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Environnement et sociétés rurales en mutation

Michel Picouet
Mongi Sghaier
Didier Genin
et al.


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1Interactions between human societies and the environment form a true challenge that has been the subject of much public debate. They have been addressed extensively over the past twenty years at international conferences (Rio, Kyoto, Johannesburg, etc.) but with all the ambiguity and all the national economic and political stakes that emerge there. Finally, international news coverage shows that the lines of action pursued are little followed and sometimes frankly condemned by some of the most powerful countries.

2In this highly political context, scientists observe a continued gap between their analyses and the responses of public policies and see the difficulties in establishing convergence responding to the needs of populations and appropriate environmental management. Herein lies all the difficulty of sustainable development. This is the spirit in which stress is laid throughout the book on the renewal of scientific problematics and the importance of studies at the local level. This is where the strategies of societies and the responses they make to the multiple constraints experienced come face to face. A great variety of demo-environmental situations is hence observed even within the same Mediterranean bioclimatic zone.

3In fact, history has forged the spirit and practices of societies. The regions in the Mediterranean area were modelled by thousands of years of nomadic pastoralism whereas recent exploitation by colonisation still characterises the fourth region of Chile. The common feature is doubtless the recent growth of human populations and their activities. The nature of the latter and the social relationships that govern them are determinant for the specific characters observed. It is noted however that rural households are increasingly dependent on the non-agricultural labour market. Pluriactivity and the income that this brings are central to change in family farms. However, development policies take little note of changes in the perception of the local area by rural populations and of the fact that traditional ’Mother earth’ is no longer the sole supplier of resources and income.

4This leads to the questions of rural development that form the background to most studies and that are discussed at length in the third part of the book. The main problem here is that of the change of scale.

5Switching from the local to the global to identify development problems and then going back from global to local to implement development actions while taking into account the interactions between the different decision centres and different regional features is certainly the main difficulty and forms a stumbling block for the development of public policies. The latter are slow to incorporate the work of scientists as their contribution is not necessarily directly operational or easy to decipher and above all because politicians and public decision makers operate through global plans, through laws and regulations that do not always match and apply locally. Finally and above all, it seems that although local societies possess rich knowledge and remarkable capacity for adaptation and innovation and have demonstrated this for thousands of years, these features are not sufficiently known and recognised, especially in decision processes concerning the use of resources, management of the environment and rural development.

6These difficulties are not insuperable. There is a tendency in many countries for political will to reconsider overall strategies by promoting territorial actions taking into account local societies, regional features and the multifunctional character of farming and rural areas. This change in public policies is far from widespread but it forms the beginning of closer attention to the issues of rural innovation that are emerging from the work of scientists and that are discussed here.

© IRD Éditions, 2004

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