Niger Delta Ecosystems: the ERA Handbook/People and Resource-use Conflict
10 PEOPLE AND RESOURCE-USE CONFLICT
- Animal Populations and Ecosystems
- Resource Cycles and People
- The Ecological Problem of Modern Society
- Resource Use Conflicts
- Is There an Easy Solution
10.1 ANIMAL POPULATIONS AND ECOSYSTEMS
The population of any animal species depends upon the ability of the ecosystem of which it is a part to support it. It is not only the total amount of biomass that counts in the support of a particular animal species, but also the quality of that particular part of the biomass that is relevant to the animal. For example, on Eco Island, the total number of Aphid Eaters depends on the amount of Aphids. The Aphid Eater can only eat Aphids: it cannot eat the leaves of the Eco Tree (Chapter 2.)
Moreover, the relationship of an animal species with its ecosystem is dynamic. The species is not just a passive occupant of an ecosystem: it influences the ecosystem and changes it for its own survival. Termites are a wonderful example: they build complex shelters in which they store detritus for the culture of fungi upon which they feed; in the process they turn over large quantities of soil, fundamentally influencing their ecosystem and many of the other species that live in it.
Animal species can change ecosystems to suit them, but in the end they remain subject to the fact that biomass is limited, and to the fact that they must compete with other animal species for use of the biomass. The total amount of biomass is fixed ultimately by those elements that make up the bulk of living matter (such as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen), and the elements that are micro-nutrients but nonetheless essential to life, such as iron. People are no exception, although in the evolutionary battlefield we have gained a dominant position by developing the technology to exploit the entire biosphere to the extent that, for the time being, we seem able to defy ecological laws.
10.2 RESOURCE CYCLES AND PEOPLE
All species exploit the resources of ecosystems in order to survive. A resource, as we shall discuss later, may be a complex material, such as soil, timber or oil, or the atomic or molecular components of these materials, such as nitrogen, or Water.
In healthy, viable ecosystems, resources are constantly being recycled in a complexity of inter-related cycles. For instance nutrients in soil are taken up by plants, and the plants grow, die and decay to become part of the soil to nourish new plants. Within this process, the element nitrogen is taken up by plant roots as a vital nutrient and released again into the soil by the micro-organisms which are the agents of decay. These are two simple inter-related cycles in an ecosystem, but they are part of increasingly large resource-cycles, the largest of all being the Biosphere in which we live.
The recycling of resources is facilitated by both living and non-living processes. For instance, water is re-cycled through plants by transpiration which is a living process, but taken up into the air from the surfaces of leaves to become clouds by evaporation which is a non-living process. Similarly, elephants drink water as a living process, while the percolation of water through soil and into rivers is a non-living process.
Animals exploit resources for their survival by diverting them through their own systems. For instance, elephants obtain the elements which they need by breathing, by eating plants, by licking the minerals from dry lakes and riverbeds, and by drinking. Subsequently, for example, they return carbon and oxygen (as carbon dioxide molecules) with every breath, but the calcium in their bones is not returned until they die and their bones decay.
People are just another animal and Natural Human Society is not very different from elephants in their relationship to ecosystems. However, as Viable Society, our use of resources becomes more sophisticated. For instance, forest is cleared and the soil resource is used for agriculture; trees are cut and used as timber. But these uses, while they alter the resource cycles, do not break them: the food grown on the soil is eaten and the elements returned to the ecosystem as human faeces; a tree cut and used to build a house eventually returns to the local ecosystem when it has served its purpose and decays.
It is Modern Society's exploitation of resources which tends to break resource cycles. For short periods Modern Society can manipulate an ecosystem to produce resources at a level which is not sustainable, so that eventually the resource disappears. A simple example is hunting: a specific animal can be hunted in small numbers indefinitely (assuming that its habitat is not damaged) but once a certain number is exceeded hunters discover that they are having to travel further and further to find the animal and ultimately the animal may become extinct.
As a more complex example of how ecosystems are damaged by our unsustainable exploitation of them, we can look at grazing in the Sahel in the far North of Nigeria.
10.3 THE ECOLOGICAL PROBLEM OF MODERN SOCIETY
10.3.1 THE PROBLEM: ASPECTS OF HUMAN SOCIETY
The Ecological Problem in the Niger Delta, as in the entire earth, is that Modern Society is able to exploit ecosystems for resources beyond the level of sustainability. Moreover, it can exploit them in such a way that the ecosystems are damaged and unable to continue to produce the resources that people need. Our demands for resources are continually increasing because our population is growing all the time, and not being limited by any restriction upon our ability to exploit resources.
The problem can be better understood as arising from four aspects of human society.
A need for resources
Such as water, soil, timber and oil. How ever well resources are managed, this need remains. The need for life-dependant resources, such as water, is a basic human right.
A defiance of ecological laws So that human populations are growing exponentially beyond the level at which they can be supported by ecosystems without damaging them. (An ecological law demands that as the population of any animal becomes too large for the ecosystem of which it is part, food will become scarce so that the animal becomes stressed and easy prey for other animal species.)
That has an infinite ability to exploit resources to exhaustion and to damage ecosystems in the process.
The human instinct to survive
Regardless of future consequences. (As summed up by the comment of a farmer in the Bamenda Highlands of Cameroon who, aware of the disastrous environmental consequences of maize farming on steep slopes in a high rainfall area, said: "I cannot just lie down and die - tomorrow will have to take care of itself.")
10.3.2 THE PROBLEM IS GLOBAL
This ecological problem concerns the entire Biosphere for two reasons:
There is a global economy
So that, for instance, the timber and oil of the Niger Delta is demanded all over the world. In other words, demand is not limited by local needs.
The scale of modern human actvity
Has become so large that what happens in one part of the world affects ecosystems elsewhere and can affect the entire Biosphere. For instance: pollution in the Niger Delta can damage the fishing industries of all the countries which fish in the Bight of Guinea; pollutants from refrigerators and air-conditioners anywhere in the world damage the upper atmosphere over all the earth.
10.3.3 THE REALITY OF THE PROBLEM: THREE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
ERA is not making a moral judgement here, it is merely stating the reality of humanity’s condition, as an animal species living on earth: an animal which has gained an unnatural dominance over all other forms of life.
The Ecological Problem then, is a reality which has to be faced. But, it is a problem which, in the end, has no simple solution because there are just so many people wanting to survive; each of whom has an equal right to do so.
Nonetheless, it is a real problem, the practical solution of which demands an answer to three questions.
How can we minimise our use of resources, and maximise our returns from them?
How can we maintain a supply of resources which is sustainable; that is, at a level which does not damage the ecosystems which supply them?
Where damage has occured - that is, where the ecosystem is no longer able to repair itself - how can we repair it so that a supply of resources continues to flow?
In scientific terms, of course, we have the answers: there are solutions. But these answers are bound to entail restricting the supply and use of resources now in order to maintain a supply later. In this way, the Ecological Problem becomes an Economic and Political Problem which is not so easily solved. How can poor farmers support themselves without clearing the forest for farming? How can industry be persuaded to increase its costs by being more environmentally responsible? How can a government be persuaded to limit the production of certain resources and thus risk reducing its tax revenue? How can a nation be persuaded to use less resources such as water and petrol? How can people be persuaded that it is in the best interests of their country to have fewer children? How can people be persuaded to pay more taxes for environmental protection investments such as city sewage plants?
These are difficult questions with no easy answers. Difficult enough in relation to the Niger Delta on its own, but what about the global issues? For instance, as a result of the Greenhouse Effect, it seems that Global Warming is causing sea levels to rise, which will result in the coastal areas of Nigeria, including the Niger Delta, becoming inundated by the sea. It is a problem which can only be solved if all the countries of the world can come to an agreement. Is this in the realms of fantasy?
10.4 RESOURCE USE CONFLICTS The demand for resources beyond the ability of an ecosystem to supply them causes four resource conflicts.
Conflicts between present and future needs.
For instance, do we fish as much as our technology allows us to do now, or conserve breeding stocks for future supply?
Conflicts between the ways resources are used.
For instance, should the mangrove forests remain undisturbed to maintain the fish food chain, or should they be developed for rice production?
Conflicts about resource ownership.
For instance, does land and the minerals below it ultimately belong to the state or to the Local People; does this bit of forest belong to me or to the community; does this tree belong to me because it is on my land, or to you because your father planted it?
Conflicts between development methods.
For instance, should land be developed for agriculture as agro-industrial estates controlled by companies or as small farms controlled by Local People?
Rarely are these conflicts efficiently resolved and the most obvious manifestation of this lack of resolution is social discontent and even a breakdown of civil order. The recent problems in Burundi and Rwanda arise from resource conflicts in an area which has one of the highest human population densities in Africa. Civil disorder is often met with oppressive military backed governments which are careless of human rights and which get no nearer to finding a solution to the Ecological Problem.
More insidious than a breakdown in civil order is ecological degradation and breakdown, which causes a rapid decline in the yields of forest products, and in agricultural and fisheries production. These problems encourage people to leave the countryside to seek work in the towns, which in turn causes rapid urbanisation: another serious environmental problem threatening the viability of surrounding ecosystems. The problem of cites as they relate to the human condition is covered in the final chapter. Hence the Ecological Problem is not only a disjunction of ecosystems, but also includes the social problems that are the manifestation of the conflicts that arise from this dysfunction.
10.5 IS THERE AN EASY SOLUTION?
No, there is not, because while scientific solutions do exist the political and short-term economic barriers are huge.
Moreover, a solution to the Ecological Problem is made especially difficult because while some ecological problems are entirely local and can be solved locally, most involve much wider national or international interests and will have to be solved in a wider political arena.
For instance finding a solution to water pollution by in the Niger Delta must:
- involve upstream users such as the textile industry in Kaduna (the Kaduna river feeds into the Niger);
- conserving fish stocks in the Bight of Guinea must involve all the coastal West African nations;
- while dealing with global warming concerns every nation of earth.
Nonetheless, undoubtedly the first step towards addressing the Ecological Problem is to find resolutions to local resource use conflicts. However, a resource use conflict is not usually a simple dicotomy.
- For instance is a political decision is made to grow rice in the Brackish-water ecozone, at least four conflict issues will arise:
- in terms of other possible land uses such as forestry and fish farms;
- in terms of the potential methods of development such as agro-industrial estates or small farms;
- in terms of ecological considerations such as the effect of rice development on the area's function in maintaining estuarine and in-shore fishing; and
- in terms of existing land uses which may be immemorial (such as people's rights to collect periwinkles).
Therefore, the resolution of resources conflicts in the Niger Delta is bound to involve a decision which is based on a good knowledge of five factors.
- The ecological nature of the ecozone in which the resource conflict occurs, especially in terms of human ecosystems.
- Development Trends, in terms of population growth, the growth of towns, the oil industry and other industries, forestry, agriculture, and on-shore and in-shore fishing.
- Ecological needs, so that the viability of ecosystems is maintained.
- Human Rights needs: because Local People have a right to a healthy environment and to the maintenance of the local ecosystems of which they are a part.