Accepted paper:

Farming in high mountains for high-end markets: certified organic agriculture and agrarian change in Baltistan, Pakistan


Julia Poerting (University of Bonn)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the implications of the recent introduction of certified organic agriculture in the high mountain valleys of Baltistan. Based on ethnographic field work in two districts, I illustrate how farmers translate disciplinary organic standards and evaluate changes in agrarian relations.

Paper long abstract:

Agricultural production in the North Pakistani region of Baltistan is determined by its geographical features. Due to its isolated location in the high mountains of the Himalaya and Karakorum ranges, the agricultural season is short and transportation issues make domestic markets inaccessible for agricultural products. Only recently, certified organic agriculture has incorporated Balti farmers into a global organic agri-food system (Friedmann 2005). Certified organic agriculture was introduced to the farmers by export firms that bear the costs for certification and transportation and export the high-end products such as dried apricots, almonds and sea buckthorn to Chinese, European and US markets. To meet international demand, exporters, in cooperation with district agricultural departments, have to experiment with different cultivars, set up processing units and get access to assured land resources for long-term planning. By analyzing examples from my field work in two Balti districts, I analyze how the recent expansion of certified organic agriculture into the area has changed land management, cultivars and farming practices of the producers. Farmers, who rely on the export firms' market knowledge, shift from subsistence farming to cash cropping and have to negotiate changes in land management and land tenure. I illustrate how they translate organic standards and manage the introduction of new seed varieties and planting techniques that replace tried and tested land use systems. I discuss how farmers, in the context of disciplinary organic standards (Vandergeest 2009) and new possibilities attached to COA, evaluate their autonomy over their fields.

panel P038
Soils, seeds and capitalism: political agronomy and the intimacies of farming