Handbooks of Research on International Political Economy series
Edited by Kees van der Pijl
Chapter 27: Alternatives to agribusiness: agro-ecology and the peasant principle
Following decades of political neglect and declining investment, the problem of structural hunger has once again come to the fore as the era of cheap food was brought to a dramatic end by rapid food price inflation. Yet solutions from within the existing corporate food regime based on the spread of global value chains should be met with a high degree of scepticism. Answers from agribusiness fail to convince: with 1 billion of the world’s population ‘starved’, another 1.3 billion ‘stuffed’ and 1 billion malnourished it is clear that capitalism doesn’t know where the hungry are nor how to feed them (Patel 2007; ETC 2009). This chapter argues that a mode of agrarian capital accumulation which ignores the imperatives for social reproduction and which destroys the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends, is fundamentally flawed. Instead of the extractive logic of global value chains, it examines various examples of agricultural production that conform to an alternative logic, also termed the ‘peasant principle’ (Van der Ploeg 2008). This peasant principle is defined by a set of practices that differentiate it from other capitalist and entrepreneurial styles of farming: ‘pluri-varied’ activity, instead of specialization; family labour instead of wage labour; working with rather than against natural regeneration cycles; and so on.
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