Peasant-driven agricultural growth and food sovereignty
Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue, An international conference at Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, September 14-15, 2013
Food Sovereignty Conference Paper Series # 8 by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg
The concept of food sovereignty represents an important theoretical and practical challenge. The political economy of agriculture can only take this gauntlet by developing a better understanding of the processes of agricultural growth. Without such an understanding it is difficult to address the issue of food sovereignty. Developing such an understanding involves a (re-) combination of the political economy of agriculture with the Chayanovian approach. This paper gives several explanations (all individually valid but stronger in combination) as to why peasant agriculture results in sturdy and sustainable growth – it also identifies the factors that undermine this capacity. The paper also argues that peasant agriculture is far from being a remnant of the past. The different peasantries of the world are shaped and reproduced by today’s capital (and more specifically by current food empires), and equally, they help to shape and contribute to the further unfolding of forms of capital related to food and agriculture. It is important to understand this two-way interaction between capital and peasant agriculture as this helps to ground the concept of food sovereignty. This article is underpinned by three assumptions. First, the debate about enlarging total agricultural production is very real. Although this debate is currently used to assess the hegemony of food empires and imperial science, we cannot throw away the baby with the bathwater. Secondly, the capacity to produce enough (at different levels, distinguishing different needs, etc.) needs to be an integral part of food sovereignty discourse. Thirdly, I am convinced that peasant agriculture has the best credentials for meeting food sovereignty and has the capacity to produce (more than) sufficient good food in a way that can satisfy the (many) objectives of producers themselves as well as for society at large.
Jan Douwe van der Ploeg is currently professor of Transition Studies at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and adjunct professor in Rural Sociology at China Agricultural University in Beijing. He worked with peasant organizations in Peru, Colombia, the Netherlands and Italy. Recently he co-authored an HLPE report on ‘Investing in smallholder agriculture for food security’ that was written on request of the Committee for World Food Security of the FAO. His most recent book is Peasants and the Art of Farming: A Chayanovian Manifesto (2013, Fernwood).
The Food Sovereignty Conference:
A fundamentally contested concept, food sovereignty has — as a political project and campaign, an alternative, a social movement, and an analytical framework — barged into global agrarian discourse over the last two decades. Since then, it has inspired and mobilized diverse publics: workers, scholars and public intellectuals, farmers and peasant movements, NGOs and human rights activists in the North and global South. The term has become a challenging subject for social science research, and has been interpreted and reinterpreted in a variety of ways by various groups and individuals. Indeed, it is a concept that is broadly defined as the right of peoples to democratically control or determine the shape of their food system, and to produce sufficient and healthy food in culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable ways in and near their territory. As such it spans issues such as food politics, agroecology, land reform, biofuels, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), urban gardening, the patenting of life forms, labor migration, the feeding of volatile cities, ecological sustainability, and subsistence rights.
Sponsored by the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University and the Journal of Peasant Studies, and co-organized by Food First, Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS) and the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Yale Sustainable Food Project, as well as the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI), the conference “Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue” will be held at Yale University on September 14–15, 2013. The event will bring together leading scholars and political activists who are advocates of and sympathetic to the idea of food sovereignty, as well as those who are skeptical to the concept of food sovereignty to foster a critical and productive dialogue on the issue. The purpose of the meeting is to examine what food sovereignty might mean, how it might be variously construed, and what policies (e.g. of land use, commodity policy, and food subsidies) it implies. Moreover, such a dialogue aims at exploring whether the subject of food sovereignty has an “intellectual future” in critical agrarian studies and, if so, on what terms.