Remembering Anil Agarwal — Forget Malthus: upside of population growth

News: Views of Anil Aggarwal, Down To Earth founder editor, on population density and community resource management.

As per him, it’s not always necessary to mock an increasing population. It can be seen as an opportunity for moving towards real solutions, including an end to excessive population growth.

What are the conditions in which natural resource management by villagers is most likely to succeed?

a) Where common resources are substantial and, therefore, the benefits of ecological regeneration can be substantial as compared to existing needs;

b) Where commons can regenerate rapidly; and

c) Where communities are more homogeneous and not highly stratified.

How the increase in population density can impact common resources?

Humid plains and irrigated arid and semi-arid plains: Most of the land tends to be privatised. In such areas, the land is taken over by the rich and powerful, and settlements tend to be larger, and relatively inequitous.

Increasing population density in such areas will lead to a steady disappearance of common resources, including wetlands, which will be brought under agriculture. The poor will depend heavily on the rich for their survival, and their desperate social and economic conditions can force them to suffer considerable violence and oppression.

Hill and mountain regions, and unirrigated arid and semi-arid areas: These are the areas with substantial common resources. In such areas the settlements tend to be small and less stratified. Moreover, these regions are also more ecologically fragile and relatively poverty-stricken.

In these areas natural resources are relatively less privatised, and increasing population density can lead to overuse of common resources, especially if community rights are not properly defined.

How granting definitive legal rights over areas help in community management of natural resources?

With definitive rights over a certain area, each community will take care of its own commons. It will, first, keep people of other settlements out of its own commons, and then, because of internal needs, it will begin to set appropriate rules for caring for and sharing those commons.

This can also become an important way of making people accept the fact that population growth cannot be unlimited. As long as there are open, free-access commons (that is, government land), people will prefer big families to exploit these resources.

Community-managed commons will push people towards better management and increased productivity on a sustained basis.

Of course, if population growth increases without any check and local biomass demand goes beyond the capacity of the environment to meet it, community management systems will again begin to break down.

Source: This post is based on the article “Remembering Anil Agarwal — Forget Malthus: upside of population growth” published in Down to Earth on 2nd Jan 2022.

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