Tag Archives: Development

Climate resilience and adaptation: raffia production in Makira Natural Park, north-east Madagascar

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

Support for women’s associations in Madagascar to enhance raffia production is also helping the conservation of biodiversity in the Makira Natural Park.” (AllAfrica, Aug 18th 2015)

Local climatic changes, such as an increase in the frequency and/or severity of droughts, can have a significant impact on communities and businesses that rely on natural resource extraction. Building climate resilience is therefore vital to secure a sustainable income from these products. In parallel, these products must be sold for a fair price by means of establishing a solid value chain between the producers at one end and retailers at the other. Such businesses can also contribute tremendously to the economic empowerment of women in these communities, and safeguarding such provisioning ecosystem services can operate neatly alongside biodiversity conservation and the protection of other ecosystem services (e.g. flood prevention, carbon storage). The benefits therefore seem plentiful and ensuring the environmental and socio-economic sustainability of such schemes under future climate change should be a priority.

Raffia production around Makira Natural Park (NP), north-east Madagascar, provides a fine case study for demonstrating this interplay between climate resilience, economic empowerment, and biodiversity conservation, as reported earlier this week by AllAfrica. This area has an environment that allows for the production of high quality raffia products, which may be used in the fashion industry, for example, but has been affected by frequent droughts in recent years1. A current project by the International Trade Centre (ITC) (see their news article on the project) in collaboration with World Conservation Society (WCS) Madagascar is training several women’s associations (totalling 180 people) around Makira NP in raffia extraction, from the harvesting to the processing stage. For long-term sustainability, importantly, this includes training on planting techniques for new raffia trees in an effort to increase climate resilience and decrease losses. Training on contract negation is planned for next year. This is part of a broader ITC programme across Madagascar, which is supported by the government of Madagascar.

A use for raffia. High quality raffia, such as that produced in north-east Madagascar, is also frequently used in the fashion industry. Image from: Wikimedia Commons, by gripso_banana_prune (Antony Stanley). Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raffia_animals_created_by_artisans_in_Madagascar.jpg

A use for raffia. High quality raffia, such as that produced in north-east Madagascar, is also frequently used in the fashion industry. Image from: Wikimedia Commons, by gripso_banana_prune (Antony Stanley). Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raffia_animals_created_by_artisans_in_Madagascar.jpg

While still underway, this scheme seems to be going very well and it is hopefully progressing towards a situation where tangible, sustainable economies can operate for the people and empower women, whilst also contributing positively to the natural environment and the protection of many important species. This project is about adaptation by building climate resilience in situ to mitigate potential effects (e.g. increased frequency of droughts). However, this is not the only approach to climate adaptation, and more extreme approaches may be required when the environmental changes become severe.

A recent article by Bose (2015) in Area considers various approaches to climate adaptation, including strengthening resilience in situ, but also the idea of environmentally induced displacement (EID). This is where people are either completely relocated where there is a purported risk to their lives or to make space for climate adaptation infrastructure, or where people are prevented from accessing certain areas, which they may rely on for various resources, for connectivity, or cultural activities, in the hope that protecting such areas will produce a more resilient environment (these restricted areas may also be used for climate adaptation measures such as flood defence). The case study of Bangladesh, one of the countries presently most at risk from flooding and sea-level rise, is discussed by Bose, who considers the potential for the displacement of people not because of environmental transformations but because of climate adaptation schemes themselves, leading towards “the production of a new form of environmental refugee” (p. 6).

Here, we have therefore seen two very different approaches to potential climate change; building resilience in situ versus moving people from at-risk areas or areas that are required for adaptation infrastructure. Circumstances and the (potential) severity of the environmental changes will no doubt guide any such decisions, all of which will probably be highly idiosyncratic to the place in question. As a global community, we are already seeing the overwhelming need for climate adaptation solutions, from flood defences in London, UK, to managing increased drought frequency in north-west Madagascar, to the potential of moving people en masse when the environmental changes become too much to cope with. It strikes me that any solutions that can bring nature and people into accord will be the most sustainable and potentially highly beneficial culturally, economically, environmentally, and socially, to the people who live there.

60-world2 AllAfrica (2015) Madagascar: Empowering Malagasy Women Through Climate-Smart Raffia Production (online). Available at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201508180892.html

Bose, P. (2015). Vulnerabilities and displacements: adaptation and mitigation to climate change as a new development mantra. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12178

60-world2 ITC (2015). Empowering Malagasy women through climate-smart raffia production (online). Available at: http://www.intracen.org/news/Empowering-Malagasy-women-through-climate-smart-raffia-production/

1 It is impossible to know whether what is being seen in north-east Madagascar is the result of short-term fluctuations or whether more frequent droughts are going to be an ongoing issue. It seems sensible to plan for the worst, though.

Measuring sustainability across scales

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

Sustainability, meeting present demands without degrading environments in such a way that we jeopardise their ability to meet the needs of future generations, has been a topic of interest for a great many years as the world’s environments are converted and degraded like never before. Here, I briefly discuss an article in Area, on quantifying global sustainability, alongside a recent sustainability assessment of the world’s fifty ‘most prominent cities’.

The recently-published ARCADIS Sustainable Cities Index has attracted much attention in global and national media outlets (e.g. National Geographic, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Gulf Times, and the Australian and US media). In the list of fifty, European cities performed well (the top three being Frankfurt, London, and Copenhagen; Manchester and Birmingham were in the top 20), with the relatively new metropolises of Asia-Pacific (not including Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore, which did rather well), the Middle-East and Central and South America lagging far behind. The USA’s cities generally fell in the middle of the list. This index combined three sub-indices of ‘sustainability’: social (‘people’), environmental (‘planet’), and economic (‘profit’). Cities’ positions sometimes changed quite a lot between these sub-indices.

Alexandra Park, London Borough of Haringey. Source: unedited from flickr; author: Ewan Munro. Click on the photograph to see the original.

Alexandra Park, London Borough of Haringey. Source: unedited from flickr (original). Author credit: Ewan Munro.

Elsewhere, in Area, Phillips (2015) recently described a “quantitative approach to … global ecological sustainability”, identifying the importance of population density at this national scale. The ten least ‘ecologically sustainable’ countries in this study had very high population densities (these are: the UK, Italy, Belgium, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, India, Lebanon, Israel, Netherlands, and Singapore). Of these ten that are considered as ‘economically developed’ countries, the combination of high population density, high standard of living, and high GDP are thought to have caused negative environmental impacts that affect people in the present and will affect people into the future. The ‘economically developing’ countries in the list are highlighted as being so because of socio-economic (India) and environmental (Trinidad & Tobago) reasons, and a combination of environment and political instability (Lebanon and Israel).

We therefore see some cross-scale spatial mismatches between these independent studies, whereby countries with purportedly sustainable cities (top 20) have been ranked amongst the least sustainable countries (e.g. UK [London, Manchester, Birmingham], Belgium [Brussels], Netherlands [Amsterdam, Rotterdam], and Singapore). This highlights the importance of spatial scale in sustainability science, and translating this through to planning and management. Indeed, very different approaches will be required between city authorities and national governments to ensure sustainability.

Both of the focal publications in this blog post strive to advance our understanding of ‘sustainability’ by quantifying this concept and its many components, from environmental and ecological, to social and economic. Both studies are global in scope, but the approach, data, and scales of analysis differ, with one focussing on fifty cities and the other on countries. The results, in combination, demonstrate the complexities of sustainability science, especially those regarding geographic scale. They show that quantifying and understanding sustainability across all spatial scales (towns > cities > landscapes > regions > countries > globally) is vital for future planning, targeting of resources, and understanding what we need to do not only for the people of today, but also for the people of the near and distant future.

– – – – –


books_icon Phillips, J. (2015). A quantitative approach to determine and evaluate the indicated level and nature of global ecological sustainability. Area, Early View. DOI: 10.1111/area.12174.

60-world2 ARCADIS (2015). Sustainability Cities Index. Available at: http://www.sustainablecitiesindex.com/.

Spatial and Local Factors in Understanding Financial Crises

By Benjamin Sacks

Picturesque Pforzheim, Germany belies local and regional financial woes. (c) 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Picturesque Pforzheim, Germany belies local and regional financial woes. (Image credit: Parlacre (CC 0)

Geography, economics, and finance are intimately linked disciplines, a relationship that is sometimes misunderstood or ignored entirely by contemporary media. Port access, weather, spatial and network relations between various tiers of government, private sector businesses, and third-party (e.g. academic) institutions, even the positioning of financial headquarters – as recent threats from Standard Life and Lloyds to relocate from Edinburgh to London in the event of Scottish independence demonstrate – can all drastically affect financial markets, long-term monetary stability, and the ability of particular precincts or sectors to recover from such recessions as the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.

In the most recent suite of articles in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Reijer P Hendrikse (University of Amsterdam) and James D Sidaway (National University of Singapore) undertook a focused study of Pforzheim, a German city of some 120,000 people in Baden-Württemberg, near the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. In ‘Financial wizardry and the Golden City’, Hendrikse and Sidaway critiqued the media’s focus on national-level bailouts, arguing that provincial- and city-level bailouts and financial negotiations were just as, if not more important to comprehending both the scale of the 2008-2010 crisis as well as possible solutions. Further, they recalled and adopted David Harvey’s 2011 argument criticising French and German media pundits and financial analysts alike who saw ‘the crisis in cultural or even nationalist terms’; as somehow a ‘distinctive Anglo-Saxon disease’ based in London and New York City.

The authors chose to examine Germany, in part, because of that country’s apparent economic stability in the face of difficult industrial and economic issues in neighbouring Eurozone states. Berlin famously directed the bailout of several EU member states: Greece, Portugal, and Spain. But a closer examination revealed a significantly more complex and debt-ridden landscape. Various German cities were ‘like Greek islands within Germany’, Die Tageszeitung reported, ‘having slowly but surely drowned in their debts over recent years’ (p. 195). Pforzheim, following a trend blazoned by other cities in the Rhine heartland, bought a large series of Deutsche Bank interest-rate swaps. This speculative maneuvre, popular in the world of hedge funds and day-trading currency exchanges, permits institutions (e.g. a city) to obtain a more cost-efficient fixed-rate interest arrangement enjoyed by another corporation. Ideally, both parties benefit from reduced interest-rate-associated costs. However, the risks are highly variable, and dependent on the financial stability of both parties. As A R Sorkin described, and Hendrikse and Sidaway reiterated, German cities were ‘gambling that [their] costs would be would be lower and taking on the risk that they could be many times higher’ (p. 196).

Theoretically, Pforzheim should have been a model city. After enduring a horrific bombing campaign near the end of the Second World War, Pforzheim’s economic base recovered, thanks to longstanding jewelry and watchmaking industries in the city. But Pforzheim’s geographical location limited its growth. The city shares Baden-Württemberg with Stuttgart, Heidelberg, and Mannheim, each major cities with significant economic and political clout. These cities traditionally attracted major corporations away from such smaller, more specialised urban centres as Pforzheim. Although the financial stresses of the late-2000s put pressure on all German cities, smaller, less economically vibrant communities suffered significantly worse. A Pforzheim administrator summarised the city’s awkward geostrategic situation: ‘We are a jewelry- and watchmaking city that has brought a relatively mono-structured economy’, more sensitive to economic shifts than larger, more diverse cities as Frankfurt-am-Main and Cologne (pp. 198-99). In a dangerous game of financial roulette, Pforzheim and other small German cities engaged in increasingly complicated and risky collaborations with German and EU financial institutions – unaware of these banks’ own instabilities. Pforzheim’s recession, the authors concluded, was demonstrative of how integrated German and continental European financial markets are to Anglo-Saxon banking paradigms, even as they continue to assert a supposedly distinct, fiscally conservative methodology and culture.

60-world2Robert Peston, ‘EU Law may force RBS and Lloyds to become English‘, BBC News, 5 March 2014.

60-world2Robert Peston, ‘Is Standard Life alone?‘, BBC News, 27 February 2014.


Reijer P Hendrikse and James D Sidaway, ‘Financial wizardry and the Golden City: tracking the financial crisis through Pforzheim, Germany‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (2014): 195-208.


David Harvey, ‘Roepke lecture in economic geography – crises, geographical disruptions and the uneven development of political responses’, Economic Geography 87 (2011): 1-22.

books_iconA R Sorkin, ‘Towns in Europe learn about swaps the hard way’, The New York Times 16 April 2010.

Sustainable Urbanism: Transport Hubs and City Exchanges

by Fiona Ferbrache

Rotterdam's Centraal Station as a gateway to the city

Rotterdam’s Centraal Station as a gateway to the city

Travel by train through Reading or Northampton and you will be able to observe the construction works of the station redevelopment programmes currently being carried out in those urban areas. According to last week’s Economist these are two of Network Rail’s 11 stations being redeveloped.

This development is not just about improving stations as transportation nodes, it is also about enhancing the city and making stations desirable destinations in their own right as ‘exchange spaces’ or ‘meeting places’ for city residents, workers and visitors.

“Without a bigger and better station, Northampton’s vital economic growth will be constrained” announces the Northampton Station website. “Cities now measure their appeal by their stations” claims the Economist, and if we consider St Pancras International, Rotterdam station in the Netherlands, or Schiphol Airportcity in Amsterdam, we can begin to understand how this might work, for in these locations one is encouraged to invest time and money, and to stay a while.

Developments of this type can complement sustainable urbanism, a theme taken up by Rapoport in Area.  Her 2014 paper explores the actors who guide sustainable urban projects – the masterplanners – of large-scale programmes that create sustainable urban areas or ‘eco-cities’ from scratch. Rapoport identifies an elite group of international architecture, engineering and planning firms known as the global intelligence corps (GIC), and analyses their role in shaping an international model of sustainable urbanism.  She unearths a rather standardised set of ideas for enhancing urban development that, she argues, creates a discourse defining what is unsustainable about current urbanisation patterns, and what solutions can and should be used in response (e.g. bus rapid transit, bicycle lanes, sustainable urban drainage systems, and renewable energy).

While sustainable urban projects such as Vauban in Freiburg, or the Bogotá and Curitibas bus rapid transit systems provide examples that GIC rate as ‘good practice’, Reading and Northampton might soon provide a template for visionary urban regeneration where the station is developed as a more sustainable and intricate part of contemporary urban living in Britain.

books_icon  Rapoport, E. 2014 Globalising sustainable urbanism: the role of international masterplanners. Area. DOI: 10.1111/area.12079

60-world2 Urban Planning: Rail ambition. The Economist (March 1st)

60-world2  Northampton Station redevelopment

Shock of the Global: Post-War Britain and Globalisation

A 'make do and mend' poster, c.1942.

A ‘make do and mend’ poster, c.1942.

by Benjamin Sacks

The Second World War permanently altered Britain’s relationship with the rest of the globe. Before 1939 the empire, particularly India and the settler colonies, dominated Britons’ conceptions of international affairs. But nearly six years of global conflict incontrovertibly changed this mindset. Isolated from its dominions by Axis submarines, ‘austerity’ Britain quickly adopted severe rationing and a ‘make do and mend’ approach. Gardening, raising small animals, and comprehensive recycling and reusing of countless household items became part-and-parcel of daily life. The British government and various civil organisations promoted the ‘local’, not the ‘global’ (to borrow sociologists George Ritzer’s and Roland Robinson’s terminology), prioritising national entrepreneurship and ingenuity over importing and exporting of goods.

This radically – and painfully – changed after 1945. India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947 catalyzed the empire’s irreversible (but relatively ordered) disintegration. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as fierce economic competitors, with considerably greater physical resource assets. At home, voters ousted Winston Churchill in favour of Labour Party leader Clement Atlee, who promised to refocus government policies on domestic social welfare. Internationally, Britain was forced to contend with a radically-changing marketplace. By the 1950s, it was increasingly evident that it could no longer solely rely on domestic production and inter-Commonwealth trade to both satisfy consumer demand and maintain the state’s strong international profile.

In ‘Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturing’, Thomas Birtchnell (University of Wollongong) skillfully demonstrates how – in short order – the Board of Trade, private businesses, and public organisations sought to re-educate consumers and producers alike of the global marketplace. They widely circulated such advertisements as ‘how can cycles sent to Africa fetch us cotton from U.S.A.?’ (1947) (p. 437). Officials popularised a “container-ship culture” in schools, trade and commercial magazines, and businesses in an effort to ramp up exports and imports of both raw materials and finished goods. Birtchnell recalled how social economist Karl Polanyi’s 1944 study, The Great Transformation, was trumpeted to promote Britain’s long history of international trade alongside other ‘economic propaganda’ campaigns (pp. 437-438).

To accomplish this goal, the Board of Trade and its allies tapped into a culture of consumerism and luxury that had persisted despite the war’s enormous pressures. At partial odds with Guy de la Bédoyère’s 2005 study The Home Front, Birtchnell proposes that Britons were at first exorted to produce and export advanced luxury items (e.g. radios, clothing, automobiles) in exchange for essentials. But this found little favour with British audiences, who had quietly clamoured for higher-end goods during the war, and now demanded their availability in the post-war environment. From 1947 the language changed: the Board of Trade instead promoted the export of British goods in exchange for foreign luxuries – silks, perfumes, electronics, foodstuffs. Such historians as Llewellyn Woodward promoted this programme via their writings; in 1947 he pronounced that ‘An English housewife finds it odd that English china to match a tea-set shattered in the Blitz can be bought in New York but is not on sale in London’ (p. 439). Birtchnell’s study is a fascinating contribution to our knowledge of Britain’s immediate post-war recovery, and hints as well at how Britain’s manufacturing base gradually switched from mass production to luxury, bespoke goods.

books_icon Thomas Birtchnell 2013 Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturingArea 45.4: 436-42.

Also see:

books_icon George Ritzer 2004 The Globalization of Nothing (Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Pine Forge Press).

books_icon Llewellyn Woodward 1947 Middle EnglandForeign Affairs 25.3, 378-87.



No change from climate change: island vulnerability

Eroding shoreline in Samoa, the Pacific (photograph: Ilan Kelman)

Eroding shoreline in Samoa, the Pacific (photograph: Ilan Kelman)

by Ilan Kelman

Climate change is often touted as humanity’s biggest development challenge. Low-lying, tropical islands are particularly highlighted as potentially experiencing future devastation. How accurate is this rhetoric?

No doubt exists that many islanders are suffering under climate change. Residents of the Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea have been forced to move as sea-level rise encroaches on their villages.

Many other island locations are also experiencing climate change impacts, but in tandem with other development challenges which have existed for decades. Also in the Pacific, Kiribati is severely threatened by sea-level rise. But the people there have long been trying to solve other devastating problems including urban planning, land use, and water resources.

Focusing on climate change problems has the unfortunate consequence of distracting from other development challenges. In particular, the physical hazard of climate change to islands and islanders is often emphasised, tending to promote technocratic responses for only climate change. Integrated approaches focusing on island peoples, communities, and livelihoods are frequently sidelined.

The fundamental question is why inequality and power relations have left many island communities with few options for responding to climate change. That is the same as the long-standing questions about why inequality and power relations have left many island communities unable to tackle the root causes of their multiple vulnerabilities.

The difficulty is not so much addressing the hazard of climate change per se. Instead, it is understanding why islanders often continue to be denied the resources and options to address climate change themselves–just as with the other development challenges that have pervaded for decades.

In that regard, climate change brings little to the islands that is new.

The author: Dr. Ilan Kelman is Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO).

books_icon Kelman I 2013 No change from climate change: vulnerability and small island developing states The Geographical Journal DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12019

60-world2Secretariat of the Pacific Community 2013 Mangroves in the Marshall Islands to protect local community (Press release) Scoop 24 January

Geography, Politics, and Finance

Capitol-Senateby Benjamin Sacks

As this article is being authored, United States senators are racing against a Thursday, 17 October deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling. If the current debt ceiling of £10.5 trillion (or $16.7 trillion) is not raised within the next twenty-four hours, the United States risks defaulting on its domestic and international loan obligations. The Guardian understandably described the mood of major financial markets as ‘queasy’. An announcement by Fitch, a major credit rating agency, that it would consider downgrading the United States’ current ‘AAA’ credit rating if Washington could not agree to a debt ceiling raise, only added to global concerns. The New York Times reported that although Democrat and Republican senators were collaborating to push through a plan, some hard-line conservatives, known as ‘tea-partiers’, continued to rankle bipartisan efforts.

This recent crisis has awoken many ordinary Americans to the real, global impact of US economic decisions. USA Today cited a Pew Research Center poll suggesting that a slim majority of Americans now favor raising the debt limit before continuing Congressional negotiations. Calls from Western Europe, China and Japan, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been widely publicised in US media outlets.

What is less well understood is the international utilisation of the United States dollar as foreign currency. Currently, a number of Latin American and Caribbean states use the US dollar as their official currency; other countries in the Americas and elsewhere peg their local currency to the US dollar, relying on American monetary decisions to determine their currency valuation and purchasing power. According to the United States Federal Reserve’s own estimates, more than half of all other countries use the US dollar in their official foreign exchange reserves. In sum, decisions taken by the US government concerning American currency, valuation, and debt repayment directly affect the currency situations of dozens of other governments, even before import/export and banking relationships are considered.

National debt defaulting is, unfortunately, an increasingly well-worn path in the global economy. In the most recent issue of The Geographical Journal, Ed Brown, Jonathon Cloke (Loughborough University), Francisco Castañeda (Universidad de Santiago de Chile), and Peter Taylor (Northumbria University) recounted the Latin American financial crisis which plagued Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil throughout much of the 2000s. Their research closely examined the world of the ‘unbanked’ – individuals who either cannot or do not engage in ‘traditional’ banking practices (e.g., withdrawing major loans from banks), but instead develop their businesses via micro-finance initiatives. This process is broadly described as ‘bancarización’. Brown et al. contend that geographers still ignore geo-economic studies outside such major financial centres as London, New York, and Tokyo. They add,

Ironically, the (so far) more positive economic experience of Latin American economies during the current global economic crisis may have important lessons for our longer-term understanding of the geography of global financial markets.

Washington, London, and Brussels may indeed have something to learn from Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Montevideo. In part, this is because Latin American governments have (with varying degrees of success) shouldered the responsibility of providing the impoverished with socioeconomic opportunities. Micro-finance initiatives, localised banking infrastructures, and small business development aid has proven remarkably useful in both facilitating entrepreneurship amongst constituencies historically isolated from mainstream business opportunities, and in promoting new money-making endeavours for the middle classes.

 ‘US debt ceiling: Senate rushes to draft fiscal plan‘, BBC News, 16 October 2013.

60-world2 ‘US pushed to brink of default as hopes hang on bipartisan Senate deal – live‘, The Guardian, 16 October 2013.

60-world2 ‘Senators Press Deal to End Debt Impasse‘, The New York Times, 16 October 2013.

60-world2 ‘Shutdown, Day 16: Can nation avert default?‘ USA Today, 16 October 2013.

books_icon ‘The Federal Reserve in the International Sphere‘, The Implementation of Monetary Policy (Washington, DC: Federal Reserve Publications, 2013), accessed 16 October 2013.

books_icon Brown B, Castañeda F, Clarke J, and Taylor P 2013, ‘Towards financial geographies of the unbanked: international financial markets, ‘bancarización’ and access to financial services in Latin America‘, The Geographical Journal 179.3, 198-210.