Ravanera: Cooperativism means sustainable development

Kims Dream

IT HAS been the observation that in many ways, we already live in a world of plenty. Indeed, economic growth has produced incredible wealth and most part of the world have escaped from extreme economic hardship.

It is so puzzling to know that despite such observation, some 821 million people in the world, mostly in Asia, are hungry and that 2.5 billion people are still suffering inside the vicious cycle of poverty. Why? So evident are the glaring dysfunctions of the contemporaneous development model where only one per cent of the world's population has benefitted, foremost are the global corporations that are in control of the economy. Everywhere -- inequality, decline in social justice, crisis in democracy, ecological turbulence due to climate change, financial and economic instability and lately, violent extremism.

In the Philippines, it is time to reflect on the many faces of development as it seems the word development has become a much-abused term and it is imperative to define what it is not. Let us go back in history to have a clear insight on what development is not.

The IMF and World Bank spoke of development before, toppling down the forest to give way to Chico River Dam in the Mountain Province despite the serious resistance from the Ifugaos led by Macliing Dulag which cost him his life. It was then the time of the Marcos dictatorship when projects were just rammed down the throats of the populace and no amount of protest could stop such outpourings what had been described then as "development aggressions."

That name was again invoked in putting-up the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant that cost the country more than two and half billion dollars, when the price should only be a billion or so. For interest alone, the Philippine government is paying an amount yearly bigger than the annual budget of the health department for a mega project that has not at all produced even a single watt of electricity as it was established in an earthquake-fault area.

It was the height of the travesty, a Trojan horse that has suck the nation dry of its economic blood burying us in heavy foreign debt that even the newborn must pay for something that has not at all benefitted the country. But we need not look far to see how the world is mangled beyond recognition.

The loggers have decimated our forests, industries have treated the bays as their waste pits, costly agricultural technologies tied up to use of heavy chemicals promoted, mangroves destroyed to give way to structures-all done in the name of development.

To understand the word in whose name and for whose cause we live to make life better for our people, let us define then what it is not.

It is not providing for necessities such as food, shelter, or clothing-even those in prison have those. It is not the increases in Gross National Products as such may have made a few elite richer at the expense of many wallowing in dire poverty. It is not the present paradigm anchored on growth-at-all cost strategies while degrading our ecological base and consigning our people to the slum areas, dependent on digging garbage for leftovers.

If that is so, then, development can just be likened to the workings of an auto-immune disease syndrome (Aids), where no less than the body's defense mechanism is attacking the vital organs. We cannot destroy the very means to life, our ecological wealth, and our ability to produce wealth which our human capital who have become "servants of the world" to have money.

In essence, what cooperatives advancing is a kind development that is holistic, pro-people, community-based and with popular participation. It is an approach that puts a man at the center and in the mainstream of processes. These are well pronounced in the principles that we live by. We in the cooperative movement adhere to the United Nation's definition as the full development of human potentials, the expansion of choices and opportunities.

For development to be so, it must pass the three-way test: First, it is ecologically sustainable, meaning, it does not harm the environment but instead, nurtures it; second, does it benefit people, meaning, responsive to their needs; and third, does it have people's participation. Unless all the three criteria are satisfied, no development can take place, only maldevelopment.

Mahatma Gandhi had put it more succinctly when he said, "If man has to be saved from doom, development must be in harmony with nature and not at its expense."

A Lumad leader was even more precise when said. "Only when you have cut the last tree, only when you have caught the last fish, only when you have dried the last river, only then will you realize that you cannot eat your money."

As defined, sustainable development has three major aspects: economic development, broad-based social inclusion, and environmental sustainability, all supported by good governance. That definition is the essence of cooperativism which is members-owned which means prosperity for all or no one shall be left behind; it is value-based and principle driven which is very important in a world that has been captured by so much consumerism and materialism where there is high veneration of the profit motive and denigration of values; and it is sustainable which means that development must not sacrifice mother earth and the people to the altar of greed and profit. Cooperativism focuses on development of full potentials.

Indeed, a strong army can conquer a kingdom but the strongest army in the world cannot stop an idea whose time has come. Cooperativism time has come in a world facing so much inequality and ecological and social turbulence.


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