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The Journal of Peasant Studies

28 December 2017
LRAN

Agroecology as a territory in dispute : between institutionality and social movements

Omar Felipe Giraldo & Peter M. Rosset

Abstract

Agroecology is in fashion, and now constitutes a territory in dispute between social movements and institutionality. This new conjuncture offers a constellation of opportunities that social movements can avail themselves of to promote changes in the food system. Yet there is an enormous risk that agroecology will be co-opted, institutionalized, colonized and stripped of its political content. In this paper, we analyze this quandary in terms of political ecology: will agroecology end up as merely offering a few more tools for the toolbox of industrial agriculture, to fine tune an agribusiness system that is being restructured in the midst of a civilizational crisis or, alternatively, will it be strengthened as a politically mobilizing option for building alternatives to development? We interpret the contemporary dispute over agroecology through the lenses of contested material and immaterial territories, political ecology, and the first and second contradictions of capital.

Keywords: agroecology, political ecology, contested territories, contradictions of capital, accumulation by dispossession, alternatives to development, FAO


Introduction: contested material and immaterial territories

Theorists of contested or disputed territories argue that social classes and relationships generate territories and spaces that are reproduced under conditions of conflict, which gives rise to spaces of domination and spaces of resistance. Territorial contestation is carried out in all possible dimensions: economic, social, political, cultural, theoretical and ideological. In the case of rural areas, this gives rise to disputes between grassroots social movements and agribusiness, mining companies, and other forms of extractive capitalism and their allies in government over both material and immaterial territories (Fernandes 2009, 2008a, 2008b; Rosset and Martinez-Torres 2012). The dispute over material territories refers to the struggle to access, control, use and shape, or configure land and physical territory. Immaterial territory refers to the terrain of ideas, of theoretical constructs, and there are no contested material territories that are not associated with contestation over immaterial territories.

The dispute over real and tangible territories and the resources they contain necessarily goes hand in hand with the dispute over immaterial territories, or the space of ideology and ideas. Disputes over immaterial territories are characterized by the formulation and defense of concepts, theories, paradigms and explanations. Thus, the power to interpret and to determine the definition and content of concepts is itself a territory in dispute. Rosset and Martínez-Torres (2012) and Martínez-Torres and Rosset (2014) argue that agroecology itself a terrain or territory that is disputed both materially (‘agroecology as farming’) and immaterially (‘agroecology as framing’). This essay focusses on the recent intensification and evidencing of this dispute.

The dispute for agroecology

Agroecology has gone from being ignored, ridiculed and/or excluded by the large institutions that preside over world agriculture to being recognized as one of the possible alternatives available to address the crises caused by the Green Revolution. Until recently, the institutions that have steered agricultural policy throughout the world had not recognized agroecology, either as a realm of scientific enquiry or as a social practice and movement (Wezel et al. 2009). In fact, beyond being neglected, during the past 40 years those who have promoted agroecology have had to defy power structures in all spheres, including, obviously, the institutions that for decades promoted industrial agriculture throughout the world as the panacea to alleviate hunger and poverty.

Yet, in 2014, the fact that this context had changed radically became apparent when some of these same institutions began to address agroecology with interest following the International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, organized that year in Rome by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). However, rather than picking up on the transformational potential of agroecology, they mostly see it as offering technical options to make industrial agriculture less unsustainable (LVC 2015a), creating a real threat of co-optation.

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