Tuesday, 27 November 2007


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Listen to the podcast of Bill Adams' STEPS Seminar
Read Bill Adams' presentation

The author of many seminal works on green development, Bill Adams of the University of Cambridge, visits us at the STEPS Centre today. Photo: Bill Adams delivers his STEPS Seminar

"Conservation is never anything but social and never anything but political,” Adams says, launching into examples (Masoala National Park in Madagascar; Offham Valley in Lewes, Sussex)of the many political issues that can surround conservation projects, what he calls the ‘politics of conservation'.

So, what are the costs of conservation? Adams breaks it down into three areas - neighbour and opportunity costs and population displacement. Neightbour costs might include crop-raiding or physical attack by wild animals and harassment from park staff; opportunity costs include the global value of land set aside while the population may suffer lost homes, land and resources, and loss of future use and loss of religious and cultural values.

There are streams of benefits, particularly through tourism, but most of the benefits in the developing world are enjoyed in the developed world.

So, there is a need for pro-poor conservation, and there is a long tradition of doing that, but the enthusiasm for poverty alleviation by conservationists is now being criticised by people including John Oates, Steven Sanderson and Kent Redford, who argue that poverty reduction is not the job of conservationists.

There is an argument - raging both within conservation and outside of it - now that we need to re-tool conservation so that its work flows towards poverty reduction and alleviation.

The politics of knowledge now comes in to play, with the “packaging of wilderness” – the US National parks is the first example of this packaging Yosemite Valley was cleared in 1852 by the army. And then to Africa – repeatedly described as an “unspoiled Eden” home of safari – but what place is there for African people in the wilderness? The idea of protecting nature from people features very strongly from the first packaging of Africa as the ultimate wilderness – and continues today with films such as the Lion King.

And now on to Adams’ own work in the Laikipia district of Kenya, where there have been elephant crop raids in and around ranch land and smallholder land. The elephants sit next to smallholdings and then move in at night to eat the crops. His team has tracked the raids by using technology used to track car theft!

One solution is ‘e-Fence’ – elephants wear a collar, when they cross a fence a message goes to a computer that rings the nearest elephant ranger with the animal’s GPS positioning. It only works, obviously, if there is someone to phone, but not really applicable elsewhere. But they are considering fencing the whole district and have just raised $1m for the project.

A community elephant defence is a fence with sheets tied to it smeared with chillis, which elephants don’t like. Adams is not sure if the fence itself works, but it gives people the impetus to go out and shout at the elephants, and so, to do something about the problem.

The interaction of the landscape ecology – the sharing of the land between people and animals – underlies all this research. And interesting questions about land rights have been thrown up – issues of pastoral and national identity and electoral politics. People are claiming to be Laikipiak Maasai – but those Maasai are long gone in that area, meanwhile there are also claims from Mukogodo Maasai and Pokot; Samburu. So the question of who ought to be managing the land and the wildlife is a complex one.

And we're out of time now, but you can listen to the podcast to hear Bill in action and log on to the STEPS website 'recent events' page where we will live his presentation as soon as. Bye for now.
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Monday, 26 November 2007


The Guardian's economics editor Larry Elliott turns his attention to sanitation today, in particular, the situation in Bangladesh. "The vacuum [of action on sanitation] needs to be filled - by western governments and by aid organisations - and not just for Bangladesh but for all the even poorer countries in sub-Saharan Africa where sanitation is not a government priority. The alternative is to hold our noses and pretend it isn't happening," says Elliot. Read more


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

India may have strengths like democracy, diversity, demography, interdependence and role models, but it can't become a global research giant unless it harnesses the strengths, according to Rajeev Gowda, STEPS Centre partner who organised the first event for our risk, uncertainty and technology project - co-funded by UKIERI in Bangalore last week. Photo: Rajeev Gowda

Rajeev was joined at the Indian Insitute of Management Bangalore by the brightest of Bangalore's innovation talent and James Wilsden and Kirsten Bound from Demos in the UK, who talked about their Atlas of Ideas work.

Rajeev's refelctions on the event were published in a report in the Deccan Herald (the largest English-language daily in Karnataka) and James blogged about his visit.
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Thursday, 22 November 2007


By ADRIAN SMITH, STEPS Centre member

Last week, Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, and one of the sponsors of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, joined an increasingly audible group of voices arguing for a system of sustainability standards for biofuels. Without such a system, operating robustly at the international level, Achim feared a backlash against all biofuels, due to some currently more unsustainable production processes associated with rainforest loss, a net increase in total carbon emissions, and the dispossession of poorer communities. The European Commission is currently considering how best to develop its own certification system in order to assure that its ten per cent target for biofuel use in transportation by 2010.

What is incredible about recent biofuel enthusiasm is the widespread acknowledgement that it could quite easily generate disastrously unsustainable developments, if pathways are not carefully appraised and guided. At the same time, this open acknowledgement is also reassuring, since it opens space for sustainability governance.

Clearly, a system of production standards is an important issue in biofuel development, and needs to be taken seriously. And yet, biofuels raise serious sustainability issues that are highly place and process specific: questions of land use, water supply, and food security; the delicate carbon and energy balances involved; risks and benefits for the rural poor; agro-industrial development and jobs; health and safety for workers and local communities; public revenues for government; local fuel security and trade justice; and the biodiversity implications of bringing marginal land into biofuel production. On these grounds and others, advocates and critics heatedly debate biofuel development.

There are a variety of biofuel development options available. Each presents different sustainability opportunities and challenges. Depending upon local agronomic conditions, one can choose between different raw material inputs, such as maize, sugar, jatropha, palm oil, wood, waste, and so on. One can decide between decentralised and centralised systems of provision. One can invest in researching ‘second generation’ biofuel processing, whose conversion efficiencies are expected to be higher, and whose raw materials do not compete so directly with food production, compared to proven ‘first generation’ biofuels processing technologies using food crops.

Within each broad option category lie more nuanced issues, such as the roles of biotechnology, links with the fossil fuel sector, transferable skills and technologies, comparative local, national and regional advantages, the relative economic and sustainability priorities of backers, and so on.

Innovation systems are emerging, linking and informing one another across diverse sites around the globe in strategic response to, and pursuit of, some or all the above issues and options. When considering any innovation system in the light of sustainability, but perhaps more acutely for biofuels, research cannot limit oneself to measuring the aggregate rate and scale of activity - as tends to be the case in conventional innovation studies regarding contributions to narrow measures of economic growth.

Sustainability analysis has also to address the direction of innovation: the biofuel pathways being articulated in innovation systems, the assumptions and criteria informing the search for successful biofuel practices, and the uncertainties and contingencies developers have to deal with when committing resources to biofuel developments.

All this suggests standards, and the lifecycle studies underpinning them, are only part of the picture. What is needed desperately are more socially- and politically-informed insights that can inform a broader set of more reflexive governance processes able to frame, shape and steer biofuel innovations along Sustainable pathways. Here at the STEPS Centre a number of us are developing research ideas that aim to contribute to such an endeavour.
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By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Providing cures for health problems isn't enough, if people's personal or cultural beliefs clash with the scientific approach. STEPS Centre director Melissa Leach argues in this week's Nature magazine that policy-makers must recognize and engage with these objections. Melissa also talks about her research into vaccination on the Nature podcast.
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Friday, 16 November 2007


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Nevermind the headline, what's important about the 19 November is that it's World Toilet Day – a day to focus on the humble, yet vitally important, toilet, and to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis. (Photo: CLTS, Bangladesh)

And crisis it is: 2.6 billion people – half the developing world – lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine. One person in six – more than 1 billion people – has little choice but to use potentially harmful sources of water (UNICEF/WHO). The repurcussions are could not be more severe -disease, death, gender inequality...No act of terrorism generates devastation on the scale of the crisis in water and sanitation.

Meanwhile sanitation problems are escalating in the booming peri-urban and urban centres of the developing world where more and more of the world's population live. The countries of the world pledged, as one of the Millennium Development Goals, to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. But we are nowhere near achieving the sanitation part of the equation.

Water and sanitation is one of the three key areas of the STEPS Centre's research, where we are investigating the challenges for sustainability in water and sanitation, the subject of a new paper, called Liquid Dynamics. One of our first projects is investigating urbanisation in India, the shifting disease ecologies linked to overcrowding and inadequate sanitation, changes in urban farming affected by pollution and contestation over limited land and water.

Meanwhile, the Community-Led Total Sanitation project, affiliated to STEPS, successfully advocates self-help, not subsidy as a solution, with facilitators encouraging communities to carry out their own appraisal and analysis of community sanitation and take appropriate action to eliminate open defectation. You can read about examples of CLTS in action, written by practitioners around the world here, and you can find more resources about CLTS at Livelihoods Connect.

And while you are thinking about sanitation, why not have a go at Water Aid's new online game, Turdlywinks. Based on the old favourite Tiddlywinks, with a not-so-subtle difference!
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Thursday, 1 November 2007


By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member

The Financial Times today has a special report by Jamil Anderlini on the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei Province, China. The report covers several of the issues raised in an earlier blog following my visit to the dam in June, arguing that the environmental and social impacts of the project are being increasingly recognised, with budgetary implications for Beijing. There is also a series of three interesting videos in which Jamil talks to local politicians and members of the communities displaced as a result of the dam's construction. Check it out at www.ft.com/threegorges. Photo: Adrian Ely

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