Article Discussed: Storey, D., & Murray, W. E. (2001). Dilemmas of development in Oceania: the political economy of the Tongan agro‐export sector. Geographical Journal, 167(4), 291-304.
There has been an unquestioned neoliberal push for Pacific peoples to transition from traditional lifestyles towards modernity. Economic considerations appear to dominate development, with little regard of the social or cultural effects accompanying such structural changes. The article concerning opportunities afforded by the establishment of horticulture for export, by Storey and Murray (2001), is a salient censure of one-dimensional strategies. Pacific societies are imbued with strong hierarchical structures, and well-intentioned development can be manipulated by those positioned within upper levels to maintain or enhance their wealth. While the article is some decades old, it succinctly identifies core issues of development that are as pertinent today as then.
Along with maintaining traditional Pacifica customs, Tonga also possesses a political system that is unique in the Pacific; still holding a robust monarchical structure. At the date of the article, Tongan nobility kept a strong presence within parliament, while holding traditional hereditary stewardship rights over large estates. The roles are oppositional and have allowed the elite to carry out strategies that enhanced their position and wealth at the expense of squash growers. As a result of feudal practices, the potentiality of economic growth has not been realised. While it can be shown that export value has increased, consequent monetary returns have been inequitably shared by Tongan communities, with lower social strata being increasingly marginalised. The transition away from traditional subsistence crops has made communities more exposed to economic shock and less socially resilient. In this case, the outcome of development has been that national export earnings have been “more than offset by a rise in import levels, mounting dependency on foreign inputs and increased economic vulnerability” (Storey & Murray, 2001). Tongan experience highlights the need to prioritise social and cultural aspects of developmental projects in the Pacific and that economic considerations must augment rather than subjugate.