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The everyday politics of implementing IOWM

Posted on: January 24th, 2012 by and

“The people who live here in Diadema, they focus on what is work for them: working in industry or commerce … Diadema is a town where people have their heads in [the] urban … people do not give the minimum importance to the compost, the same way as it was with the community vegetable gardens … It is the product of the city”
(Representatives from Abastecimento Publico, as quoted in Yates & Gutberlet, 2010)

In the previous two blogs we have explored the policy context surrounding Integrated Organic Waste Management in Diadema. Given this context, this post will help to explain why initiatives such as IOWM often struggle, despite being environmentally, socially, and politically desirable.

One such issue exists within the community members in Diadema. Interviews conducted with municipal representatives viewed waste management as an environmental policy and urban agriculture and food security as a social policy. While this gap exists, there was a degree of recognitions for the need for progressive coalitions between social and environmental policy makers, such as the Fome Zero (Zero Huner) programme.  However, the lack of “horizontal cooperation within government” (Yates  & Gutberlet, 2010) often results in policy makers stating that certain issues are “not of their concern”, which presents a barrier to progressive policy-making.

Too often as well, municipal representatives will claim ownership of a particular project for political gain. This act, while seeming to engage municipal government with local project, actually contributes to perpetuate the uneven socio-political dynamics between the powerful actor, and the marginalized actor.

Another issue with initiatives such as IOWM is accorduing to municipal representatives, ‘the people often don’t have the culture’, or in other words, do not feel a sense of connection or importance with their work. As reflected by representatives from Abastecimento Publico, in the context of local food production, a culture of agricultural production and composting does not exist” in Diadema (Yates & Gutberlet, 2010).  The perspectives of these municipal representatives further reflect the political problem displacement which exists in local government, stating an inability or reluctance amongst the local population as a barrier to effective waste management, food security, or other community development projects.  In actuality, many residents have voiced pro-environmental values, and have voiced opinions of optimism in relation to selective waste-collection and the notion of IOWM.

While the residents clearly portray pro-environmental values, there are still many who do not help to provide organic waste to recyclers. Similarly, community gardeners were frustrated by a ‘lack of interest of many that don’t want to work’. These discrepancies stem from differing values on urban agriculture and selective waste collection. For many residents, agriculture is perceived as ‘the labour of the countryside’.

To reverse this conception, municipal decision makers are encouraging community gardeners in Diadema to organise themselves into cooperatives to facilitate collective bargaining and the commercialisation of their products. Still, there exists a lack of land-tenure agreements which can have adverse affects on community gardeners, hinting at the need for a policy change which secures land tenure agreements for groups that carry out productive activities, and are committed to urban agriculture.

While power-relations between civil and political society remain unequal, while a lack of institutional and policy support exists, and while environmental education to stimulate social engagement remains at a minimum, urban agriculture and IOWM will remain on the fringes of the political, social and economic realms.

*This blog is based on:

Yates, J. & Gutberlet, J. (2010). Enhancing Livelihoods and the Urban Environment: The Local Political Framework for Integrated Organic Waste Management in Diadema, Brazil. Journal of Development Studies 47(4), 1-18.

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