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79th Annual Summer Conference, August 5–8, 2010

Keynote Address by Doug Saunders

DOUG SAUNDERS, Chief, European Bureau, The Globe and Mail

Moderator: DAVID McGOWN, Conference Chair, CIPA

Summary by Tom Rylett, CIPA Youth Scholarship Recipient

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Doug Saunders covered his experience documenting the changing nature of rural subsistence farming villages in India, China and Bangladesh. He spent 5 years looking at these villages and the transitional urban neighborhoods on the edge of major cities in the developing world where more and more rural migrants move each day.

He believes that these centers and this shift from rural to urban will be the key drivers of the coming century’s political, economic and social change. These areas were untouched by the financial crisis, which Mr. Saunders said had little effect on the urban and industrial revolutions of these countries.

With this crisis, says Mr. Saunders, there comes a change in the world, and we are perhaps seeing the beginning of the end of the post-war dominance of the U.S. on world stability, of relative stability provided by oil, and most significantly, the end of South East Asia being solely a global manufacturer and exporter; this may be the beginning of true globalization.

The driving force of population growth will peak over the next 50 years with a total population of 9–12 billion. This leveling off and eventual contraction of humanity will comes at the same time as the end of the major human migration of the past 10,000 years. For the first time all of the world will have shifted from subsistence rural to primarily urban worldwide, a transition that will be complete by the end of the century.

Mr. Saunders said he saw this shift happening in his research and that a major factor in the rural communities he visited was their focus towards cities. With the advent of cell-phones under $10, connectivity into the cities and the wider world is possible for everyone, even those who live under a dollar a day. It is these global connections that are driving change. In India, rural villagers are able to now know that life in the slums of Mumbai and New Deli is better than subsistence farming and everyone who can migrates there. The rest are left to farm increasingly smaller plots of land with each generation, with the spectre of insurmountable debt an ever-present reality. In China, a whole generation is being raised by grandparents because the parents have left the farms to labour in the factories. In Bangladesh, remittances from immigrant workers in the western world allow for huge estates to be built to provide jobs and stability to farmers, allowing for development, and bringing inflation. The subsistence farmers in these regions face major issues of food supply, large population growth, premature death, the continued oppression of women and girls and need for ecological stability. It is changes to these pressures that will shape the next century.

How exactly these changes will take place is unknown, but it will be major. The French revolution was spurred by similar rural to urban shifts and was extremely violent; however, a stable transition is possible as well. This is linked to the Western world as the business provided to the developing countries and the money wired home by immigrants are helping to drive this change. Depending on the future, 2008 may be the final crisis of a growing world with the next watershed moment being driven by human movement, stabilizing and contracting population. This could be, as Mr. Saunders says, “…our salvation or the next great catastrophe.”