Whose green economy? Ecotourism, exclusion and enclosure

by Rebecca Pointer, Information and Communications Officer, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

From India to South Africa, conservation and tourism make an appealing mix. If local communities can benefit from profitable ecotourism schemes, these might provide good examples of the ‘green economy’, achieving a balance between people, planet and profit.

Doubtless there are schemes that achieve this balance to varying degrees of success – but on day 1 of the Green Economy in the South conference, participants heard of less happy examples, where the notion of a green economy masks the exclusion and dispossession of poor communities.

In such cases, the practice of enclosing land to create protected areas and game reserves for environmental protection displaces local people, but encloses a chosen few within the environmental space to serve as labour. The services then provided to the enclosed locals are then described as philanthropic activity, despite the deprivation resulting from the displacement and the capture of the workers within a small area.

Nitin RaiNitin Rai told the story of a newly created tiger reserve in India. After the land was enclosed, locals could no longer access or use the resources they previously used to sustain their livelihoods.

The only opportunities left, for the few with access to work, was to provide cheap labour to the tiger reserve and therefore be allowed to stay on the land. The rest, who were not employed by the tiger reserve, were displaced and deprived of livelihood opportunities.

Similarly, as described by Maano Ramutsindela, the Londolozi luxury game lodge in South Africa argues that it is undertaking community development, but only provides such ‘development’ to those whose labour and movement it controls by enclosing them within the Londolozi estate.

MaanoThose who do not access work are left on the periphery, unable to access the land from which their families were displaced, nor the resources on that land by which they might forge alternative livelihoods. Ramutsindela also highlighted how creating a ‘philanthropic’ village within the confines of the reserve not only allowed it to control movement of labour, but also helped Londolozi evade land reform by claiming it was sharing land with the community.

Although this enclosure of people with reserves in order to extract their (cheap) labour is described by the enclosers as philanthropy, their ability to source cheap labour appears less than altruistic. Rai called this kind of enclosure and labour capture ‘extractive philanthropy’, whereas Ramutsindela used the term ‘philanthrocapitalism’ of the Londolozi case, where the estate benefits from cheap labour while profiting from the prices which rich tourists can afford to pay.

While these types of ‘green economy’ projects are touted as good models for securing a green future, the question remains: whose green economy? If the economy is owned and controlled by wealthy game lodge owners, and excludes numerous people in the surrounding communities, who does the ‘green economy’ benefit?

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