States have both depended on and controlled food production for 5000 years. This relationship is changing again now as new mixes of players and interests have entered the game. Two divergent models of food security have emerged. What is at stake?
The standard narrative of state formation is that it followed from the domestication and large-scale intensive cultivation of grains. States were enabled by, but also reinforced, this symbiotic relationship with grains. James Scott (in his keynote address) questions this and points to the importance of other crops in state formation. For 5000 years, nearly all states have invested considerable political, economic, and ideological energy into maintaining control over the production, storage and distribution of staple grains and other foods. By the mid-twentieth century, nation states were entering into new partnerships with "philanthropic" foundations, seed and fertiliser corporations and national and multilateral aid organisations to further develop food production and manage food security on a global scale. More recently, we are witnessing another epochal transformation - the withdrawal of states from the responsibility of managing the food security of their populations. This responsibility has now largely devolved to foundations, multilateral organisations and the agri-food industry, but also NGOs and community, producer and consumer organisations. In the process two radically divergent views of food problems and solutions have emerged and become embedded in institutional forms and ideologies - one large-scale, industrialised and focused on maximising production; the other oriented to (re)building local, community-based ecologically sustainable systems. Ethnographic studies reveal complex and contradictory relationships between global agencies, agribusiness, local communities and residual and new forms of state control. We invite papers, preferably ethnographically informed, that explore the changing relationships between these actors, with a view to resolving contradictions between competing approaches to food production.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Food in/security in Indonesia: ethnographies of a post-rice state
Food security has returned to the Indonesian policy agenda, but combining elements of an old model of rice self-sufficiency and new one based on technical development and market-oriented production. This paper explores the tensions between them by way of ethnographic examples.
For the first half-century of independence, food security was a top priority of Indonesian state policy. The aim was self-sufficiency and the method was centralised, top-down control of production and distribution of key commodities, of which the most important was rice. During the 1970s and '80s the Green Revolution package of bio-technological interventions transformed the rice-growing ecology, economy and culture across most of the country. The results were a spectacular increase of productivity and production, peaking in brief self-sufficiency in the mid-1980s, after which the gains slowed and eventually reversed. The costs were damage to soils, water and ecosystems, dependence on purchased seeds and petrochemical inputs and loss of traditional agro-ecological knowledge. When subsidies were withdrawn around 1990, areas under cultivation, labour employed, production and farmers' livelihoods all went into decline and the country has been dependent on rice imports ever since.
Food security has returned to the state policy agenda, but the vision has shifted, to a dynamic, but inconsistent mix of the standard model shared by international food and development agencies and the agri-food industry - of maximising production by technological interventions and marketisation of cash crops but with substantial residues of the old model based on rice self-sufficiency. This leaves room for a mix of policies, practices and initiatives of various scales, levels and motivations.
This paper approaches this shifting foodscape, and especially rice-scape, from the bottom-up, by way of ethnographic interventions at various points in the chain between government policy and the ricefields.
Post-state food security: farmer and consumer movements in Java, Indonesia
The world faces a food supply & distribution crisis, posing significant risk for countries like Indonesia. A case study of a network of farmer and consumer initiatives is presented that successfully addresses issues of sustainable production and equitable distribution to the benefit of both parties.
Deteriorating environmental growing conditions, increasing demand and increasing inequality combine to produce significant food security risk in many developing countries. Indonesia is among the 30 countries most at risk. Here the food security problem is essentially a rice problem, as upto 1,25 million tons have had to be imported annually from the Mekong Delta, which is itself under severe threat. Small farmers grow most of Indonesia's domestic rice, but they now struggle to make a living from farming, partly because state interventions depress prices. For disadvantaged consumers all over Indonesia, in turn, fluctuations of the market price of rice are a vital concern.
The mainstream approach, shared by the agricultural research complex, corporations, many international development agencies and the Indonesian state, is to enhance capital investment, new technology and better market access, and this leads to a growth of corporate land holdings and profit oriented production decisions. The alternative approach, shared by small-farmers organisations, NGOs and ethnographic researchers, tend toward solutions grounded in local knowledge, traditional farming, and local systems of distribution and consumption. The radical disjuncture between these two approaches leads their proponents to talk past each other.
Since the 1990s, there have been initiatives encouraging farmers to convert to organic production to reduce production costs and add market value. Many succeeded in reducing production costs and some increased production, but most were less successful in marketing. This paper explores initiatives working across the gap of understanding, and addressing marketing and distributions issues simultaneously.
Strategies from above and counter strategies from below: the regulatory state, food commodities and independent organic farmers in China
This paper discusses how independent and uncertified organic farmers in China influence the regulatory oversight of food. Unable to oversee quality certification, authorities instead rezone land for organic purposes. If they can't certify the product, they will do better; certify the farmers.
State authorities in China ready food for exchange through a regulatory process that confers quality certification. This can be as mundane as a quality stamp on the packaging. Even during times of crisis, state certification readies food for exchange. During the melamine infant milk powder crisis of 2008, consumers only returned to domestic brands once a new government stamp was introduced. Accordingly, food commodities are as Marx suggested; things for exchange.
But food safety is a problem. Some activism around the issue is tolerated. A new group of independent farmers have emerged, providing uncertified yet popular organic alternatives 'infused' with rurality and all it offers. Coarse rice becomes a wholesome rural staple - clean, healthy, hand-grown. Following Appadurai, these farmers are offering something different; the potential of rural empathy and better city living. Cleverly, these farmers promote 'unfinished' produce like coarse rice to avoid state oversight. Unlike white rice, course rice does not need quality certification because it has not been processed. Authorities seem to be excluded from overseeing this alternative food movement as consumers make their own decisions regarding whom to trust.
Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Shanghai and the surrounding countryside, this paper explore the behaviours of and interactions between farmers, who lie below the state's radar, and state authorities, who, unable to police the farmers (despite trying), decide to rezone land for organic purposes. If they can't certify the product, they will do better; certify the farmers.
Imagining the producer: state promotion and non-state certification of quinoa growers in Southern Peru
This paper explores the intersections of state imaginaries and material realities among quinoa producers in Southern Peru, as they attempt to certify their organic quinoa for export.
Drawing on PhD fieldwork with the Quinua del Sur (QS) cooperative, a group of quinoa producers in Southern Peru, this paper provides an ethnographic account of the process of organic certification within the cooperative. QS is required to undergo a time-consuming - and expensive - annual certification process to maintain organic status, including extensive documentation of producers' activities and field visits by an external inspector. Although the Peruvian state is significantly involved in the promotion of organic quinoa, often in conjunction with NGO organizations, the practice of certification is outsourced to private third-party entities who conduct standardized independent investigations - a classic example of roll-out neoliberalism (Hatanaka and Busch 2008).
This distribution of labour across state and non-state entities makes for a disconnect between policy and practice. As my account shows, the grounded practice of certification engenders a set of performances and explicit staging by cooperative members and agricultural technicians aimed at highlighting their ideal practice, as they attempt to secure the organic certification so valued by state and NGO authorities. Heeding Krupka and Nugent's (2015: 4) call to pay attention to "materially grounded political imaginaries" in citizen-state relations, the paper demonstrates: 1) how state and state-like actors' geo-cultural imaginaries of a 'traditional' rural citizenry fall short of the complex material realities of producers' lives; and 2) how local conceptions and enactments of appropriate regulatory performance may undermine, even as they seek to uphold, attempts at universalising mechanisms of verification and control.
"Local action not state control!": the oscillations and contradictions of new farmers in Tasmania, growing stateless veggies and multinational meat
New farmers in Tasmania are learning how to live and how to become locals through their locally produced and distributed food. As they do so, their practices, identities, relationships to others, including state agencies, oscillate and appear contradictory as they bricolage their new lives together.
Working with people who have started to farm in Tasmania, with no immediate farming experience, I have started to pick up on oscillations in their identities as they narrate their lives and oscillations in their relationships with others, including state supervision and surveillance.
These people can be thought of as being out-of-place, and as they are learning how to become farmers, they are learning how to become locals through the local food they produce and the local networks they are forming. As one person put it - they desire local action with no government involvement.
It has been suggested that we are transitioning from a National Age to a Network Age, where people are presented with greater opportunities for resistance. For some of these Tasmanian new farmers, that resistance is to a perceived unhealthy way of life related to mainstream food production and distribution - at a local and a global scale. Resistance is not always consistent and, like an individual's identity, it can look contradictory from the outside. And that resistance has an affect upon the things being resisted.
Our personal identities and national identities contain ambiguities and are in flux. Even our local food is rarely that local - out-of-place people are raising out-of-place plants and animals, performing a bricolage as they cobble together practices.
This paper will consider how new farmers in Tasmania are blending seemingly contradictory aspects of their own identities, their food production and distribution networks, and their relationships with other people and state agencies.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.