CONCEPT NOTE & CALL FOR PAPERS
SMAIAS-ASN SUMMER SCHOOL 2021
18-22 January, Harare, Zimbabwe
Alternatives for the South: Liberation, Development and Ecology
The 2021 Summer School of The Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies (SMAIAS) and the Agrarian South Network (ASN) will be devoted to the alternatives for the South in the current systemic crisis, with an interest in advancing perspectives on liberation, development, and ecology. This Summer School will occur at a time of momentous changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which marks a turning point in the crisis. It will also occur on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy. For both these reasons, the theme will be of a general nature with a view to provide for collective reflection on the diverse issues that have been of concern.
We remain in the long transition from colonial rule to the sovereignty regime which in the twentieth century held out the promise of national liberation, development, and peaceful relations among nations. Over half a century later, the promise has not been fulfilled. The large majority of the world’s population, located in the peripheries of the world economy, faces a fragile and perilous future. On the one hand, the oligopolistic nature of the world economy has been hostile to sustained economic and social development in the countries and regions of the South. On the other, the liberation movements that took the reins of the state harbored weaknesses which hampered the search and defense of alternatives. The political systems that evolved in this transition have thus been compromised, while the ‘developmentalist’ exceptions which from time to time have been projected as economic models are, in fact, so few and particular that they prove the rule that the transition has been resistant to fundamental change.
This historic transition has been aggravated by recurrent turbulence in the world economy especially from the mid-1960s onwards, when a sustained crisis of profitability struck at the centres of the world economy. The crisis did not spare anyone in the South, despite its diversity. A number of countries in the South had embarked on a path of industrialization earlier, while many others gained independence in the 1960s or even later, precisely when the crisis struck. Many of the economic and social gains were sooner or later undermined. Stagflation and the collapse of commodity prices except for oil led to debt crisis in the 1970s, the result of which was a tectonic retreat in North-South relations which gave way to a general neoliberal policy turn. Developing countries were obliged to abandon development planning and open up to oligopolistic markets. Since then, the overall world growth rate has been cut by half, while a powerful financial sector has emerged at the expense of productive investments across the South and even in the North. The burgeoning of a fictitious economy has sustained a wealth effect, while propagating waves of speculation on currencies, commodities and assets, resulting in bubbles, panic, and instability. The financial collapse of 2008 did not put an end to this logic: monetary authorities injected trillions of dollars in the world economy to restore the wealth effect. It took another decade of turbulence and stagnation for the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically to lay bare the obsolescence of this economic order, for both North and South.
The history of this long transition and the catastrophic rage of the current crisis give us ample reason to conclude that a more fundamental change of direction is needed in North-South relations. Such a change requires an assessment of the evolving structural characteristics of societies in the South, which have essentially been transformed into mere ‘surplus’ populations in the world economy. This includes indigenous peoples, other traditional communities, and peasantries that continue to lose their land and means of livelihood to enter the labour market in the lowest rung. The expansion of informal work, limited access to decent wages, and deepening vulnerability have led to perpetual social and political crisis. This is manifested in the full-blown crisis of social reproduction, which has gained genocidal prospects in the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in the revival of far-right forces which threaten to negate all the gains of past struggles and use the crisis to escalate supremacist policies. The burden of this comprehensive crisis is borne by women and other historically oppressed social layers determined by race, caste, ethnicity, or religion. The promise of national sovereignty has been undermined by this deepening vulnerability and stratification of peripheral social formations, while national governments themselves promote centrifugal forces in the interest of domestic and foreign oligarchies.
It is further notable that most of the societies in the South retain a foothold in the countryside and in agricultural activities while straddling urban life. This reality plays out at macro and household levels, and is as much a response to agrarian crisis under the advance of corporate agriculture, as of urban employment which is similarly squeezed or reduced to informality by evolving global value systems. Under such conditions, the family farm or indigenous/traditional territory and the urban residential plot become joint sources of social protection, food security, and petty accumulation, and are often the main locus of new contestations, of diverse political hues. Peripheral social formations in the twenty-first century are trapped in a rural-urban flux that is entirely different from anything witnessed in history. Even in the cases where the balance overall has shifted to urban life – as in Latin America, compared to Africa or Asia – the trap of informality and insecurity remains. This trend has important implications for the growing competition among different sections of working people, which is also reflected in anti-migrant, anti-refugee, anti-indigene, and communal politics. It has further implications for urban- and rural-based social movements that struggle to gain national perspective and alliances. It is important that the challenge of resolving these contradictions is squarely faced by contemporary movements and that the liberation perspective is reclaimed against the far-right and fascistic forces that usurp popular aspirations for national sovereignty. For we have again entered a phase in which a series of nationalisms have become incompatible with liberation and international solidarity, to represent elite and exclusivist interests, to shut down democratic spaces and corrode republican institutions – precisely the political gains of national liberation!
A fundamental change of direction also requires an assessment of the evolving ecological parameters of liberation and development. Current patterns of global production and consumption under oligopolistic control are inherently unable to rise to the challenges of global warming, whose effects will be most devastating in the peripheries of the world economy and amongst the poor. Climate-change mitigation and adaptation is an issue of power, privilege, and inequality, whose costs must be distributed in accordance with historical carbon emissions and current developmental needs and capacities. This means that mitigation and adaptation must bring stability to the workforce of the South across the rural-urban nexus, in decent employment and secure land tenure, and at higher and more equitable levels of consumption and reproduction. If development in the twentieth century meant engineering a rural exodus, in the twenty-first century this can no longer be the case. Development planning must encounter a new rural-urban equilibrium, which means undertaking land and tenure reforms, giving definitive priority to peasant agriculture, and investing in both rural and urban industries. In so doing, national and regional sovereignty must be exercised over sources of energy and commons, against the speculative and consumerist vortex of the oligopolies, at the same time as low-carbon and energy-efficient methods of production are developed and introduced. An ecological perspective must remain focused on liberation and development, and not succumb to fundamentalist or nativist claims or corporate philanthropies which also stake claim on ecology. A consideration of ecological alternatives must necessarily be embedded in a discussion of new forms of property – a new mix of collective, cooperativist, and state forms of property – a task that is urgent for the organizing strategies of all social movements.
Liberation, development, and ecology thus understood are internationalist in character and thrive on solidarity among workers and peoples. They are incompatible with the elite internationalism of the current structure of the world economy, and most obviously with the political trends across North and South which resort to authoritarianism, sexism, racism, casteism, and communalism. At the same time, we cannot fail to recognize that the social basis for the revival of fascistic forces in both North and South has been cultivated in the long transition out of colonialism and the neoliberal response to the subsequent crisis. A ‘new deal’ for the twenty-first century must not lose sight of this historic transition. As alliances to defend basic civil and political rights are built, national sovereignty against the oligopolies must be strengthened as a building-block to a new development vision that is shared across North and South and is able to rise to the challenges of our times.
The 2021 Summer School will focus generally on the issues raised above and more specifically on the themes below:
- COVID-19 and Food Systems
- Land, food and agrarian questions
- Climate change, mitigation and adaptation
- Public health and social protection systems
- Global value systems and labour processes
- Gender, labour and social reproduction
- Race, caste, ethnicity and indigeneity: challenges to the national question
- Land and labour questions in the urban areas
- Migration and rural-urban relations
- Alternative paths to industrialization
- Redistributive rights on and use of nature
- Cooperativism and planning for development alternatives
- Social movements and international solidarity
The SMAIAS/ASN Summer School values diversity and promotes dialogue between academia and civil society. It brings together young and veteran scholars and civil society activists from all continents, especially from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and provides for collective reflection and learning. Interested scholars and activists are invited to submit paper proposals (abstracts) of up to 300 words, no later than 31st July 2020. Proposals should be submitted to Dr. Walter Chambati at email@example.com, with copy to Prof. Paris Yeros at firstname.lastname@example.org.The selection of proposals will be published by the end of August at http://aiastrust.org/ (the results will not be communicated individually). Authors of selected proposals will be requested to develop their full papers by 31st October, and will be invited to participate at the 2020 Summer School in Harare. Fundraising is in progress and travel support for selected abstracts is not guaranteed. Selected participants are encouraged to seek own institutional funding. Some of the articles may eventually be selected for publication in Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, subject to normal peer review process.
The Summer School is normally held in the third week of January. Should adjustments be required for the 2021 session due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these will be communicated via our social media, @AIAS_trust and @Agrarian_South, and websites, http://aiastrust.org/ and http://www.agrariansouth.org/news/.
Thiago Lima, Atos Dias, Igor Palma, Igor Palma & Lucas Amorim
As in historical times, the catastrophe that unfolds with the outbreak of a pandemic such as the COVID-19 has a great propensity of triggering isolationism, protectionism and unilateralism while at the same time threatening the stability of the International System. It is with this in mind that Director-Generals of the largest United Nations (UN) agencies namely the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO) – and the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a joint statement, raising concerns about the international food security situation.
In remarks contained in a joint statement issued on the March 31st, entitled “Mitigating Impacts of COVID-19 on Food Trade and Markets” they caution that the pandemic may exacerbate already existing challenges in the global food supply chain if governments globally begin putting in place export barriers on food crops as an attempt to preserve food supplies and to avert looming domestic food shortages. Resultantly, this would in their view cause distortions in food prices making food access almost impossible for the majority of the people in countries which are generally food importers. Potentially, such protectionist measures will also negatively impact the formation of national food stocks for emergency situations making the purchase of food for humanitarian aid by the World Food Program (WFP) difficult.
Urgency for international cooperation
From an International Relations perspective, we are reunited with an old acquaintance: uncertainty at an anarchic international system. According to the Directors the “uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market” and “it is at times like this that more, not less, international cooperation becomes vital.” Issues like minimizing uncertainties and ensuring that governments keep their economies’ role in the global agri-food value chain operational are quite critical from the Director’s point of view.
As observed during the 2007/2008 food crisis, several states restricted food exports as a strategy to avert national shortages. In practice, this contributed to shortages in other countries, especially the poorest. Unlike that crisis, however, there is currently no production shortage in sight. The greatest risk relates to breaking the logistics chain for the most basic foods and animal feeds including grains such as wheat, corn, soybeans and rice. This will occur, mainly, because of the restrictions placed by different countries on the movement of people and the flow of commercial activities, as well as by the drop in demand resulting from the brutal slowdown in economic activities.
Thus, abroad international cooperation effort is critical by different countries to identify stages of production and logistics chains in the agri-food sector’s to be classified as essential services. This would eventually exempt these from movement restrictions that aim to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. As the leaders of the UN agencies state: “In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, specially to avoid food shortage (…) Now is the time to show solidarity (…)”.Likewise, governments and banks should guarantee resources so that demand does not collapse and logistical bottlenecks can be widened at this critical moment.
The international community’s inaction in the face of the crisis
The appeal for greater cooperation by the leaders of the International Organizations comes up in the face a huge barrier: the United States’ anti-multilateral policy of the Trump administration. Some international cooperation theories argue that liberal arrangements tend to emerge and be kept when the most powerful actors assume disproportionate costs in maintaining the system. Yet, this is a role Washington does not intend to play today.
In the most recent crises such as the Ebola outbreak of 2014 and the financial crisis in 2008, the USA assumed a leading role, a position that it is not playing under the current crisis. What has been witnessed in the past few days has been an expression to withdraw from key institutions such as the World Health Organization. Neither has Beijing been able, or willing, to defend the liberal international order at this time. The European Union has also not called this burden on itself. Previously, the EU countries, at most, have normally sent aid to ex-colonies – and such aid has not been received without criticism, or distrust by some analysts. According to Yuval Noah Harari , the international community seems to be collectively inept in the face of the current threat, and, using his own words, “there seem to be no adults in the room”. One of the symptoms of this reality is the absence of emergency meetings among global leaders to build an action plan capable of combating the pandemic efficiently.
In this context, an element cannot be lost sight of. The great powers are, almost all of them, relatively food self-sufficient at the current moment. In addition, they also have financial and logistical resources (merchant marine, for example) to purchase food in open markets or to take it by force using primitive accumulation. Therefore, they have much lower food vulnerability when compared to developing countries, especially the poorest ones, if the international agri-food interdependence is severely shaken.
The vulnerability of developing countries
What about developing countries? Since the 1990s, dependence on food imports has been growing in these countries. This has been fuelled by the neoliberal agenda which has been encouraging these governments to produce for exports thereby discouraging food production for domestic consumption. According to the advice from the World Bank and the IMF food grains should be imported from international markets, at a cheaper price. In addition, there was an incentive for countries to dismantle their national food stockpile systems, both to monetize the sale of products and to save on the cost of maintaining equipment and food. Thus, they would pay part of their debts and avoid future indebtedness. One effect of this was that, in the 2007/2008 crisis, this worsened world hunger. Since then, it seems that there has been no significant change in this model.
In Brazil, for example, the Bolsonaro administration has started dismantling CONAB, the National Food Supply Company, a state-owned entity that manages national food stocks. Furthermore, Brazil became a net importer of beans and returned to the FAO Hunger Map.
Therefore, if International Organizations continue to press for the maintenance of the functioning of the international agri-food chains as a strategy of guaranteeing the global food security in a context of a very serious economic crisis – which seems correct in this immediate conjuncture – it would even be more important for these bodies to come together and defend, in the short and medium term, agrarian reforms, reducing dependence on food imports, creating food stocks to cope with eventual shortages, as well as socioeconomic programs that strengthen the resilience of rural populations. It is worth remembering that, as a rule, the hungriest people in the world are those who live in rural areas. Therefore, if more local people consume food from their vicinal rural areas, the more they will contribute to mitigating hunger in their countries.
It is still too early to talk about the collapse of the international agri-food system. In several parts of the world, however, evidence is beginning to emerge from agricultural producers who throw their production away, or feed animals with fruits, because there are no markets. The question now is whether economic globalization can still represent a card up the sleeve for the heads of state. On the other hand, it would be very useful for a deglobalization project to be mapped and executed with broad international cooperation, aiming to create food sovereignty wherever possible.
About the Authors
Thiago Lima is a professor in the Department of International Relations and faculty member of the Postgraduate Program in Public Management and International Cooperation at the Federal University of Paraíba, João Pessoa, Brazil.
Atos Dias is a PhD student of Political Science at the Federal University of Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil. He graduated with an MA in Public Management and International Cooperation and a BA in International Relations from the Federal University of Paraíba.
Igor Palma is an MA student of Political Science and International Relations at the Federal University of Paraíba and graduated with a BA in International Relations from the same institution.
Lucas Amorim is an MA student of Political Science and International Relations at the Federal University of Paraíba. He graduated with a BA in International Relations from the Federal University of Uberlândia, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
All authors are members of FomeRI – Research Group on Hunger and International Relations at UFPB