Since Paul Collier began to work on the economic correlates of conflict a lot of attention has been focused on extractive industries. A fair amount of attention has been focused on mining and its relationship to violent conflict. Conflict diamonds, conflict focusing on the mining and trade in minerals such as tantalum in the DRC, and the impact of large mining projects such as the Panguna mine in Bougainville. I think there’s a good case to be made that mining done irresponsibly or badly may end up generating some pretty negative outcomes.
What does not get as much attention, however, is the broader question of conflict and working lands. What are working lands? Quite simply land which is used to generate a livelihood is working land. Farms, orchards, pasture, and yes mines, these are all working lands. Working lands conflict includes any social or violent conflict that involves working lands. Conflicts can focus on land tenure, land use, and environmental concerns to name the core issues. Increasingly, working lands conflict is becoming an area of concern.
Economic growth fuels working lands conflicts. As investors, from near and afar, seek to utilize the earth’s resources they come into conflict with the local populations. Those who wish to change the way land is used find themselves clashing with local people. Extensive oil palm plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Columbia displace local populations, change (often for the negative) food production, and create disputes over land title. In fact, it’s important to keep in mind that agriculture has a more extensive impact on land than mining and manufacturing.
In my previous post I quoted Paul Gilding, “the earth is full”. A full earth will generate conflict as people vie to use resources. It will become increasingly clear that we need peace workers to help pave the way forward, preventing the outbreak of violent conflict, and effectively managing and transforming conflict into the future. The focus has to be broader than extractive industries.