Achieving Sustainable Communities in a Global Economy: Alternative Private Strategies and Public Policies

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Achieving Sustainable Communities in a Global Economy: Alternative Private Strategies and Public Policies. Edited by Ralph D. Christy. London and Singapore: World Scientific, 2004. Pp. 239.

The chapters in this book are based on papers presented at a symposium titled "Achieving Sustainable Development in a Global Economy", which was held at Cornell University during the fall of 2002. The editor's twofold goals are to identify and assess key processes by which globalization has an impact on smallhold agricultural communities in rural settings, and to identify and propose micro- and macro-level economic policies and strategies designed to deal with the problem.

The study proceeds in three parts containing ten chapters written by the editor and eighteen other scholars and practitioners from private and public sector institutions. Part 1 analyses the relatively new roles that the private sector can be encouraged to play (and in some cases now plays) in achieving sustainable community development. One role is to encourage, to the extent possible, multinational enterprise to participate in the process of sustainable income, output and employment generation in communities located within developing areas. Another role is to encourage the establishment of linkages among global economic power centres and community agribusiness strategies designed to sustain growth and eradicate poverty. While the volume's general focus is on sub-Saharan Africa, its contents are relevant to Southeast Asia.

Following discussions that centre on encouraging the establishment of useful linkages, the book's second part poses and tries to answer this key question: "Do markets matter for the poor?" The contributors to Part 2 argue that markets can matter only if the poor have access to financial, physical, human, social, and natural capital and have the requisite political power to gain access to markets in which to sell their products. The rural poor also need political power that can be used to gain policy protection "from exploitation by middlemen and traders ... (and) with respect to state institutions, the poor report being harassed, ignored and unable to make their voices heard" (p. 55). They also require political power to deal with their "limited ability to cope with risk due to resource constraints and an absence of formal risk insurance markets, the poor are left vulnerable" (p. 55).

Other contributors to Part 2 follow up these points with an evaluation of public policies and global and local private sector initiatives that could (and in some cases actually do) make the poor beneficiaries from national and global agricultural marketing activities. A range of policy and initiative failures and successes are analysed, including options "to manage risk and to deepen domestic financial markets by carefully sequencing liberalization, strengthening prudential norms and bank supervision capacities" (p. 154). The options strive to strengthen property rights, introduce new risk management techniques and widen the range of collateral acceptable to lenders, including global financial institutions.

In Part 3, the contributors put forth the argument that global food markets are politically created and managed by powerful economic and political forces in developed, market economy countries. Philip McMichael argues that "whether corporate power is embodied in subsidized Northern exports dumped on the world market, or in the proliferation of agro-export platforms, they depend on WTO rules and IMF structural adjustment conditions". He contends that "these relations, embedded in the WTO regime, are justified in the name of broadening consumer choice via development efficiencies on a world scale" (p. 236). McMichael points out that the process of broadening choice in world food markets has resulted in low prices and a concurrent disregard for the impact that the process has on the sustainability of local community economies, cultures, and physical environments. …