Unit I1 - Dealing with Developers


Unit I1


A developer can be anyone: an individual, a private company, a co-operative, a government department, etc., that wants to develop some land, industry, or a natural resource. There is nothing wrong with development as such. Development can create employment and help the national economy to grow. However, too often developers see only the advantages of their project without thinking about the disadvantages.

A correct assessment of a development project requires more than a study of the economic costs of the project to the developer, and of the benefits it is expected to provide. It should also involve an evaluation of the possible damage the project may do to the environment and people, and of the alternative possible uses of the resources, including the alternative of doing nothing at all.

It is often people like you who live in the area and who know the local environment and resources well, who will be the most sensitive to the good and bad effects of a development project on your environment. You must therefore learn how to deal with developers so that good projects can go ahead while serious environmental harm or social disruption from poorly-planned development projects can be avoided.


In industrialized countries, environmentalists have sometimes earned a bad reputation for their opposition to all development, and their use of confrontations and even violence to block projects. In rural areas of developing countries, wise development is necessary to meet people's needs and aspirations, so negotiations with developers will be more effective if carried out in a spirit of cooperation rather than confrontation.

It is in everyone's interest to develop with the greatest benefit and the least possible harm. However, the benefits and harm do not always come to the same people or places. It is often the role of the government to see that the welfare of the whole country is respected and that cost and benefits are shared so that no injustice is done. Assuming that a developer is negotiating in good faith, a full and frank consultation on all the issues will have the best chance of success in meeting these objectives.

Problems with developers

While cooperation and frank consultation are the ideal, there are unfortunately some developers who have no moral scruples. They will try everything to get approval for their projects, or to get around any constraints or controls placed upon them. The following are some examples of practices that have been used by developers in developing countries.

Politicians and other leaders have received expensive gifts and trips to foreign countries paid for by the developer. Under such circumstances, it is hard for them to make an objective decision about the project.

Developers hoping to purchase resource rights have arrived in villages with suitcases full of money to distribute to everyone in the hope of obtaining the necessary signatures. A pile of money can be very impressive for those who have none. However the total amount may be much less than the real value of the resource (otherwise the developer would not give away money like that). Once people have accepted a gift of money, they feel obligated to accept the requests of the developer.

Promises have been made to replace the resource taken or damaged, such as by replanting the forest, but this has often proven impractical in practice.

The loss of a renewable resource capable of producing indefinitely may be compensated by a one-time payment which is quickly used up (often on beer and whisky), leaving the local people poorer than they were before.

Similarly, a project like a mine may create jobs for a few years and then shut down, leaving the environment destroyed and making it even harder for local people to earn a living.

A development agreement may specify that profits from the project will be shared with the land-owners or the government. However, the developer can then arrange things so that the local project never makes a profit. The profit goes to another company (also owned by the developer) in some other country where the money does not have to be shared.

A developer may distribute beautiful brochures full of pictures showing how wonderful the development will be, but saying nothing about the damage it will cause. The developer may even try to hide the real nature of the project from the local people or even from the government. The harder it seems to be to get information on a project, the more suspicious you should be. Most people will not hide information unless they are afraid of your reaction.

Even detailed technical or scientific reports may be arranged to cover up the real damage from a project by quoting figures that may be correct but do not show the actual effects, or by making comparisons with other parts of the world where the pollution is even worse.

The above examples show the importance of not being taken in by appearances, and of being well informed about the kind of development and its possible effects.

Negotiating a development project

Negotiation is the process where the different parties concerned by a project exchange views and discuss their respective positions in the hope that they can come to an agreement. Each person or group involved in or affected by a development project has different interests that must somehow be fit together if the project is to succeed. To be a good negotiator, it helps to be able to understand the position of each party. The following are examples of the different possible interested parties and what they want to get out of the negotiations on the project:

The developer is putting money and experience into the project at some risk, and he wants to recover his investment plus a profit that would make it all worthwhile.

The development bank may be helping to finance the project, and wants security for its investment with the assurance that the capital and interest will be paid back on time.

An international aid agency may have supported the studies leading up to the project, or may be making a grant towards the cost of the project. It wants to receive some credit for the project's success.

The head of the government wants the national economy to grow, creating jobs, providing tax income, and making the voters happy so that he and his party will be re-elected.

The minister responsible for development wants a successful project so that he will be seen to have done his job well and will also be re-elected.

The minister responsible for the environment does not want the project to have bad environmental effects which might hurt his own chances for re-election.

The government environmental assessment officer is worried about the effects of the project, but does not have enough information to make an adequate recommendation.

The local government official is afraid that the benefits of the project will all go to the national government while he gets all the problems created by the project.

The village chief is afraid the project will bring social changes and cause the traditional system to break down.

The local land-owners want the money promised by the developers, but are afraid of losing their land and of the changes the project will bring.

The society for nature protection is against the project because it may threaten natural areas.

The newspaper journalist knows that controversy sells papers, and is ready to exaggerate anything he hears.

The village environmental specialist sees certain aspects of the project that will damage important village resources if the project is not modified.

The Regional Environment Programme is ready to send a consultant to assist with technical advice on environmental impacts.

Not all these parties may exist in any particular case, and there could well be others not mentioned here. The descriptions are stereotyped and oversimplified, but they illustrate the kinds of differences that are involved. Obviously not all these interested parties will take part in the formal negotiations, but they may well put pressure on or try to influence the parties directly involved.

Usually there are strong pressures in favour of development projects, and it is not always easy to stop them or change them even if they are potentially very damaging to the environment. Some developing countries have legislation or procedures for the evaluation or environmental assessment of development projects, and this can help to achieve a better result for all concerned. Otherwise you may need to use every possible channel of pressure (contacts with political leaders, articles in the press, actions by citizens' organizations, etc.) to get a proper consideration of environmental factors in the general interest.

Instructions for trainers in the use of this unit

Return to Rural Environmental Management Home Page

Last updated 2 July 2008