summarize the steps that our partners pursued as they sought to open opportunities for improving living standards and changing natural resource management regimes in rural areas of their respective countries. The first section, The Country Experiences, presents succinct summaries of the experiences in the five countries as parties worked to change poverty-environment dynamics at local, subnational and national levels. These summaries reference the socio-economic context in which partners operated, identify major objectives of their interventions and offer a general assessment of successes and limitations. These experiences are the building blocks on which we have developed a more generalized “intervention approach.” The second section, The Intervention Approach: Basic Steps, dissects the four major steps carried out at local, subnational and national levels by our partners in each country. These four steps highlight the diverse sets of activities partners pursued in promoting change in their respective countries. The final section, Lessons, offers a series of lessons drawn from those experiences. They underscore the importance of policies and institutions at the national level, the interface between growth and improving natural resource management and the specific strategies needed to implement changes at the three levels.

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