It's time for food sovereignty!

25 January 2011

The Journal of Peasants Studies has made available a selection of research papers to download free: covering food sovereignty, the politics of land, agrofuels and justice movements.

TNI Fellow Jun Borras is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Peasant Studies. 

Click the links to download the articles as .pdfs from the publisher's website.

1. Peasants’ rights and the UN system: quixotic struggle? Or emancipatory idea whose time has come?
Marc Edelman and Carwil James (2011) Journal of Peasant Studies, 38 (1)

Abstract: The transnational agrarian social movement Vía Campesina is campaigning to have the United Nations negotiate and implement a Declaration, and eventually an International Convention, on Peasants' Rights. This article analyzes the origins and demands of the campaign and the place of the claimed rights in international law. Peasant organizations hope to follow in the footsteps of indigenous peoples' movements that participated in the negotiations preceding the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The peasants' rights campaign has succeeded in linking its demands to discussions of the right to food in the United Nations, where concern is growing over the approach of the 2015 target for realizing the Millennium Development Goals, in particular the halving of the numbers of people suffering from hunger. The campaign is likely to face stiff resistance from powerful UN member states, but could achieve substantial advances even if the path to a convention is difficult or never completed.

2. The EROI of agriculture and its use by the Via Campesina
Joan Martinez-Alier (2011) JPS, 38 (1)

Abstract: Via Campesina supports peasant and small farmer agriculture both in the South and in the North. Its basic doctrine is that of 'food sovereignty'. It is a movement that defends an 'ecological neo-Narodnism'. Among the analytical tools used by this international peasant movement is the comparison between the energy efficiency of traditional small farm agriculture and modern industrial agriculture. This article briefly recalls the history of agricultural energetics, and then looks at the use of the concept of EROI (energy return on energy input) by Via Campesina when it claims that 'industrial agriculture is no longer a producer of energy but a consumer of energy', and that 'peasant agriculture cools down the Earth'. The absence in Marxism of a tradition of analysis of energy flows is also reviewed here, since it is of interest in order to bring together the classic economic concept of decreasing returns with the more recent notion of a declining EROI. The article also draws on work analysing how environmental activists use concepts from ecological economics, while at the same time 'activist knowledge' contributes to ecological economics in a two-way communication between activism and science.

3. Food crises, food regimes and food movements: rumblings of reform or tides of transformation?
Eric Holt-Gimenez and Annie Shattuck (2011) JPS, 38 (1)

Abstract: This article addresses the potential for food movements to bring about substantive changes to the current global food system. After describing the current corporate food regime, we apply Karl Polanyi's 'double-movement' thesis on capitalism to explain the regime's trends of neoliberalism and reform. Using the global food crisis as a point of departure, we introduce a comparative analytical framework for different political and social trends within the corporate food regime and global food movements, characterizing them as 'Neoliberal', 'Reformist', 'Progressive', and 'Radical', respectively, and describe each trend based on its discourse, model, and key actors, approach to the food crisis, and key documents. After a discussion of class, political permeability, and tensions within the food movements, we suggest that the current food crisis offers opportunities for strategic alliances between Progressive and Radical trends within the food movement. We conclude that while the food crisis has brought a retrenchment of neoliberalization and weak calls for reform, the worldwide growth of food movements directly and indirectly challenge the legitimacy and hegemony of the corporate food regime. Regime change will require sustained pressure from a strong global food movement, built on durable alliances between Progressive and Radical trends.

4. The Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty
Peter Michael Rosset, Braulio Machin Sosa, Adilén María Roque Jaime and Dana Rocío Ávila Lozano (2011) JPS 38 (1)

Abstract: Agroecology has played a key role in helping Cuba survive the crisis caused by the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe and the tightening of the US trade embargo. Cuban peasants have been able to boost food production without scarce and expensive imported agricultural chemicals by first substituting more ecological inputs for the no longer available imports, and then by making a transition to more agroecologically integrated and diverse farming systems. This was possible not so much because appropriate alternatives were made available, but rather because of the Campesino-a-Campesino (CAC) social process methodology that the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) used to build a grassroots agroecology movement. This paper was produced in a 'self-study' process spearheaded by ANAP and La Via Campesina, the international agrarian movement of which ANAP is a member. In it we document and analyze the history of the Campesino-to-Campesino Agroecology Movement (MACAC), and the significantly increased contribution of peasants to national food production in Cuba that was brought about, at least in part, due to this movement. Our key findings are (i) the spread of agroecology was rapid and successful largely due to the social process methodology and social movement dynamics, (ii) farming practices evolved over time and contributed to significantly increased relative and absolute production by the peasant sector, and (iii) those practices resulted in additional benefits including resilience to climate change.

5. The Biofuel Connection – Transnational Activism and the Palm Oil Boom
Oliver Pye (2010) JPS, 37(4)

Abstract: The 10 percent mandatory target for 'renewable energy' adopted by the European Parliament in December 2008 is fuelling a frenzy of investment in palm oil across Southeast Asia, leading in turn to the emergence of new, transnational campaign alliances. The specific dynamics of alliance building, political strategies and impacts of palm oil activism are shaped by the key role of the Indonesian environmental and agrarian justice movement, the broadening and radicalisation of groups in Europe and the ways in which these are interconnected by transnational activists. Campaigning has been successful in creating a transnational political debate around palm oil and biofuels and in influencing public opinion in Europe. Peasant activists have played an important role by combining issues of biodiversity and climate change with food sovereignty and by embedding the critique of biofuels within the global movement for climate justice. However, discontented palm oil smallholders and plantation workers are conspicuously absent at the transnational level. Building alliances between agrarian movements and plantation workers could strengthen the movement against biofuels by tapping into the potential offered by the transnational social and economic spaces which characterise the palm oil industry.

6. Agrofuel Politics in Brazil: Para­digmatic and Territorial Disputes
Bernardo Mançano Fernandes, Clifford Andrew Welch and Elienaí Constantino Gonçalves (2010) JPS 37 (4)

Abstract: The expansion of agrofuel crops challenges us to rethink policies, territories, human agency, and the paradigms used to explain them. In Brazil, policies supporting the expansion of agrofuel crops and the intensification of agrofuel production are reorganising rural land use and undermining some forms of participation in the capitalist and family modes of production. To reflect on this new reality, we study peasant movement reactions, proposals, and territorial disputes with agribusiness. Using the Pontal do Paranapanema region of Satildeo Paulo state as a case in point, the paper analyses territorial disputes between expanding sugarcane plantations and agrarian reform settlements as well as biodiesel production projects developed by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) and the Western Satildeo Paulo Federation of Settlement and Family Farmer Associations (FAAFOP). It also analyses the agrofuel policies of other peasant organisations, including Via Campesina. The production of agrofuels has changed the processes of land acquisition and use by both agribusiness and the peasantry, provoking new insights into the nature of territorial conflicts and thereby stimulating the need to revise perspectives on the agrarian question in Brazil.

7. Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and Local Challenges for Transnational Peasant Movements: The Honduras Case
Jeff Boyer (2010) JPS 37 (2)

Abstract: This article examines the complicated histories of two competing development tropes in postwar Honduras: food security and food sovereignty. Food security emerged as a construct intertwined with land security and national food self-sufficiency soon after the militant, peasant-led movement for national agrarian reform in the 1970s. The transnational coalition, La Viacutea Campesina, launched their global food sovereignty campaign in the 1990s, in part to counter the global corporate industrial agro-food system. Cultural and political analysis reveals challenges for each trope. Food security resonates with deeply held peasant understandings of seguridad for their continued social reproduction in insecure social and natural conditions. In contrast, the word sovereignty, generally understood as powers of nation states, faces semantic confusion and distance from rural actors' lives. Moreover, Honduras's national peasant unions, weakened by funding cuts and neoliberal assaults on agrarian reform, diverted by their own efforts to help establish the transnational La Viacutea Campesina, have been unable and, in some cases, unwilling to campaign effectively for food sovereignty. In addition, a parallel network of NGO-supported sustainable agriculture centres has largely embraced the peasant understandings of food security, while remaining skeptical of 'mismanaged, modernist' agrarian reform and the food sovereignty campaign. Attention turns to structural analysis of the steady decline of agriculture, economy and social life in the Honduran countryside, while also identifying potentially hopeful local-national solidarities between peasant union and sustainable agriculture leaders within the popular resistance movement to the recent military coup. This article finds that transnational agrarian movements and food campaigns tend to ignore local peasant understandings, needs, and organisations at their own peril.

8. Encampment Time: An anthropological analysis of the land occupations in Brazil
Nashieli Rangel Loera (2010) JPS 37 (2)

Abstract: In this article the social trajectory of a land occupation participant, an encamped woman (Edesmaria) who is a member of an extended landless family, is closely examined in order to demonstrate the inner workings of what is called 'the world of land occupations' in Brazil. Through a native expression (encampment time), it is demonstrated that nowadays, for some individuals, involvement in land occupations and landless workers' movements represents not just an opportunity to claim a parcel of land, but, even more importantly, a chance for social mobility and recognition. In this sense, encampment time is a social code and, as such, it not only quantifies the amount of time spent in a given encampment, but it is also a marker of prestige and status as well as a principle that organises and orders social relations in the land occupation world.

9. Resistance strategies and rural livelihood diversification: the construction of autonomy among Brazilian family farmers
Sergio Schneider and Paulo André Niederle (2010) JPS 37 (2)

Abstract: Recent research on forms of integration and interaction of peasants and family farmers in dominant economic systems in developed as well as in developing countries has revealed that such forms generate both productive differentiation and social heterogeneity in rural spaces. Therefore, by understanding the local and regional dynamics of the integration of family farming in economic processes, it is possible to broadly comprehend changes and development in the rural world. An actor-oriented theoretical perspective maintains that the agency of social actors explains not only their capacity to resist but also their capacity to suggest, act, and build alternative rural development projects. Adopting an actor-oriented approach combined with a livelihoods perspective, this paper discusses the emergence of a new set of strategies among small-scale family farmers in southern Brazil. This region is one of the rural areas of Brazil most affected by the changes in the technological basis of production that have occurred since the 1970s. Such strategies involve innovations in the labour and production processes, and a common denominator among such strategies is the search for 'autonomy' in a context of increasing social vulnerability. In this context, farmers have built livelihood diversification strategies (internalisation of resources, pluriactivity, de-commodification, alternative markets), which indicate the emergence of new forms of resistance based on a wide and heterogeneous set of farming practices.

10. Grassroots Voices Section: Linking farmers’ movements for advocacy and practice,
Eric Holt-Gimenez, Guest editor (2010) JPS 37(1)

11. Participatory democracy by default: land reform, social movements and the state in Brazil
Wendy Wolford (2010) JPS 37 (1) Abstract: There is a growing literature on the experiences of participatory democracy in Latin America. Largely focused on urban areas and municipal service provision, the literature provides important lessons as to whether, how, and why participation works to improve the quality of democracy. In this paper, I examine an unlikely case of participatory democracy: the struggle for land reform in the Brazilian countryside. Analysing the relationships between the federal agency in charge of land reform in Brazil (the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform) and the largest grassroots social movement organised to fight for the distribution of land (the Landless Movement) provides evidence of participatory democracy by default rather than by design: government officials who lack the resources and technical capacity to carry out reform are forced to rely on social movement actors who demand attention by routinely transgressing at the margins of acceptable (and legal) behaviour. At the same time, the features of political life in Brazil that allow or force the Landless Movement to collaborate with the state make it difficult for individual settlers to do so. For those individuals who do not feel adequately represented by the movement and attempt to be included on their own, the political system and culture continue to privilege the most powerful, thereby reinforcing prior settlement inequalities.

12. La Via Campesina: the birth and evolution of a transnational social movement
Maria Elena Martinez-Torres, Peter Michael Rosset (2010) JPS 37 (1)

Abstract: The origin and evolution of the transnational peasant movement La Viacutea Campesina is analysed through five evolutionary stages. In the 1980s the withdrawal of the state from rural areas simultaneously weakened corporativist and clientelist control over rural organisations, even as conditions worsened in the countryside. This gave rise to a new generation of more autonomous peasant organisations, who saw the origins of their similar problems as largely coming from beyond the national borders of weakened nation-states. A transnational social movement defending peasant life, La Viacutea Campesina emerged out of these autonomous organisations, first in Latin America, and then at a global scale, during the 1980s and early 1990s (phase 1). Subsequent stages saw leaders of peasant organisations take their place at the table in international debates (1992-1999, phase 2), muscling aside other actors who sought to speak on their behalf; take on a leadership role in global struggles (2000-2003, phase 3); and engage in internal strengthening (2004-2008, phase 4). More recently (late 2008-present, phase 5) the movement has taken on gender issues more squarely and defined itself more clearly in opposition to transnational corporations. Particular emphasis is given to La Viacutea Campesina's fight to gain legitimacy for the food sovereignty paradigm, to its internal structure, and to the ways in which the (re)construction of a shared peasant identity is a key glue that holds the struggle together despite widely different internal cultures, creating a true peasant internationalism.

13. No hay ganancia en la milpa: the agrarian question, food sovereignty, and the on-farm conservation of agro­biodiversity in the Guatemalan highlands
Ryan Isakson (2009) JPS 36 (4)

Abstract: Although they receive little recognition for their contribution, peasant farmers in the global South play a fundamental role in securing the long-term global food supply. Via their self-sufficient agricultural practices, they cultivate the crop genetic diversity that enables food crops to adapt to changing environmental conditions. In this paper I draw upon empirical data from the Guatemalan center of agricultural biodiversity to investigate the concern that market expansion will displace peasant agriculture and undermine a cornerstone of the global food supply. I find that even though peasants' livelihoods involve multiple forms of market provisioning, they also engage in a Polanyian 'double movement' to protect their subsistence-oriented agricultural practices from the potentially deleterious effects of markets. I also investigate the so-called 'agrarian question' about the effects of market expansion on the viability of peasant agriculture, finding that although new forms of market provisioning are likely exacerbating rural inequality, the income from market activities actually enables rural Guatemalans to reproduce the conditions for peasant agriculture. Ultimately, I observe that the conservation of agricultural biodiversity and, consequently, global food security are contingent upon the 'food sovereignty' of peasant farmers.

14. Reworking the metabolic rift: La Vía Campesina, agrarian citizenship, and food sovereignty
Hannah Wittman (2009) JPS 36 (4)

Abstract: Amidst increasing concerns about climate change, food shortages, and widespread environmental degradation, a demand is emerging for ways to resolve longstanding social and ecological contradictions present in contemporary capitalist models of production and social organisation. This paper first discusses how agriculture, as the most intensive historical nexus between society and nature, has played a pivotal role in social and ecological change. I explore how agriculture has been integrally associated with successive metabolic ruptures between society and nature, and then argue that these ruptures have not only led to widespread rural dislocation and environmental degradation, but have also disrupted the practice of agrarian citizenship through a series of interlinked and evolving philosophical, ideological, and material conditions. The first section of the paper thus examines the de-linking of agriculture, citizenship, and nature as a result of ongoing cycles of a metabolic rift, as a 'crucial law of motion' and central contradiction of changing socio-ecological relations in the countryside. I then argue that new forms of agrarian resistance, exemplified by the contemporary international peasant movement La Viacutea Campesina's call for food sovereignty, create a potential to reframe and reconstitute an agrarian citizenship that reworks the metabolic rift between society and nature. A food sovereignty model founded on practices of agrarian citizenship and ecologically sustainable local food production is then analysed for its potential to challenge the dominant model of large-scale, capitalist, and export-based agriculture.

15. The politics of global assessments: the case of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development
Ian Scoones (2009) JPS 36 (3)

Abstract: The IAASTD - the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development - which ran between 2003 and 2008, involving over 400 scientists worldwide, was an ambitious attempt to encourage local and global debate on the future of agricultural science and technology. Responding to critiques of top-down, northern-dominated expert assessments of the past, the IAASTD aimed to be more inclusive and participatory in both design and process. But to what extent did it meet these objectives? Did it genuinely allow alternative voices to be heard? Did it create a new mode of engagement in global arenas? And what were the power relations involved, creating what processes of inclusion and exclusion? These questions are probed in an examination of the IAASTD process over five years, involving a combination of interviews with key participants and review of available documents. The paper focuses in particular on two areas of controversy - the use of quantitative scenario modelling and the role of genetically-modified crops in developing country agriculture. These highlight some of the knowledge contests involved in the assessment and, in turn, illuminate four questions at the heart of contemporary democratic theory and practice: how do processes of knowledge framing occur; how do different practices and methodologies get deployed in cross-cultural, global processes; how is 'representation' constructed and legitimised; and how, as a result, do collective understandings of global issues emerge? The paper concludes that, in assessments of this sort, the politics of knowledge needs to be made more explicit, and negotiations around politics and values, framings and perspectives, need to be put centre-stage in assessment design.

16. Grassroots Voices Section: What does food sovereignty look like?
Raj Patel, guest editor (2009) JPS 36 (3)

17. Rural democratization in Mexico’s deep south: grassroots right-to-know campaigns in Guerrero
Jonathan Fox, Carlos García Jiménez and Libby Haight (2009) JPS 36 (2)

Abstract: In Mexico's southern state of Guerrero, rural social and civic movements are increasingly claiming their right to information as a tool to hold the state publicly accountable, as part of their ongoing issue-specific social, economic, and civic struggles. This study reviews the historical, social and political landscape that grounds campaigns for rural democratisation in Guerrero, including Mexico's recent information access reforms and then compares two different regional social movements that have claimed the 'right to know'. For some movements, the demand for information rights is part of a sustained strategy, for others it is a tactic, but the claim bridges both more resistance-oriented and more negotiation-oriented social and civic movements.

18. Synergies and tensions between rural social movements and professional researchers
Marc Edelman (2009) JPS 36 (1)

Abstract: This essay outlines approaches to analysing and managing relations between rural activists and academic researchers. It suggests (a) that contemporary social movements engage in knowledge production practices much like those of academic and NGO-affiliated researchers and (b) that the boundaries between activists and researchers are not always as sharp as is sometimes claimed. These blurred boundaries and shared practices can create synergies in activist-academic relations. The essay then examines tensions in the relationship, including activists' expectation that academic research will be immediately applicable to their struggles and researchers' expectation that movement participants will accommodate their needs. The final section discusses the pros and cons, from the perspective of each side, of several models of activist-researcher relations, ranging from 'militant' or 'engaged' research to the contractual agreement between a movement and those involved in research on it. It argues that one of the most useful contributions of academic researchers to social movements may be reporting patterns in the testimony of people in the movement's targeted constituency who are sympathetic to movement objectives but who feel alienated or marginalised by one or another aspect of movement discourse or practice.