EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Food futures and agroecologies in damaged environments: entangled species, sustainable livelihoods, contested knowledge
Location U6-22
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Sita Venkateswar (Massey University, Palmerston North) email
  • Daniel Münster (Heidelberg University) email

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Discussant Krista Harper

Short Abstract

This panel features relational approaches to the anthropology of food and agriculture against the backdrop of climate change, persistent inequality and contestations over science/knowledge.

Long Abstract

Questions of food resilience and sovereignty have assumed escalating importance across the world in the context of distress in rural areas worldwide and the precariousness of agricultural livelihoods. The increasing environmental toll of the industrial model of agriculture has eroded the earlier optimism of technological fixes (Green and other Revolutions) with their promise of food security. Agricultural intensification along the same lines is no longer a sustainable option to combat hunger or the projected increase in population in the decades to come.

Relational political ecologies and multispecies conceptualisations of food and farming within these contexts help us to grasp the contemporary capitalist conjuncture with the complex web of human-microbe-plant-animal-ecosystem interconnections that have evolved through millennia. We invite papers that explore some of the following questions as a point of entry into a discussion of the current disjuncture and possible post-capitalist futures:

• How can shifts toward multi-species perspectives enable innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to issues of food resilience and sustainability?

• How might the incorporation of science and technology and a perspective that apprehends the infrastructures of food production to mitigate risk and uncertainty work in tandem with sustainable livelihoods for all species?

• What are the ways that indigenous and relational ontologies (as opposed to Kantian/Cartesian dualisms) enrich our grasp of symbiosis to augment our efforts towards sustainability?

• How can anthropologists understand capitalism in the "web of life" (Moore)?

• How can multi-scalar approaches also encompass the mutuality and coexistence of a plurality of species, entwining the human with the non-human?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Farmers, farming and farms: construing risk, precarity and new technologies for food futures in India

Author: Sita Venkateswar (Massey University, Palmerston North)  email

Short Abstract

The United Nations declared the years 2014,2015 and 2016 as the International Year of Family Farms,International Year of Soils and International Year of Pulses.What are the implications of these announcements?

Long Abstract

The series of announcements by the United Nations in 2014, 2015 and 2016 are designated to raise public awareness of global issues and is significant in its sequential attention to various domains that are perceived as in crisis in India and elsewhere in the world, yet are critical to contemporary food production. This paper juxtaposes these announcements with attention to some farming contexts drawn from across India that speak to the risks associated with farming in the face of unpredictable weather events associated with climate change and the precarious situations of many small farmers. At the same time, other initiatives emphasise the resilience and entrepreneurial bent demonstrated by different sets of small farmers, who are able to harness new technologies to inform their decision-making and cultivation practices to mitigate risk, or successfully harvest and find a market for their produce. How might the global importance attributed to small farms, to the nourishing of fertile soils (with its attendant populations of microorganisms) and the cultivation of pulses flow through to what happens at various localities across India? What might this signify for the shift in scale at which food production will have to occur and a variant set of logics apply to farms and farming now and in the future? How might these shifts ameliorate the conditions of risk prevalent across the farming sector and its associated precarity for small farmers?

Environmental limits and uncertain human futures: food system vulnerabilities in Bali

Author: Thomas Reuter (University of Melbourne)  email

Short Abstract

Local food systems in Indonesia have witnessed rapid change in production, trade and consumption patterns. Bali’s food system for example, is now testing environmental limits, and the paper explores emerging vulnerabilities.

Long Abstract

Local food systems in Indonesia have been witness to rapid change in production, trade and consumption patterns. The highland region and northern coast of Bali is one such system, with centuries of documented regional trade relations between coastal and highland communities with complementary food products. Modernisation of agriculture in the 20th century, and especially in the last two decades, have pushed this system well beyond the limits of what is sustainable and have led to severe environmental damage and biodiversity loss. Agricultural intensification has been achieved at the cost of changes in land use, intense cash cropping and more aggressive forms of livestock and poultry production. Dependence on imported inputs is increasing, and there is a decline in the availability of food security through social support mechanisms such as labour sharing and food exchange. Finally, urbanisation has created a large population of food insecure low-income families who are being priced out of the market by the tourism industry's voracious appetite for fresh food. These factors combine to produce a decrease in Bali's food sovereignty and rising vulnerability, especially in a context of increasing climate change impacts.

Hunting, foraging and the pursuit of animal moralities in Eastern Australia

Author: Catie Gressier (The University of Melbourne)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic research among new wave hunters and foragers in Eastern Australia, I explore their mobilisation of imagined animal moralities in justifying their food procurement and consumption practices.

Long Abstract

The global demand for meat is expected to double by 2050, and conservative projections indicate that expanding the livestock industry to meet this demand would exceed biophysical limitations, dangerously exacerbating climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological breakdown. Recognising this, wild meat consumption is increasingly being explored by those critical of the industrial food complex. Drawing on ethnographic research among new wave settler-descended subsistence hunters and foragers in Victoria and Tasmania, I explore their mobilisation of imagined animal moralities in the course of their valorisation of nature as a practical and ethical guide for living. In justifying meat eating, animal moralities are invoked most vividly through hunters' construction of the embodied human as predator within local ecosystems. Leaning on theoretical contributions from Plumtree and Haraway, I explore the multi-species discourses hunters and foragers extol in their claims to confounding capitalist norms, contributing to environmental sustainability, and re-engaging authentic human-nonhuman animal relationships.

Hombres de Maìz: resistance and environmental rhetoric against neoliberal policies of land access and GMOs technologies in Guatemala

Author: Arianna Avenali (Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

The case study is based on three months fieldwork at the Cooperativa Nuevo Horizonte. It focuses on the analysis of the forms of peasant resistance and environmental rhetoric facing the new neoliberal policies of land access as well as the proposed new law regarding GMOs intellectual property.

Long Abstract

Within a discourse that announced a resource scarcity and that hid the political causes related to their redistribution, the objective gaze of development shifted from people to nature. Therefore, it has emerged an attempt to secularize resources and to subtract their connection with the social and political management systems. Through capitalization and privatization of those natural elements that are exclusively considered economical resources, we started to observe not only the biological environment deterioration, but also the "semiotic conquest" (Escobar) of nature. The 'Life Sciences Industry' and GMOs not only represent one of the instruments of this conquest but also one of the manifestations through which we observe the attempt of the "imperial configuration" (Van der Ploeg) to despoil local knowledge and practices, where those instruments are engaged. These trends will be observed through the case of the Agricultural Cooperative Nuevo Horizonte - Guatemala, a result of the land reallocation program, activated following peace agreements of 1996, which ended a civil war, which lasted thirty-six years. All the Coop members are ex guerrilleros reinstated to civil life. In this context, their experiences of war not only has determined the relationship my interlocutors had with the forest in which they lived during the long war, but also has influenced the environmental resistance rhetoric. Today, this rhetoric is used by the Coop members to oppose the introduction of GMOs, that are considered a sophisticated domination system that compromises not only the plants roots, but the roots of an entire way of life.

"Traditional" pesticide-based farming and it's alternatives in Taiwan: scientific arguments and moral and political-economic factors

Author: Joseph Bosco (Washington University in St Louis)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how scientific arguments are used to justify three competing approaches towards farming: “traditional” pesticide-based, organic, and “natural,” and how the scientific arguments are intertwined with moral and political-economic factors in farmers’ decisions on which method to use.

Long Abstract

In southern Taiwan, there are three competing approaches towards farming: "traditional" pesticide-based farming, organic farming, and "natural farming." The vast majority of farmers use pesticides, but everyone knows and often discusses the alternative approaches, and some use organic methods for their own family food garden. Each approach is based on a different view of humans' role in nature, and has different ideas about sustainability. Each also is based on different agronomic and medical understandings. The three approaches are linked to broader political-economic concerns, such as the viability of small-scale farming and the need to produce higher quality products that can be exported. They are also linked to religious identities, with some pious Buddhists refusing to use pesticides. And they are also linked to issues of ethnic identity and protecting the "treasure island" of Taiwan. In the background of all three approaches are risk and uncertainty: not using pesticides leaves farmers more exposed to dangers from pests, but pesticides—even those deemed safe by the increasingly stringent government regulations—still have uncertainty in their long-term effects and from exposure to misuse. This paper examines how scientific arguments are used to justify the three approaches towards farming, and how the scientific arguments are intertwined with moral and political-economic factors in farmers' decisions on which method to use.

Affective ecologies of natural farming: cultivating hope in South India

Author: Daniel Münster (Heidelberg University)  email

Short Abstract

Introducing a South Indian natural farming movement, the so-called Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) movement, my presentation seeks to show the imaginative and affective responses of farmers to a situation of agroecological crisis.

Long Abstract

Introducing a South Indian natural farming movement, the so-called Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) movement, my presentation seeks to show the imaginative and affective responses of farmers to a situation of agroecological crisis. These farmers are second or third generation of cash-crop settlers at the frontier of Western Ghats agriculture. They find themselves at a historical conjuncture of post WTO price fluctuations and in a landscape "blasted" (Tsing) by capitalism and the technologies, substances and biologies of the so-called green revolution. While this situation has compelled many smallholders to exit agriculture and to commit suicide, the question of how to continue living as agriculturalists has also opened up space for experimentation and innovation. Natural farming, I argue entails an ontological politics of reconceptualizing farming as multispecies assemblage of plants, animals, microbes and humans "in which all the actors become who they are in the dance of relating" (Haraway). I argue that the ontological project of natural farmers brings them close to the emergent new materialist, posthuman and multispecies ontological stance in the environmental humanities.

I will focus on the microbiopolitcs (Paxon) of soil liveliness and the art of fermenting fertilizers as well as on the cultural politics of reviving indigenous cow breeds in the context of high-modernist development and Hindu chauvinist politics.

Crop ontologies, ontography or biosemiotics? Towards a new ethnography of agriculture

Author: Dong Ju Kim (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork in rural Poland, I argue that there is a way to integrate ethnography, biosemiotics, and ontologies by looking at the ways multiple paradigms and views of soil and crop coexist and how they are applied and invoked in different situations.

Long Abstract

After the so-called Green Revolution, land erosion and land exhaustion have become a problem in rural areas where intensive cultivation has continued for a long time. In response, alternative ways of cultivating are explored. From the viewpoint of farmers, however, these are often reduced to calculations of nutrients, prices, and profits. For ethnographers of agriculture, this situation may look like an impasse because they are left with interpretations around agricultural economics, global trade policies, and neglect of rural areas in neoliberal regimes of rural politics.

In this paper, I try to overcome the native's point of view in rural ethnography and suggest that biosemiotics has much to offer for future approaches to a more environmentally oriented ethnography of agriculture. Until now, biosemiotics has mostly been neglected in rural ethnographies, and biosemiotics itself has focused more on cutting-edge biological advances. However, based on my fieldwork in rural Poland, I argue that there is a way to integrate these approaches by looking at the myriad of choices farmers face every season. Polish farmers now know the limitations of the chemical paradigm of soil nutrients and have started to take account of the role of microbes in the soil. I will describe how several ways of viewing and treating the soil coexist and how they are applied and invoked in different situations on farms. Using the concept of "thought styles," I explore the ways alternative knowledge is learned, evaluated, and accepted, and how popular notions of soil change through this process.

An orphan plant's eye view of a food future: integrated farming systems and mono-cultural chimera in Southern Ethiopia

Author: Valentina Peveri  email

Short Abstract

This exercise in multi-species ethnography aims at unfolding the idea of what a 'beautiful enset garden' is to Ethiopian farmers. Such a notion of beauty consists of a variety of phenotypes, ages, and sexes, unlike the ideals of breed consistency and purity upon which modern crop science depends.

Long Abstract

This paper shines the spotlight on two botanical characters competing for agricultural supremacy, and for shaping food futures, throughout Southern Ethiopia.

Enset provides an entry point into the category of orphan crops. [Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman] represents a long established example of agroecological systems characterized by a wide diversity of domesticated crop and animal species. It thrives by ingenious soil, water, and biodiversity management regimes, and it is nourished by complex traditional knowledge. Such systems - wherein synergy, recycling, and integration are emphasized - have fed much of the region's population for centuries.

Maize, an immigrant crop, is today the most widely-grown staple food of Sub-Saharan Africa. In Ethiopia it represents the bridge-head of 'Green Revolution-style' intensification. Improved varieties have been increasingly tested and disseminated. The pursuit of high yields has been fuelled by a peculiar rhetoric according to which maize appears as a marker of progress. Its success has been influenced by a mixture of national policies and the flow of resources from the international community.

This paper recounts the fascinating story of an alternative (agri)cultural paradigm, of the creativity of humans to adjust to the vagaries of a changing environment from generation to generation, and of their way of organizing nature in a non-arithmetical way. In places where humans and plants are mutually constituted, and form part of an animate landscape, the loss of biodiversity may also represent a loss of potential adaptations for the future as well as social suffering and disruption.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.