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Discussing Sustainable Alternatives

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Maintaining and developing a successful economy has been a challenge in some parts of the world. War, disease and bad government often come between business and success.

Zimbabwe trade union representative Thandine Nkomu was first to speak at the G6B sustainable economic alternatives panel on Sat., June 22, addressing trade in Africa.

"History tells us if we pour money on governments in Africa, it never reaches the people," she said. "But citizens still service the national debts."

According to Nkomu, improvements in local infrastructure and capital to maintain the health of income-generating workers would be more beneficial than international aid or trade.

"There should be recognition that with good policy and investment, it is possible to create participatory communities that are successful," she said.

Nkomu stated citizens and governments often view issues such as health care, commerce, and water and food security differently.

Food security was a concern for civil engineer Sareth Fernando. As the Co-Secretary of the Sri Lankan Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform, Fernando seeks to restore self-sufficiency and sustainability to farmers.

"When we talk of sustainability, what do we mean?" asked Fernando. "To sustain a system, a way of thinking, a way of behavior?

Subsistence farming has a 2,500 year history in Sri Lanka, and rice-farming only recently became cost-prohibitive for most farmers due to fertilizer and supply costs.

"Are we looking for sustainability in such a totally distorted system? Or should we look for something completely different?" he asked. "We believe that the solution is to rebuild the regenerative capacity of the nation."

Fernando promotes direct aid to help farmers and disagrees with trickle-down growth where money and initiative come from governments.

"Is growth and development essential to the betterment of the world or of mankind? Certainly, infinite growth doesn't do anything to reduce poverty," he said.

Both poverty and inadequate government response may be helped with micro-financing, according to Opportunity International Canada Executive Director Wayne Johnson.

OIC provides money and training in basic business and banking practices to local economic collectives and entrepreneurs.

"We have to deal with poverty and economic issues from the bottom up," said Johnson. "If we don't address the root cause, we miss the boat."

Johnson argues that for each person receiving a loan, twenty members of the community are directly affected by becoming employees or customers, while up to 100 others see indirect benefits. New local financial collectives also provide micro-financing alternatives to high-interest loans from loan sharks.

"Less than ten per cent of the world has access to a bank account," he said. "Because the poor don't have deeds to their property, they don't have the ability to build savings for education or access to loans to expand businesses."

Social pressures ensure a high rate of loan repayment-98 per cent in OIC's case-ensuring money remains available for re-lending within the community, stated Johnson.

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