Entretien avec Max Ajl
This interview was conducted by Selim Nadi and originally appeared in Contretemps in French.
You work mainly on agrarian political economy and your PhD is on Tunisian state agriculture development policy in the post-1980s period. But let’s go back to the Tunisian independence period: to what extent was the issue of agriculture a key issue in the debates within the Tunisian national movement in the mid-1950s? How did Bourguiba and Ben Youssef differ on the issue of land?
From the 1930s to the 1950s, agriculture was central to the discourse of the national movement. Publications, communiques, speeches, and other documents were salted with references to how colonialism drained the wealth of the land, and most especially how colonialism as a specific set of institutional mechanisms pushed small landholders into debt and hastened their transformation into a rural proletariat or a semi-proletariat. During the 1950s, the Neo-Destour was aware that independence was breaking over the horizon and began to speak more and more of the Neo-Destour’s holding within it all the classes within the Tunisian nation. His major priority was to maintain the integrity of the cross-class national front. That front enfolded large farmers, many of whom who were quietly funding the Neo-Destour or in its leadership, small farmers, the landless, slum-dwellers in the bidonvilles, and the massive UGTT – the nationalist, Western-aligned trade union. In many ways, the UGTT was the primary articulator of social issues during the 1950s, more so than the Neo-Destour which focused on the colonial-national contradiction. The notion that colonialism was a social machine which was damaging every class in Tunisian society was broadly shared, but it was left to the UGTT to articulate more specific grievances and programmatic solutions. The UGTT put a sharper and redder redistributionist edge on its nationalism, suggesting that agrarian reform was needed, but also frequently softened such calls by avoiding explicit mention of the liquidation of the large Tunisian estates. This was in part due to its own subservient incorporation into the nationalist front, which its own leader, Ahmed Ben Salah, thought would allow for a union-party fusion and thereby allow for the UGTT to push a harder economically redistributive line after independence – an ambition which shipwrecked on the shoals of Bourguiba’s late 1956 move to sharply subordinate the UGTT, remove Ben Salah from its leadership, and ensure that its economic ambitions could only take shape within parameters with the Neo-Destour delimited.
The question of land is most visible as refracted through the prism of nation and decolonization, and this was Bourguiba and Ben Youssef’s major line-of-difference. Before discussing that, it may be worth quickly noting in brackets that the peasant, herder, and semi-proletariat movements which propelled decolonization did not necessarily take political cues directly from Ben Youssef or Bourguiba at any stage, and the nationalist movement was a quite fissiparous entity, since leadership was frequently in prison, scattered across several continents, and the struggle was carried out under conditions of severe colonial repression.
That said, Ben Youssef and Bourguiba’s major distinction was that one called for full decolonization, and one did not. Ben Youssef’s call for full decolonization was not drawn from the well of Cabral-style clarions demanding to liberate the land and place the productive forces under the control of the land’s people. The difference was more sub rosa: since the June 1955 autonomy accords allowed for the French to retain control of tariffs, to maintain full Tunisian-French economic integration, and to keep their 800,000 or so hectares, much of it the most fecund soils in Tunisia, alongside the many mines and railways pocking and striating Tunisia, Ben Youssef’s opposition to that program and call for full independence was a call for the sovereign control of the country’s economic resources – but more by default than explicitly so. Ben Youssef was much more explicit about policies like tariffs and how they would prevent sovereign control of the country’s development path. In assessing Ben Youssef, we also have to keep in mind that he was in the gravity well of the radicalizing Bandung conference only late in his political career, in 1955, and left a comparatively scanty written political record. He left behind a much smaller paper trail than did Bourguiba.
You argue that while the peasantry made revolution in Tunisia, this revolution was robbed from them. Could you come back to this?
While working through the timelines of the dominant historiography of Tunisian decolonization, there were odd starts and stops which did not make sense to me, and certainly factors which seemed relatively de-emphasized. There is a tendency to counterpose Tunisia’s pacific decolonization to the violent decolonization which unrolled to Tunisia’s west, in Algeria, and it seemed to me this comparison was drawn too sharply. Furthermore, as I arrived to Tunisia, colleagues told me that the question of the Youssefites – the partisans or followers of Ben Youssef – was emerging more clearly as an object of political and historiographical contention in post-revolutionary Tunisia, both in political culture and through the Instance Verité et Dignité – Tunisia’s truth commission. The first half of my dissertation has been an attempt to make sense of these gaps. What I found was that, first, it was crystal-clear that the armed fellaga insurrection, in its first stage – from 1952 to late 1954 – drove the French to the negotiating table in the first place. The fellaga were armed brigades, created in some coordination with the Neo-Destour and the UGTT, and who came primarily from mixed herder-farmers of the South, at least at first. They spread elsewhere – to date-tree owners elsewhere in the oases of the South, people tending rain-harvested plots, those nearly landless due to the one-two of land alienation due to the settler-capitalist regime and successive shrinkage of plots due to inheritance, and also to those entirely ejected from rural production. Part of why they demobilized in November-December 1954 was Neo-Destour success in using them as leverage to force autonomy, and fear that Neo-Destour control of the fellaga was slipping, as the Algerian revolution had started to rage to the west, and Nasserism was increasingly compelling.
One of the fellaga, Lazhar Chraiti, refused to surrender his arms and was part of organizing an attempted cross-Maghrebi armed insurgency, drawing materiel from recently decolonized Egypt under the Free Officer’s government and some say, even Maoist China. By early 1955, he was creating plans for a new army, and the conflict burst out sometime after Ben Youssef split from Bourguiba – in a low-intensity manner from November 1955 to January 1956, and the really pitched battles afterwards. This army fought for full independence, sometimes mentioning land issues, sometimes not, but aiming to expel the French from Tunisian lands, and certainly influenced by the Arab nationalist vision of unity, anti-imperialism, and sovereignty beaming out over radio waves from Cairo. In fact, this armed insurgency was 50 percent bigger than the first, with a clearer line of demarcation: they fought for full decolonization against the June 1955 internal autonomy accords. Once again, it was the people of the South – then and now the poorest region of the country – at the core of the fighting forces, and they were herders, smallholders, and others who made a poor living from agriculture. They forced the French to allow what was mis-named a “full” independence in March 20, 1956, and then Bourguiba’s proto-national army and even more the colonial French forces inflicted several military defeats upon them, some of which were actually massacres of surrounded, surrendering, or wounded Tunisian guerrillas. Still, under the pressure they exerted, the government agreed to a 15 million old Franc a year allotment for developing the Center and South – a massive sum, which would have been close to a revolutionary redistribution of income if it had been implemented. Of course, it was not, and in this sense, the poor of the Center and South were thrice-robbed of their revolution: first, although they forced what there was of independence in 1956, it was the Bourguibist wing of the Neo-Destour which harvested the fruit of the military victory which the Youssefites had achieved by force of arms and martyrdom. Second, because the state was soon a neo-colonial state, and thus in material terms their victory was robbed from them, as the development project brought them only poverty. And thrice-over, as their lives and even their deaths were erased from history books and not allowed to be taught in schools, reducing the historiography of the nationalist movement into a hagiography of the Great Man Bourguiba, thereby robbing them of their claim to the state as the commonwealth of its people, and justifying the Bourguibist anti-peasant developmentalist project.
Some scholars have written that the transfer of power from elite to elite was central to the decolonisation process, and national liberation did little to disrupt Western dominance of the global economic order: How was this “Western dominance of the global economic order” expressed and how did it evolve, especially regarding the issue of peasantry and agriculture during the post-Independence era of Tunisia?
I would first say that this is reductive. Colonization lasted a very long time – in Algeria from 1830, for example, in India from even earlier. Pace formalist models of the origins of capitalism, capitalist development, and the Great Divergence, it is clear that the wealth France and the British looted from their colonial possessions was not the result of their dominance of the global economy, but in fact helped constitute that dominance, and it did not happen with a snap of the fingers – it took time. Since to build Western dominance took time, to unbuild it will take time, and while such statements are true in word, they are false in framing – it’s quite early to say that national liberation did little to break the Western supremacy in the global order. It also collapses national liberation into the formal and juridical process of decolonization. But these were not the same thing. Take, again, Cabral’s position, which saw national liberation as a complete shattering of Western control over the domestic productive forces, including as such control occurred through the neo-colonial state and accompanying sectors of social power. National liberation was an aspirational horizon. It was about the self-directed development of the productive forces. Political decolonization, as it was in Tunisia, was often a mechanism to short-circuit a more encompassing national liberation.
Furthermore, what has happened in China would bely even this formal statement. Even with the anti-Maoist counter-revolution, China has a massive economic weight in the world-system and poses a tremendous threat to Western dominance of the global economic order. This is explicit in Pentagon planning documents, for example. It is not clear what people are expecting vis-à-vis national liberation’s threat and horizons – colonialism took hundreds of years of stolen labour and its fruits and slowly transmuted that stolen labour into Western dominance of the global economic order. Why would anyone expect this to change immediately, or even within a period of one, two, three decades? It relativizes away the very real achievements of national liberation, which played a massive role in putting a stop in many places to colonial genocides and famines across Africa and Asia, and stopped the flow of drain, as Utsa Patnaik has shown in detail with respect to India. These processes were only stalled – and emphasis on stalled – amidst a massive militarized counter-revolution against every experiment in national development. So, when people say that the process of decolonization did not (yet) level out world economic hierarchies, they ought also say that the prospects for doing so were leveled by precisely those hierarchies. And still, the future is open.
Regarding Tunisia, this goes back to my earlier point about neo-colonialism. The post-colonial government under Habib Bourguiba was the major pendant of the US political architecture in the Western Arab world, and the West considered Tunisia a possible model for nominally non-aligned – in fact, entirely Western aligned – developmentalism. It poured in one of the world’s highest per capita rates of foreign aid in order to protect the Neo-Destourian government. Even then, across the government, elites and dirigiste planners were petrified of the prospects of a “demagogic” – their word – agrarian reform unfolding in Tunisia, as was happening in Algeria, Egypt, or China, a frequent bugbear. The framework of planning was to put in place an agricultural revolution in order to avoid an agrarian revolution – that is, to apply the faith of modernization theory and development-through-technological-diffusion to peasant agricultures and try to modernize them. This occurred through a cooperative experiment, which took place at first on the lands the state slowly nationalized in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then on another larger tranche of colonial lands the state nationalized in 1964, alongside lots of picayune minifundia clustered around these larger plots.
Now, what was central was that modernization took place within two parameters, both reflecting the Bourguibist outlook and Western imperatives: massive infusions of capital into farming and accordingly top-down attempted reworking and takeover of peasant life by the state; and until the late 1960s, respect for the large private property in Tunisian hands. The replacement of animal traction with imported tractors and other forms of mechanization, and also imported fuel, pesticides, and fertilizers to compensate for the broken nitrogen cycle, was massively expensive. It also ensured that the technological path these cooperatives took ensured a massive under-utilization of labor, and thus made them all the more difficult to economically sustain, while alienating and spurning peasant knowledge, and erasing peasants as both political and social subjects, turning them into the objects of planning. Alongside this project, the state put footloose labor to work in “work-groups” which were basically sustained by US aid. They were designed to absorb social pressure building on the neo-colonial state and allowed the state to avoid an agrarian reform.
By the late 1960s, two tracks were in motion. One was the first rumblings of a Green Revolution, sponsored by the US, which would further empty out the Tunisian countryside, increase rural differentiation, and decrease nutritional quality, as high quality durum wheats and barley, far preferred by the population, partially gave way to Green Revolution soft wheat and durum wheat hybrids. The second aspect, which was a partial challenge to the Western economic order, was a move by Ben Salah, by then the Planning Minister, to spread the cooperatives country-wide under the social use of land justification. This really accelerated from 1967-1969, while Bourguiba was quite sick. But in 1969, as large farmers made their qualms known to Bourguiba and amidst pressure from the World Bank, he terminated the cooperative program and switched to a state-supported medium-to-large-farmer commodity-production capitalist rural order. This was enabled by US-supported cereal breeding programs and massive input subsidies to assist the larger farmers – the only ones who could afford such capital-intensive imported inputs, even if we put a parenthesis around the long-term ecological effects of pouring such poisons into the soil and the water table. Thus, it is far less accurate to that that “national liberation” did not do much to shift Western dominance, but rather that national liberation was bridled if not broken in order to ensure that it would not disrupt, and would in fact buttress, Western economic dominance.
What was the position of what you call the “Tunisian school” regarding the question of food sovereignty? How did they regard the question of self-management? To what extent was there a Latin-American influence on Tunisian economists and agronomists concerning food sovereignty?
The “Tunisian school” was a loose cluster of economists, agronomists, and other researchers in alternative technology and dependency theory which developed in the mid-1970s to the early-to-mid 1980s in reaction to the tremendous social and ecological costs of capitalist modernization in Tunisia, and who put out a small book in 1983, Tunisie: Quelles Technologies? Quel Développement? I would say they were very much advocates of food sovereignty avant la lettre. The dominant lexicon in Tunisia was food security, but as with many such discourses under the developmentalist dictatorship of Bourguiba, so long as one adhered to the letter of the dominant framework, once could break from it in spirit. Thus, they used the discussion of “food security” to call for a return to the peasant vis-à-vis agricultural technology. That meant using native landraces, or the seeds of the region, to use native animal breeds in agriculture. That also meant a massive advocacy for native water-harvesting technics, made of earth and stone, in place of the massively expensive dam technology which cost so much while shattering one after another watershed’s water cycle, and delivering so little vis-à-vis irrigated land per dollar invested. These dams also incurred large loans and relied on foreign expertise to build – another mechanism of neo-colonialism. They wished to do all of this while reducing agriculture-related imports, reducing the use of hydrocarbons in farming, eliminating to the extent possible unneeded food imports, and setting in motion native programs to research camels, dates, barley – all the arid-land crops which neo-colonial technics had spurned. To be clear, none of this work deployed the words agro-ecology or food sovereignty, but the entire project looked, technically speaking, quite like what now goes by the name of food sovereignty within Via Campesina.
Essentially, this seemed to have occurred in parallel rather than by way of diffusion from Latin America – the “return to the peasant” was at that time occurring in much of the Third World in reaction to the wrenching dislocations of modernizing agriculture. I am doing some collaborative work with my colleague Divya Sharma bringing India and Tunisia into comparative perspective, and many countries in Latin America have their own genealogies of agro-ecology, which developed out of work to understand the ecology of traditional peasant farming systems.
The project of the “Tunisian school” was based on valorizing the technical capacity of Tunisian artisans, builders, and peasants. Their concerns went beyond food and agriculture – they drew on broader critical currents, from French and US technology criticism, to the appropriate technology movement which was blooming across the First World and also the Third, and also had a heavy influence from radical French agronomy, especially Rene Dumont, who extensively studied Tunisia and made many trips there. In this sense, they did not directly call for cooperatives or economic democracy, and only sometimes and guardedly called for agrarian reforms – recall that most of them could not so easily speak their minds given that they worked for a state which was in close alliance with big landholders. But the state was still purportedly the commonwealth of its people, and they could certainly call for redirecting state budgetary spending and research priorities towards the peasants, and even decentralizing planning itself so that it would follow instead of lead the peasants. Self-management was certainly an ambition vis-à-vis peasants and smallholders having a full and autonomous control of their own production cycle, and a similar process taking place at the national scale. But they did not call, for example, for co-gestion of the large farms, or the large factories – it seems to me such a call would have been enormously politically dangerous, even under the relatively more permissive Bourguiba regime. Under Ben Ali, of course, social scientific inquiry was asphyxiated.
Who was Slaheddine el-Amami and what was new in his thought regarding agriculture in Tunisia? How did he change the relations between agrarian technological advances and the Tunisian peasantry?
El-Amami was a Tunisian agronomist, who came out of the radical left student movement in the late 1950s, then began working his way through the Tunisian government research institutions. By the mid-1970s he ran the influential Centre de Recherche en Genie Rurale. In my reading, he essentially was the first to apply the methodology of dependency theory – that is, a theory which sought to understand the adjustment and damage done to peripheral and semi-peripheral economies as they were reworked by internal and external class forces to suit the needs of the core – to the agricultural sector. He also entirely infused that approach with state-of-the-art knowledge of ecology and agronomy. Essentially, he was the vanguard, and as far as I can see the pioneer, of the “return to the peasant” in the Tunisian context. From his perch at the CRGR, he carried out dozens of field investigations into indigenous water-harvesting systems, to evaluate how much salt content the indigenous land-races could tolerate, and other experiments, including looking at the uses of windbreaks – vital in the warding off the desert sirocco. The core novelty was that he looked askance on the merits of modernization in the agricultural sector and thought instead that what was needed was not an antediluvian traditionalism, but an alternative modernity based on building out from the existing strengths and technical knowledges of peasant farmers. This was revolutionary.
He sought to do several things technologically speaking. First, he wanted to put the national research institutions at the direct service of peasants and their landraces and technologies. That is, rather than evangelizing new technology, they would co-develop existing technologies – water-harvesting, seeds, and so forth, bearing in that, as Braudel pointed out, that agriculture is a technology – into more sophisticated forms, to make them more efficient, and more productive, without damaging human or ecology. Second, he sought to find ways to bring the insights of appropriate technologies to the Tunisian countryside – e.g. he was an advocate of solar power, and in one of his experiments sought to combine solar powered pumps with supplementary irrigation, as when the sun shone more intensely, water would flow for the suddenly thirstier plants. But this was an approach to technology which totally rejected the dominant model of technology transfer, which Amami knew had constituted Tunisia and the Third World as dependent entities. He refused to wall off technology from social relations, ecology from import dependence, but knew that the right agriculture, which is to say the right farming technics, based on valorizing peasant skills, could actually best serve Tunisia and provide the framework for a sovereign development model.
A famine is currently occurring in Yemen. To what extent is the food crisis in Yemen due to external factors? How is this crisis linked to the war?
In 1970, Yemen was essentially food-independent. In 2015, as the US war, under Saudi and Emirati branding, scoured Yemen, much of Yemen relied on imported food as a means for day-to-day survival. The shift from a country which could feed itself to a country which could not do so is at the root of the current crisis. Much of the previously subsistence production shifted to water-intensive and less calorically-dense crops, especially fruits and vegetables, and furthermore shifted to irrigated-based crops, which rely on expensive pumps to get at reservoirs. There is also a great amount of land devoted to qat, which relieves hunger and is also a commodity crop. These shifts are inseparable from the monetization of the Yemeni rural sector, wherein wages increased post-1973 as Saudi Arabia drew on its neighbor to supply the Kingdom’s proletariat. US food aid and Green Revolution technologies undercut local cereal production, both making cereals relatively cheaper, and replacing labor with capital. At the same time, since wage costs increased to match those in Saudi Arabia, people switched to more profitable rural crops, or left the countryside. Several consequences ensued. First, terraces collapsed without people being able to helm them. Second, national development itself became impossible as much of the skilled workforce, literally reared on the use-values of Yemen, went to Saudi Arabia. Both countryside and city became highly dependent on remittances and markets for food. When Saudi expelled those workers for Yemen’s decision not to toe the Saudi/US line vis-à-vis Iraq and the US presence in the region, Yemen’s remittances ran dry and there was suddenly ever-more-rural labor available. Rather than turning to the rural sector, Yemen’s government enjoyed a small oil boom, and used those monies to subsidize imported cereal consumption – a Yemeni decision, but also a US/European once, since excess cereals on the global markets is not due to that phantasm of fossil capitalism, “productivity” but because large producers of cereals receive massive subsidies, and they export their ecological costs for monocrop cereal production onto the rest of humanity, and onto the future.
Until the outbreak of protests in 2011, this process continued and even accelerated, as more and more land and water went to fruit and vegetable production for the protected internal market, even while less and less land went to cereal production. Imports made up the difference. This created two interlocked vulnerabilities. One, instead of the poor relying on their own production for survival, they relied on the market. And instead of that market being internal, it was tied to international commodity prices. Thus, when the 2015 war began in an attempt to destroy the anti-Zionist Houthi movement and to re-install a US-Saudi client, several dynamics interlaced to produce the famine. One was the direct targeting of agriculture, as meticulously documented by Martha Mundy. Second was the overall targeting of the economy, increasing poverty and thereby reducing families’ capacity to secure goods on the market on the demand side. Finally, blockades and destruction of import capacity has meant increased prices for purchasers. Here it is worth stating that famine even in this kind extreme case of extreme imperially-induced food dependence, is not due to lack of food to feed people inside geographical Yemen, but decades of stunted dependent capitalist development and imperialist development which has so immiserated people that they can no longer get the food which exists in the country. As for responsibility, that of the US is massive.
According to the Belgian specialist of China, Roland Lew, the peasantry is a “classe en trop” for Marxists – a class that they often prefer to forget about but that they cannot ignore. How would you characterize the current state of Marxist research regarding the relevance of the peasantry and of agricultural issues?
I might slightly redirect the question. In reviews like Journal of Peasant Studies, Agrarian South, Economic and Political Weekly, and in a slightly more popular but still extremely rigorous way, Monthly Review, inquiry into peasant and agricultural issues is not merely alive and well. It is flourishing – indeed, having a dazzling renaissance after a period of dormancy. The quality of the literature in these journals concerning peasant and agrarian issues is extremely high, ranging from revitalized inquiries into semi-proletarianization, food sovereignty, agro-ecology, the politics of peasant movements, the many agrarian questions of our day, matters of food, finance, and imperialism, work on the intersection of agricultural trade and imperialism, seed questions, and peasant matters across Latin America, South Asia, to a slightly lesser extent Africa, and to a far lesser extent the Middle East – North Africa region. It would be fair to say that not all of this literature is cast in the classic framework of Marxist analysis – much of it, for example, in JPS finds itself in the more catholic categorization of critical agrarian studies or political ecology – but it certainly applies a materialist method to the study of contemporary social reality in the world’s countrysides. I would worry less about the state of this literature (although certainly I would like to see broader conversations occurring between this field and Marxist approaches to economic development, and more openness to the national question and anti-imperialism in some places) and much more I am apprehensive that this literature is often not known by many in other Marxist traditions, where as you stated, they often “prefer to forget” about the campesinos. It would be gratuitous to name names, but clearly the problem is generalized, although with the caveats I mentioned.
Why is this the case? For one thing, most people in the Global North are not peasants or farmers, and these concerns may seem very distant from their lives – few academics have experience in factory labor, or in prisons, but at least those problems are closer at hand. Furthermore, few academic departments study peasants, even though the rural sector is absolutely central to development issues in North and South alike. There has also been a broader turn away from issues of development within Marxism, and that has brought with it a turn away from issues of rural development. I think also that there are residual or not-so-residual investments amongst many Marxists in the myths of modernity – the idea that what capitalism has produced is somehow progressive, and thus the agrarian question is an antediluvian remnant. One can see sentiments like this sprouting in many Marxist circles, open mockery of the role of peasants or smallholder production in a sustainable modernity, and even where it is not explicit, there is a comfortable turning-away from the kind of production which is central to the livelihoods of much of the planet, even though it is the most concrete of the many determinations which produce our contemporary world-system. In fact, it is remarkably underknown that smallholder farming produces at least half the planet’s food. On an energetic basis – that is, energy returned on energy invested – smallholder traditional farming systems are far more efficient than the industrial agriculture, dollar-cheap but entropy-heavy, which underpins contemporary urbanization and suburbanization. Smallholder production, however, is made invisible, because that labor is exploited to produce the semi-proletarianized labor reserves upon which capitalism rests. It seems to me that there is far more interest, for example, in logistics workers than massive vibrant social movements like the Landless Workers Movement, fighting for their survival and their future in Brazil, or other peasant-based revolutionary movements which are in fact criminalized by the US state. Some of this also has to do with the anti-peasant bias of Western ideology, which very often Marxists inherit.
Still, there are glimmers of changes – I think Marxism is having a return to ecological issues amidst global warming’s civilizational threat, and from ecology there is a very possible although far from inevitable turn to agriculture and agro-ecology. I would also hope that amidst recent turns to urban farming and forms of agro-ecological production in Europe and the US, alongside what seems to me to be the unarguable fact that the agrarian question is the question for the Global South’s escape from poverty for this century, the current situation could change, and we could see a renewed engagement with these questions amongst the Marxist journals.
Freedom Mazwi and George T. Mudimu
Indeed the Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTRLP) foregrounded many patterns, at the same time calling for improved and more reality oriented heuristics. Thus, prompting the rise of various models and conceptualisations as researchers and policy makers grappled to have a better understanding of the emergent reality. In this small contribution we aim to stimulate more debate, discussion and more importantly, a better understanding of one of these models, more specifically, the Trimodal Agrarian structure. This blog article is grounded on the thesis propounded by Moyo and Yeros (2005), Moyo (2011; 2013; 2016) and Chambati (2011; 2017). Understanding the features and characteristics of the trimodal agrarian structure, is important for policy makers at this stage as the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) is undertaking a land audit with a view of restructuring the countryside 19 years after the implementation of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP). In this article we proceed by outlining the origins, key features of the trimodal and some emerging debates on the trimodal structure. More critically, we seek to address the question whether the classes identified in the trimodal agrarian structure are static or fluid. In short, are there capitalist tendencies within the peasantry or vice-versa?
The Changing Agrarian Structure: From Bimodal To Trimodal
During the colonial and early post-colonial period Zimbabwe was characterised by a bimodal (dual) agrarian structure. This structure was made of ‘extremely’ large scale and small-scale farms (Moyo, 1995:302; 2011). A significant proportion of the peasantry acted as a labor provisioning class for the capitalist farmers. The bimodal structure was composed of 6000 white farmers, limited number of agro estates and about 700 000 peasant farmers and a few indigenous commercial estates (Moyo and Nyoni, 2013:200,201). The Large-scale Commercial farmers (LSCFs) dominated in terms of land ownership and capitalisation etc. Peasant farming households mainly relied on self-finance to fund their agricultural operations although less than 10 percent of these households were able to access formal agricultural bank credit from the state owned Agricultural Finance of Zimbabwe (AFC) (Chimedza, 1994). Moyo (2000) and Sachikonye (1989) have demonstrated how a few peasant households located in high potential agro-ecological zones produced horticultural crops for exports under former white commercial farmers and also through cooperative schemes supported by international agencies such as the USAID. This phenomenon laid the basis for social differentiation within the peasantry. It must also be pointed out that differentiation within the peasantry during the first decade of independence was driven by a cotton boom which led to the emergence of successful farmers “Hurudza” (Nyambara 2003).
Apart from agricultural financing models, labour utilisation patterns and levels of capitalisation, the peasantry and LSCF sector under the bimodal agrarian structure were also differentiated in terms of levels of education as well as production orientation (Sachikonye 1989: Moyo 1995). The LSCF sector mainly produced export crops such as tobacco, horticulture and cotton while the peasant sector was less inserted into global markets and largely produced maize for auto-consumption although there were tendencies to sell the surplus in good agricultural seasons (Moyo, 2000). At this stage, it is critical to highlight that the peasantry is not a homogenous group (Yeros 2002, Moyo 2016). Within this category, one finds the “poor”, “middle” and “rich” peasants who are all differentiated on the basis of asset ownership, access to other forms of finance, labour utilisation, production orientation, education, land sizes and employment (Sachikonye, 1989; Moyo, 2016). For the record, we state that it is highly problematic to reduce the bimodal or the trimodal (which is discussed later) agrarian structures to a question of varying land sizes and the number of land beneficiaries per each settlement model as has been done by most agrarian scholars on Zimbabwe. An analysis of the emergent social relations is of paramount importance in any discussions of the emerging /existing agrarian structure (See Moyo and Yeros, 2005; Moyo, 2016; Chambati, 2011).
Fast forward to the post fast track land reform era, the trimodal structure has been largely inserted and more pronounced. This trimodal structure it is argued, is a broadly based structure with various modes of accumulation (Moyo and Nyoni, 2013:200). This structure is largely characterised by accumulation from below ( Moyo etal, 2009; Moyo and Yeros, 2005). The focus of this article is on the well-pronounced trimodal structure that is the one that arose out of the Fast Track Land Reform Program. The propounded trimodal agrarian structure is made up of three categories and is a result of state policy (Land reform program, state input programs etc.). These 3 categories are:
(i) The peasantry (communal areas, old resettlement and A1 farms);
(ii) The Medium to large scale farms and A2 farms;
(iii) Agro estates (state or private owned) agro conservancy and institutional estates (Moyo and Nyoni, 2013; Moyo and Yeros, 2013; Sakata, 2016:5).
In essence the peasantry now dominates in terms of aggregate number of farms, thus, by and large the FTLRP reduced the LSCF and increased the middle sized farms and the peasantry (Moyo et al 2009).
These three categories are in a constant flux, but broadly are differentiated according to access to different farming resources, land size, tenure, social status and labor forms (Chambati, 2013:2017; Moyo and Nyoni, 2013; Moyo and Yeros, 2013). Moyo (2016) argues that with the penetration of agrarian capital in recent decades, the agrarian structures of most African countries have since been reconfigured to a trimodal structure characterised by the persistence of the peasantry. The trimodal structure has been more recognised by broader studies that cover major agro- regions of Zimbabwe (Moyo et al, 2009). However, its existence can also be discerned in localised studies (sub-national level etc.) although there have been few studies that interrogate the trimodal structure at a sub-national level. In exploring any agrarian structure it is critical to pay attention to the factors listed above; land size, capitalisation, labor forms, land tenure, state role etc. Thus, capitalist farms are recognisable by their labour hiring practices and continuous accumulation (reinvestments of profits into the production processes), emphasis on cash crops over auto-consumption crops and on the other hand the peasantry would engage in semi-proletarianisation.
A number of studies have been conducted to analyse the evolving differentiation processes in the countries post- FTLRP (see Moyo et al, 2009, Scoones et al, 2010; Shonhe, 2017). These studies have used different models with Moyo et al, (2009) statistical clustering process identifying capital intensive farmers (12 percent), unmarried (widowed farmers) (14.5 percent), civil servants (27 percent) and latest entrants (15 percent). Overall, Moyo et al, (2009) study noted that although differentiation was beginning to occur, constraining this process was public policy which was not geared to provide subsidised inputs to farmers and as such close to 50 percent of the farmers were likely to remain poor. As they point out, ‘unequal class-based access to farming inputs will remain a determinant of social differentiation, and a key source of rural grievance’ (ibid: 178)
From these findings, one can easily tell that the trimodal agrarian structure remains critical in furthering class-based social differentiation as other studies have also shown that middle-scale capitalist farmers are likely to benefit more when compared to peasant farmers from state policies. A recent paper on Command Agriculture showed how the middle-scale A2 capitalist farmers have more influence of the public policy making process and the resultant state support policies (see Mazwi et al, 2019).
Other key studies to have emerged post FTLRP analysing the class dynamics in the countryside have identified the emergence of a Quad- PMMR model structure (Shonhe, 2017; 2019). This, the proponents of the Quad-PMMR acknowledge the emergence of four classes namely the ‘poor peasants’, ‘middle peasants’, ‘middle to rich peasants’ and ‘rich peasants” . To this, this article takes an opposing view because the Quad-PMMR model labels the transition from middle to rich peasant as a class on its own (Shonhe, 2017; Shonhe, 2019:18). The labeling of the transition as a class ignores the very basic tenets of class analysis that assumes that classes are in a constant flux. In fact, numerous studies point out that the middle peasant has more chances of backsliding to the poor peasant category compared to forward progression to the rich peasant.
Hence, if one were to follow the quad modal theorizing of transition from middle to rich peasant as a class, one would end up with 6 classes yet in essence the other three are merely transition phases that are a sui generis to class analysis. Thus, we are inclined to argue that the trimodal offers a better understanding of agrarian change in that it infuses the classical debates of social differentiation at the same time paying attention to the broader and nuanced realities of the countryside, more specifically to the post- fast track Zimbabwe. Thus, this article posits that any analysis of the agrarian structure must (i) contend with the basics of the differentiation within the various classes (ii) be aware of the tendencies and flux among these classes (least we brand transitions as emergent classes); (iii) pay attention to land size, capitalisation of farm production, labour, tenure, role of the state etc. Hence, the future of the studies on agrarian change can be thought of in light of arguments by Moyo and Yeros (2013:341), ‘Any genuine class analysis of the new Zimbabwe must come to grips with the tendencies and contradictions of this tri-modal structure and avoid regime-change theories of ‘rentier economy’ (Davies 2005) or ‘crony capitalism’ (Bond 2009), or notions of ‘passive revolution’, which are based on nebulous assessments of the new class relations (e.g., Raftopoulos 2010). The fundamental question is whether Zimbabwe will be able to sustain, via this tri-modal structure, an introverted process of accumulation ‘from below’.
The purpose of this article has been to stimulate debate on the tri-modal agrarian structure thesis. We have argued that it would be an act of intellectual suicide to reduce the thesis to landholdings and settlement model categories without going deeper to examine the fundamental social relations. We contend, without dismissing the rise of any other heuristics, that any serious conceptualisation of agrarian change must pay attention to the basics of agrarian change at the same time paying deeper insights to the ground level realities in the countryside. We have restated the position advanced by the forbearers of the thesis (trimodal) that of importance are issues to do with the orientation of production, access to other forms of finance, employment status, labour utilisation and farm mechanisation when analysing the trimodal agrarian structure or any other agrarian structure in a post land reform context. The paper also showed that any study of agrarian change must recognise that agrarian classes are in constant flux (they are not static) and transitions are not classes. Going forward, we propose that agrarian scholars on Zimbabwe must engage in a deeper analysis of the trimodal agrarian structure (or any other structure) and conceptualise how large-scale A2 farmers who at the beginning of the FTLRP were meant to be capitalist farmers but after almost two decades are seen to be performing poorly when it comes to production, mechanisation and labour utilisation. This is an issue, which the ongoing land audit must address by way of downsizing such farms. The exercise of downsizing ‘oversized’ farms is a necessity to give a true meaning to the trimodal agrarian structure, that which can only spur accumulation from below and reduce the peasantry’s precarity which has become more acute in recent days.
1. Chambati, W .(2013). The Political Economy of Agrarian Labour Relations in Zimbabwe after Redistributive Land Reform. Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 2(2) 189–211 DOI: 10.1177/2277976013493570
2. Chambati, W. (2017). Changing Forms of Wage Labour in Zimbabwe’ s New Agrarian Structure. Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 1–34. https://doi.org/10.1177/2277976017721346
3. Moyo, S., and Yeros, P., (2013). The Zimbabwe Model: Radicalisation, reform and resistance. In S.Moyo & W.Chambati (Eds), Land and agrarian reform in Zimbabwe: Beyond white-settler capitalism(pp.331-357).Dakar: CODESRIA
4. Moyo S. and Yeros P. (2005). Introduction in Moyo, S. and P. Yeros, (Eds.), Reclaiming the land: The resurgence of rural movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America (pp. 1-7). London: Zed.
5. Moyo, S. and Nyoni, N. (2013). Changing agrarian relations after redistributive land reform in Zimbabwe. In Moyo, S. & Chambati, W. (Eds.). Land and agrarian reform in Zimbabwe: Beyond white settler capitalism (pp. 195-250). Dakar: CODESRIA.
6. Moyo, S. (1995a). The Land Question in Zimbabwe. Harare: SAPES Books.
7. Moyo, S. (2000). Land reform under structural adjustment in Zimbabwe: Land use change in the Mashonaland Provinces. Nordiska Afrika Institutet Uppsala
8. Moyo, S, Chambati,W., Murisa,T,. Siziba, D., Dangwa, C., Mujeyi, K., and Nyoni, N. (2009). Fast Track Land Reform Baseline Survey in Zimbabwe: Trends and Tendencies 2005/06. Harare: AIAS Monograph.
9. Moyo, S. (2011). Primitive accumulation and the destruction of African peasantries. In Patnaik, U. and Moyo, S. (Eds) The agrarian question in the neoliberal era: Primitive accumulation and the peasantry. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press: 61-86.
10. Moyo S. (2013). Land reform and redistribution in Zimbabwe since 1980. In Moyo, S. and Chambati, W. (Eds) Land and agrarian reform in Zimbabwe: Beyond white settler capitalism. Dakar: CODESRIA.
11. Moyo,S.(2016). Family farming in sub-Saharan Africa: its contribution to agriculture, food security and rural development. International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) Working Paper No. 150
12. Nyambara, P.S.(2003). Rural Landlords, Rural Tenants, and the Sharecropping Complex in Gokwe, Northwestern Zimbabwe, 1980s-2002. University of Zimbabwe, Centre for Applied Social Sciences.
13. Raftopolous, B., (2010). ‘The Global Political Agreement as a “Passive Revolution”: Notes on Contemporary Politics in Zimbabwe’, The Roundtable , Vol 99,No 411,pp.705-718
14. Sachikonye, L. (1989). The state and agribusiness in Zimbabwe: Plantations and contract farming. Leeds Southern Agrarian Studies 13. Agrarian Studies Unit, Leeds University.
15. Sakata, Y. (2016). Peasant and transnational companies after the land reform in Zimbabwe: A case study of tobacco contract farming in Mashonaland East Province.” PhD thesis, Osaka University, Japan.
16. Scoones, I., N. Marongwe, B. Mavedzenge, J. Mahenehene, F. Murimbarimba, and C. Sukume. (2010). Zimbabwe’s land reform: Myths and realities. Suffolk: James Currey; Harare: Weaver Press; Johannesburg: Jacana Media.
17. Shonhe, T. (2019) The changing agrarian economy in Zimbabwe, 15 years after the Fast Track Land Reform programme. Review of African Political Economy, 46:159, 14-32, DOI: 10.1080/03056244.2019.1606791
18. Shonhe, T. (2017). Reconfigured agrarian relations in Zimbabwe. Oxford: African Books Collective.
19. Yeros, P. (2002). The political economy of civilization: Peasant-workers in Zimbabwe and the neo-colonial world. Doctoral dissertation. London School of Economics and Political Science.
By Boaventura Monjane
After ten years of the liberation war against the Portuguese colonial regime, Mozambique ended the colonial system of land tenure, access and management, and nationalised all land. The Mozambique Liberation Front, Frelimo, introduced a socialist economy, based on the nationalisation of industry, state-controlled land reform, and a heavily supported social sector, including education, health and housing.
Land as state property
The first Constitution of the Republic of Mozambique establishes agriculture as the basis for the development of the country. The state is responsible for guaranteeing and promoting rural development, in accordance with the needs of the people and the socio-economic progress of Mozambique. According to the Constitution, land became state property and it “cannot be sold, or otherwise alienated, mortgaged or seized”. This means that, in theory, there are no commercial/financial values attached to land access.
As a universal means of creating wealth and social welfare, access to land was established as a right of all the Mozambican people.
The 1979 Land Law, which gave the state and Frelimo power over land management and decision making, was changed and a new Land Law came into effect in 1997. Mozambique was a single-party state from 1975 to 1994, when the first multi-party elections took place. Under the first land law (1979) foreign private capital investment in agriculture and other land uses was not possible, although there were cases of power abuse, corruption and expropriation of peasant farmers.
The country experienced a 16 years civil war, from 1977 to 1992, involving the National Resistance of Mozambique, Renamo (a former guerilla/militant organisation, now an opposition political party) and the Frelimo/state armed forces. Although the war had local dynamics, it was exacerbated by polarising effects of the Cold War. While Frelimo received support from the Soviet Union, Renamo received support from the CIA. National politics then had great influence in land dynamics and rural politics more broadly.
According to Bridget O´Laughlin, there were three main phases of agrarian transition until the end of “socialism”:
“The first phase, from 1975 to 1980, was defined by broad-ranging political consensus around the need for a rapid socialisation of production and residence through the expansion of state-farms, co-operatives, and communal villages. The second highly contradictory phase, from 1980 to 1983, was defined by Frelimo’s shift to a bureaucratic and hierarchical model of rapid socialist accumulation based almost exclusively in state farms. Starvation in rural areas, the stagnation of state farm production, and widening support for the Renamo opposition movement from South Africa (amongst others) led to a rapid expansion of both the war and parallel markets in rural areas. Frelimo’s strategy in the third phase, beginning with the Fourth Frelimo Party Congress in 1983, was initially defined as market socialism, but moved rapidly towards increased support for private commercial farming, and the distribution of some state farmland to multinational enterprises, Mozambican commercial farmers and some peasant households”.
The Post-socialist Land Law
Officially, the 1997 revision of the 1979 Land Law was in order to adapt it to the new political, economic and social situation. It was to guarantee access to and security of land, both for Mozambican peasants and for national and foreign investors. This went hand in hand with the adoption of neoliberal policies promoted by the Bretton Woods Institutions, namely the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Together with these institutions, there were many forces pushing for land privatisation, i.e. market intervention in land access and management. But this was strongly opposed by the counter forces of the “Land Campaign” . This was a dynamic and highly participatory process, with contributions from various sectors of Mozambican civil society. The participation of the Mozambique National Peasants Union, UNAC in the campaign was very crucial. As a result, state ownership of land remained unchanged in the new law, although it opened up possibilities for private capital to penetrate.
Foreign investors were allowed to invest in the agricultural sector (and others, including mining, etc.). This was permitted on the assumption that such investment would facilitate quick mechanisation of agriculture, rural industrialisation and, therefore, the resolution of the agrarian question. But that did not take place in the short- or medium-term, since the conditions for the massive creation of employment, industrialisation and urbanisation of society were not created. The peasantry did not transit to a full proletarianization. They remained either precarious agricultural workers or “semi-proletarians”. Semi-proletarianisation is the process of combining wage labour and other activities, such as farming for economic subsistence. As the “Handbook of alternative theories of economic development” puts it: “semi-proletarianised peasants struggle for a living against richer peasants, large-scale commercial farmers, and other employers who hire semi-proletarians at wages below the cost of social reproduction.”
How to access land
Individuals and companies can access land by acquiring the right to use and benefit from the land. This is known as Direito de Uso e Aproveitamento da Terra (DUAT). Local individuals and communities can access rural land though customary norms. So, in accordance with customary norms, any individual or community that has stayed in and used land for at least ten years in “good faith” has a natural right of use. To a certain degree, these norms have legal status, as they are established by the law. However, they can be manipulated, disregarded or simply ignored, as we will see later.
The concession of a DUAT is free of charge and for life for peasant farmers, cooperatives and local peasant associations. According to the law, the absence of a written DUAT title does not prevent them from exercising their customary rights.
Foreigners – and national investors – have to acquire a written DUAT title, through a number of procedures, including consulting members of the communities in which the land is being requested. In such cases, the state issues and reserves the right to withdraw the DUAT title. All DUATs and land use can also be withdrawn for reasons of public interest. For purposes of economic activity, the DUAT is granted for 50 years, renewable for an equal period at the request of the interested party. DUAT fees are “symbolic”, therefore very low.
Why land grabs?
First, we have to understand the formation of a national capitalist class. In order to have access to Mozambican resources and markets, international capital needed a compliant domestic capitalist class. No such class existed, so there was a need to create it. “Privatisation” of the state was a necessary condition for the process of capital accumulation and the creation of local oligarchies. From generals to top politicians and lobbyists, a small number of individuals reaped benefits from the privatisation of state enterprises, banks and services. This was also true in the natural resources sector. Fertile farmlands and mines were appropriated, in most cases from the peasantry.
In the whole economy more broadly, this has led to a kind of porousness. According to the economist Nuno Castel-Branco, there has been an inability, deliberate or not, to retain the uncommitted surplus that could be used for the reproduction of the economy as a whole. In other words, elites capture the state in order to generate surpluses. These surpluses are then financialized, either in domestic capital markets, or, more often, in international capital markets. Of course this also results in capital flight.
In land access and use, the “progressive” land law has been breached or manipulated. Traditional or community leaders have been coopted and fake community consensus and agreement has been fabricated to allow capital to penetrate. Over the last decade, land conflicts have got worse and the number of dispossessed peasanty has been increasing.
In Nampula and Zambezia provinces of Northern Mozambique, family agriculture was replaced by industrial monocrops of soya. One agribusiness company that dislocated hundreds of peasant families has connections with a former president and other political elites.
Reclaiming the state, intensifying the struggles
In Mozambique, agrarian movements – and organised civil society more broadly – have been fighting to defend the current land law, even though it can be manipulated by elites. What emerges from this discussion is the need to reclaim the state and make it more progressive and work for the people.
The other element to highlight is that the attainment of democratic rights – including the right to access, control and defend land – must be defended and advanced through everyday struggles. Laws and policies on their own won’t make significant change. Elites always threaten to capture progressive policies.
Boaventura Monjane is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra and associate researcher at the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies.
He is a Mozambican journalist and social activist. His research interests include agrarian social movements, agrarian political economy, climate change and “alternatives from below”.
This article summarises Monjane’s input into the Land Debate, convened by the Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education in Cape Town, in June 2019. This article of first published in Amandla Magazine, Issue No. 65, August 2019
I would like to thank Sameer Dossani for his comments and proofreading.
Women and Naked Protests in Uganda: Breathing new life into feminist discourse that women do not own land
Theresa Auma Eilu*
Blog Article submitted to SMAIAS to be posted on Agrarian South Network (ASN)
24 July 2019
As a form of resistance to the recent emergence of large-scale land acquisition in Uganda, women have been at the forefront of violent confrontations with state authorities and investors. In a context where the dominant feminist discourse declared that patriarchal customary norms hinders women from owning and having rights over land, it has become a surprise that women are leading all forms of resistance to large-scale land alienation, instead of men. One of the major forms of women’s resistance has been through their engagement in naked protests in different parts of the country. The most famous women naked protest was cited in Amuru district in northern Uganda when women led their communities is resisting government acquisition of about 40,000 hectares of land for Madhvani sugar plantation in 2015. Another incidence of women naked protests was in 2012 when women of Lakang sub-county in Amuru district undressed before the district resident commissioner who had led a delegation to take their land for a sugar cane plantation. In 2014, a group of women in Soroti district in eastern Uganda also staged a naked protest against government effort to give away their land for the expansion of Soroti University. In 2015, women in Bukedea district in eastern Uganda further engaged in a naked protest to resist a Chinese investor grabbing their land. In 2015 women from Apaa sub-county in Amuru district also staged a naked protest to stop further evictions (after 6,000 people were evicted in 2012) to allow government allocate their land to a South African investor to establish wildlife hunting grounds. The contestation exhibited in these naked contests is purely of agrarian nature, one in which women who engage in smallholder agriculture on customary land are contesting the advance of agrarian capital through the expansion of large-scale agricultural (foreign) investments. It is a manifestation of the tensions that emerge as a result of an attempt to force a capitalist shift towards large-scale agriculture, to the disadvantage of the rural smallholder farmers in different parts of the global south.
The dominant feminist discourse that customary law and customary practices in Uganda do not allow women to own land; that patriarchy stood on the way for women’s access to and control of land reached a climax in Uganda during the writing of the 1998 Land Act. During this period, the women’s movement operating in the context of civil society organizations (CSOs) towed the individual rights-based approach and called for the law to give equal rights over land between husbands and wives, in what famously became known as the Co-Ownership campaign. During this campaign, the women’s movement deployed statistics showing that although women do 70-80% of agricultural food production, only 16% of these women own land, and that women owned only 7% of the land titled in Uganda. Because of its unpopularity within the Ugandan (patriarchal) society and among policy makers, the co-ownership clauses were rejected and never found its way into the 1998 Land Act, or any subsequent land laws in Uganda to-date. Only one clause on spousal consent during sale of family land was included in the 1998 Land Act, but this clause has not been supported by state enforcement to ensure that women’s consent is secured before family land is sold.
Contemporary studies conducted in the areas where women engaged in naked protests show that resistance to large-scale land acquisition involving investors and state agents has been left to women because when faced with the Investor-State power, men exhibit a sense of powerlessness while women stage resistance because they argue that as mothers, their duty is to feed their children and it is from land that they draw subsistence. A section of contemporary feminist writers in Uganda have begun to shift the nature of the debate and breathing new life into the former feminist discourse within the women’s movement that customs do not allow women to own land. They argue that women have been able to sustain naked protests in resistance to large-scale land alienation due to the fact that customary law guarantees the land rights of women (equally with men), but the difference is that these rights are not accorded on individual terms as envisioned by the women’s movement during the 1998 Co-ownership campaign, but rather through collective rights within families and clans.
Feminist writers are now framing new questions that, if women who are declared by the dominant feminist discourse not to own land are currently at the forefront of resisting expansion of large-scale land alienation in Uganda, what is their stake over this land? Feminist scholars are asking how the new knowledge that customary land tenure actually caters for women’s land rights should sit with the former advocacy stance of the women’s movement – alongside feminist scholars – that women do not own land. The emerging feminist discourse is that the women’s movement can not continue to present simplistic propositions about co-ownership of land between husbands and wives (in the individual sense) because this is not applicable to land relations within the customary system. Feminist scholars in Uganda are re-visiting their earlier analysis of patriarchy by noting that patriarchy is not as rigid and disempowering to women as previously presented, but rather that it is flexible and has room to cater for women’s interests.
* The Author is a PhD Fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), Makerere University
Does the support for ‘second inning’ of Modi-Government indicate the absence of Agrarian Distress in India?
The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), backed by the right wing ideology has been elected for the second consecutive term in India. The Modi-led BJP government has been endorsed with 303 seats in Lok Sabha out of 543 with the largest vote share (44%), 5% more than their vote share in 2014. This enormous mandate is received by BJP at a juncture when the country is facing one of the worst phases of the economy in the recent past. Industrial manufacturing growth is low[i], the unemployment rate is highest in the last 45 years[ii], and the rate of growth of investment, export and consumption demands are going down.[iii] Needless to mention that the mandate is reflective of their ground work strategies to pull votes on communal lines, despite serious economic and policy failures. The workers and peasant movements have been significant in the past few years.
It is worth noticing that agriculture, which employs 42 per cent of the workforce in India, remained neglected for the last five years. The Government’s expenditure on agriculture remained less than 2.5 per cent of the total Union budget and 0.3 per cent of GDP of India in the last regime. The numbers are not much different from the Congress-led Government during 2009-2014. However, for the election campaign during the 2014 election BJP had promised to provide a higher price for agricultural products. But after coming to power, agriculture could not get the attention of the ruling party.
Agrarian crisis is the result of output and price insecurities that has affected farmers across all agro-ecological regions in India. Against the output insecurity, ‘PM Crop Insurance Scheme’ of the BJP-led Government became a huge scam. According to observations made by P. Sainath, a renowned journalist, the farmers paid an insurance premium of Rs 192 million in one district of Maharashtra state of India, the state government and the central governments paid Rs 770 million each, amounting to a total of Rs 1732 million, which was paid to Reliance Insurance. The entire crop failed, and Reliance Insurance paid Rs 300 million in one district out of the total claims, giving it a total net profit of Rs 1432 million.[iv] This is the classic case to indicate how the crisis of farmers can be used to make profit by the private companies. However, the number of beneficiaries of PM Crop Insurance is minuscule; as per latest available numbers, only 15 per cent of the total farmers in India had benefited from an insurance cover for Kharif Crops (Monsoon Crops) and 4 per cent for Rabi Crops (Winter Crops).[v]
If farmers somehow manage to harvest crops, still they will face price insecurity that results in either negative return or very low return over the cost. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism was devised to deal with such price insecurities, but, in the new liberal era, this too faced manipulation. Under the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, between 2009 and 2014, the MSP of Paddy, fixed by Government of India, was on an average, between 24 and 27 per cent higher than the national average of Cost of Production (CoP) of paddy. However, the figure decreased to 6-9 per cent under the four years of the BJP-led regime between 2014 and 2018. It should be noted that the Government of India declares MSP at the national level, but, the CoP is different for different states, and that is why there are some states where MSP is less than the CoP.
Figure 1: MSP to CoP Ratio for Paddy in India between 2009-10 and 2017-18
Source: Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No. 2971, dated on 07.09.2012, Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 2199, dated on 10.03.2015, Question No. 2506, dated on 04.08.2015, Question No. 349, dated on 01.12.2015. & Question No. 2924, dated on 13.03.2018.
From figure 1, it is also clear that in the five years of the UPA regime, the percentage height of MSP over CoP of paddy declined. However, there was no attempt made for revival by the NDA Government. The average annual growth rate of MSP of paddy under UPA was 7.5 per cent, whereas it decreased to 6 per cent under five years of BJP-led regime.
It should also be noted that the MSP is effective only in the case of progressive public procurement. It has been observed in many studies that price received by the farmers in the absence of public procurement is generally less than the MSP. The decline of procurement-production ratio began under UPA regime; in 2009-10, the public procurement agencies procured 36 per cent of rice and 31 per cent of wheat produced in the country, the numbers decreased to 30 per cent and 26 per cent respectively in 2013-14. Like previously mentioned indicators, the BJP-led Government did nothing to increase the procurement; in fact, the procurement production ratio has become worse. In the five years of the UPA Government, public agencies procured 33 per cent of rice and 31 per cent of wheat. In the four years of the BJP-led Government, the number decreased to 32 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.
Figure 2. Procurement Production Ratio of Paddy and Wheat between 2009-10 and 2017-18
Source: Calculated by author, data from Reserve Bank of India.
So, the combination of output insecurity, decreasing MSP and shrinking public procurement of crops have deepened the crisis in a manner that farmers are finally pushed into a debt trap. In the last decade, on a couple of occasions, the Government agencies surveyed the debt situation of agricultural households in India. The Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households conducted during 2012-13 by National Sample Survey Office of the Government of India reported that out of the total loan taken by farmers, 39.4 per cent are from informal sources that charge a huge interest rate.[vi] Another agency, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, reported on the basis of All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey, during 2016-17 that agricultural households borrowed 39.8 per cent of the total loan from informal sources.[vii] The debt situation of farmers did not improve under the BJP-led Government; in fact, there is a marginal increase in coverages of informal lending sources.
The debt remained one of the major reasons behind farmers’ suicide in India. According to National Crime Record Bureau data, between 1995 and 2015, nearly 322 thousand farmers committed suicide in India, which means nearly 45 farmers, on an average, committed suicide every day.[viii] In the last three decades, several Governments came, including Congress and BJP, but the farmers’ situation remained almost the same. On the issue of farmers’ suicide, the Modi-led Government did nothing except one thing; the Government stopped publishing the Suicide Data.[ix]
Unfortunately, amid jingoism and loud election campaign, none of the above-mentioned factors could capture space in political debates. The corporate media had also played a significant role in wiping out the issue of agrarian distress from the political arena. In front of the communal speeches and biased media coverage of political rallies, left parties were almost ignored, and other major political parties could not mainstream the issues of workers and peasants. So, the support for second inning of Modi-Government certainly does not mean the improvement of agrarian community in the first inning of his rule. Hopefully, the suppression of the reality by the Government will give strength to the oppressed agrarian community and very soon, they will stand together to change the scenario.
Senior Research Fellow
Centre for Economic Studies and Planning
Jawaharlal Nehru University
[x] Author is a PhD Scholar at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Jenifer Queila Santana
Former Counselor of CONSEA
PhD Candidate on Political Science at Federal University of Pernambuco
Member of the Research Group of Hunger and International Relations (FomeRI/UFPB)
The Food and Nutrition Security (SAN, in Portuguese) policy suffered attacks on the first day of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government. Provisional Measure (PM) No. 870 promulgated on January 1st of 2019 effectively extinguished the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security (CONSEA), an agency so important to the historic construction of Public Policies focused on fighting hunger, promoting SAN, and the Human Right to Adequate Food.
CONSEA was created in 1993 under the government of Itamar Franco. The Council was born from the demand of organized civil society. On a historical scale, it was a pioneering attempt to promote the discussion on Food and Nutrition Security (SAN) in a political environment based on social participation and the integration of diverse sectors. Due to the lack of adherence to the theme in the political agenda of the 1990s, the organ was extinguished in 1995 during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government by Decree nº 1366.
The Lula government re-created the CONSEA in 2003. The composition of the CONSEA was established in order to have 2/3 of its Counselors from civil society (40 members) and 1/3 of the government (20 members). In addition to the Counselors, the body would consist of an Executive Secretariat, a Board of Directors, Standing Committees and Working Groups, and the Commission of Presidents of State Councils of Food and Nutrition Security. The CONSEA advocated a healthy, sustainable, agroecological, fair production model (food system) that respected the diversity of production systems. All of his actions focused on ensuring the non-violation of the Human Right to Adequate Food.
After its re-creation, CONSEA assumed its position of advising the Presidency of the Republic, being institutionally responsible for the social control of formulation, execution, and monitoring of both the Policy and the National Plan of Food Security (PNSAN and PLANSAN, in portuguese). These prerogatives of action and others were instituted through the adoption of Law No. 11346 (LOSAN), considered one of the main achievements of CONSEA’s actions in recent years. LOSAN instituted in its Art. 3 the concept of SAN, and in its Art. 7, it established the National System of Food Security and Nutrition (SISAN, in portuguese).
SISAN was created to be intersectoral; focused on implementation of the PNSAN and the PLANSAN; aimed at fostering integration efforts between civil society and government; and also focused on monitoring and evaluation of SAN Public Policies. The composition of SISAN was structured through the union of two bodies: CONSEA and CAISAN (SAN Interministerial Chamber). CAISAN would be composed of twenty ministries, which would work on the intersectoral articulation of SAN programs and actions, and on the management, monitoring and evaluation of PLANSAN. Subsequently, Decree 7272/2010 instituted the particularities of the National Food Security Policy (PNSAN). It was determined that the Policy would be implemented from PLANSAN, and the construction of PLANSAN, in turn, would also be done through a joint action of CONSEA and CAISAN.
My arrival at the CONSEA happened in 2017, when 60% of the Board members who had been in the institution since the previous decade were renewed. The 5th National Conference on Food and Nutrition Security held in November 2015, approved the creation of a youth segment within the organization, in order to deal more assertively with the demands of this public within the body. As a student of International Relations, my approach to the topic of SAN came from Research Group on Hunger and International Relations of the Federal University of Paraiba (FomeRI/UFPB) itself since its creation in 2012. There I came to have contact with the subject and to study the various relations of the subject with the agenda of International Relations. My entry into CONSEA, also came as a result of the work in the NGO Engajamundo, aimed at training young people to act in decision-making bodies. Engajamundo was invited to occupy one of the chairs for the youth segment in the organ, and since I dealt more directly with the issue within the NGO, I was appointed to the position.
The arrival of youth in CONSEA took place in a very challenging context. Already in the Michel Temer (2016/2018) government, after the fraudulent impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. We went through a fairly cut-off scenario in the budget of several SAN Public Policies, experiencing a setback in historical achievements in the struggle for non-violation of the Human Right to Adequate Food. Instead of advancing the youth agenda, we joined the other Counselors in the various plenaries and we had to discuss the challenges they faced.
Provisional Measure No. 870 decreed by President Bolsonaro on January 1st, 2019 has come to aggravate the challenges already in place. The PM revoked Art. 11 of LOSAN, removing both CONSEA’s activities within the spectrum of SISAN and its position as a direct advisor to the Presidency of the Republic, disarticulating in practice the social control of the institutional framework centered on the formulation, monitoring, and evaluation of SAN Public Policies.
Undoubtedly, the disintegration of CONSEA is something of great concern. Most of the policies approved in Brazil and internationally reputed to be responsible for taking the country out of the FAO’s Hunger Map in 2014 also came about through the relentless demand, articulation, and action of the National Council and the State Councils of SAN. The consolidation of the Human Right to Adequate Food as a social right in Article 6 of the Federal Constitution (Constitutional Amendment 064/2010), the PNSAN and the PLANSAN; the Programs of Coexistence with the Semi-Arid; the Harvest Plan for Family Agriculture; the Food Guide of the Brazilian Population; and the National Policy on Agroecology and Organic Production, consisted of some of the innovative proposals designed or supported by CONSEA, seeking to assure the Brazilians the Human Right to Adequate Food. In addition, the very participatory structure of construction of Policies of SAN used in the SISAN was considered a model for several countries.
Several entities have already reacted against the extinction of the body, among them the Slow Food Brasil Association, the Federal Council of Nutritionists, the Brazilian Association of Collective Health, and the Brazilian Forum on Sovereignty and Food and Nutrition Security. In addition, public hearings and special sessions were held in the Chamber of Deputies, the Federal Senate and some State Legislative Assemblies to defend the permanence of the CONSEA. In a more recent measure (May 1, 2019), Justice Minister Marco Aurélio accepted an injunction from the Workers’ Party in defense of the participatory councils and requested an urgent vote in the Supreme Federal Court. In the direct action of unconstitutionality, the Workers’ Party alleged that the extinction of the councils, in the MP of Bolsonaro, violates the constitutional framework of formulation and implementation of public policies, which requires a social control.
While the process related to MP follows its flow, we can’t know for sure its results. However, it is clear to me that the deconstruction of this Council will represent a setback in the achievements that directly impacted the table of Brazilian citizens. Because food is so basic and primordial, it cannot be subjugated to games of interest that, at the end of the day, favor a model of production and consumption that is not accessible, sustainable, healthy, fair and inclusive. We need all international support in the fight against the CONSEA’s extinction. Join us!
Pablo Gilolmo Lobo*
In 1991, in the aftermath of independence, the Namibian government hosted a National Land Conference in order to tackle one of the main colonial heritages that motivated the liberation struggle and urged the new national project: land redistribution. In October 2018, and in the face of the rachitic record showed by land reform twenty-seven years after the first conference, the Namibian government organized a Second National Land Conference. At this Conference, the ineffectiveness of the 1991’s approach to land reform was evaluated and previously dismissed concerns discussed with a number of resolutions sketching a new direction for land reform adopted. Whether this Second Conference represents a genuine push for the acceleration of land reform, the effective elimination of the colonial/racist bias on land distribution, and the harmonization of the claims of the various social constituencies involved; or whether it is a mere exercise of propaganda in the context of a conflict of interest between sections of the ruling elite, is still a matter for debate.
Like other settler colonies in Africa, Namibia inherited from its colonial past an extremely uneven land distribution, markedly skewed along racial lines. The apartheid division between “native homelands” and commercial farms was the spatial expression of a racial division of labor that still oozes through the whole social and political life of the country. At independence, the commercial sector, roughly 58% of the country’s farming land, was exclusively white owned, while the homelands provided for the reproduction of the native labor force; the latter employed either in a regime based on “residential labor tenancy” (in the farms) or under the migrant labor system (mostly in the mining/industrial sector).
In relation to the redistribution of commercial farmland, the 1991 National Land Conference resolved to adopt a “market friendly” approach. The willing-seller-willing-buyer system (WSWB) simply granted government with a first buying option on farms otherwise freely put on sale. An Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) was also put in place to subsidize the private acquisition of farms by native Namibians. Although the possibility of expropriation with fair compensation remained open, this option was seldom attempted by the Ministry of Land Reform (MLR), while no comprehensive policy was put in place for the systematic implementation of expropriation. In contrast, WSWB and AALS were the object of an extensive administrative and regulatory apparatus. As for the other side of the coin of the apartheid system, the native homelands, the years following the 1991 Land Conference witnessed the adoption of the mainstream policies of the time: registration of communal land rights and creation of small-scale farms on individually-granted leases at selected sites. Arguably, both measures have the final aim of substituting customary tenure regimes for private property regimes by gradually transforming land into a marketable commodity. Somehow contradictorily, the implementation of these policies resulted in the reinforcement of the role and power of Traditional Authorities.
However, the main reason behind the executive decision to organize the Second National Land Conference was perhaps the little success of the WSWB system in effecting extensive land redistribution. Being such a politically sensitive issue, and a publicly debated one throughout post-independence decades, the lack of success and the absence of plausible answers on the side of government implied increasing political risks no longer possible to obviate. The Conference was initially scheduled for September 2017, but finally postponed to the last quarter of 2018. The postponement allowed for the organization of regional preparatory meetings. In this process some Traditional Authorities, political leaders and social movements such as the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) and the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement came with a strong revival of ancestral land claims. The anger produced by a general sentiment that the resettlement programme under WSWB had been elite-captured and ethnically-biased fueled claims to make publicly available the list of resettlement beneficiaries. The former Deputy Minister of Land Reform, Bernardus Swartbooi resigned from his post in December 2016 to become part of the LPM, while former SWAPO Party Youth League Secretary for Information, Job Amupanda, now leader of AR, pressed on issues such as the urban land question and, most of all, the truly agitating novelty coming with the South African winds: the claim for land expropriation without compensation.
The sensitivity of these issues became heated during preparations for the Conference in two ways. First, some SWAPO and government members affirmed that ancestral land claims should “not be entertained”, arguing that it would bring ethnic conflict and undermine the one-Namibia-one-Nation project. Leaders of social movements and Traditional Authorities insisted on ancestral land claims as a condition for them to recognize the legitimacy of the Conference. Regarding expropriation without compensation, the positions were less polarized. Influenced by the events in South Africa after the ANC and parliament had proposed constitutional changes to allow for this measure, voices for and against were heard from all the political constituencies in Namibia. Second, the organizational process of the conference was protracted and obscure. Just a few days before the opening, many stakeholders still didn’t even know if they were supposed to participate. When the final draft of the Conference program was leaked, it turned up that LMP and AR leaders had been left out. There was confusion over this issue, even though these leaders were finally included, they called for a boycott of the event, accusing government of organizing a face-washing hoax. The Civil Society Forum and several Traditional Leaders joined the boycott. However, not all of them kept their word. Anyhow, the credibility of the Conference was put into question even before it’s opening.
To summarize here the proceedings and outcomes of the Second National Land Conference would require more space. I will rather select some of the statements that I find more revealing. It is worth starting with the speeches of the two ex-presidents of Namibia, Sam Nujoma and Hifikepunye Pohamba. Somehow surprisingly given their inaction during their leadership, they both came up with the most (apparently) radical proposal heard at the conference: to nationalize all land. Socialist rhetoric is still common in Namibia, but actual socialist politics are not, as presidential terms served by both ex-presidents precisely show. However, some political interpretations might explain their positions. Nujoma and Pohamba are, arguably, main figures of what can be defined as the compradorial pact between a politically reformed SWAPO wing and the “international community”. A pact that led to the negotiated transition to independence. SWAPO’s turning point from socialism to politics of “reconciliation” was the acceptance of the UN-imposed constitutional principles in 1982. The comprador label fits well, as shown by the little disturbance suffered by white interests in independent Namibia. Needless to say, a compradorial pact implies the lack of promotion of an indigenous-led capitalist development.
In analogy with the observable contrast between Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa, the current President Hage Geingob represents, on the other hand, the bourgeois wing of the ruling party. Geingob leads those interested in the development of an indigenous productive bourgeoisie that clashes with the political interests of the parasitic compradorial elite and competes with the white domination of the economy. Such a bourgeois class project is rather concerned about extensive land redistribution to the extent that control over land, in Namibia, is a necessary condition to undermine the white privileged position, become independent economic agents and ultimately get relatively freed from entrenched foreign interests. This thus enables the growth of a national class. With such depiction of the Namibian political scene, one can stay assured that in a comprador-dominated state, one where the nationalization of land would have little to do with a project of land socialization Examples abound elsewhere in Africa, as land grabbing proceeds with the connivance of comprador-dominated states. However, it might also be the case that the radical statements by Nujoma and Pohamba were just intended to satisfy part of the audience as well as to agitate white fears Anyhow, the message was delivered and land nationalization was not considered further at all.
Bluntly neo-liberal discourses were amply heard at the meeting. One could expect those warning about market instability, impacts on foreign investment and the sacred status of private property to come from financial institutions representatives, like the head of the Bank of Namibia. But scholars such a Wofgang Werner also joined this team. In advocacy of liberal common-sense, he argued that the main problem in communal lands is lack of credit and the best way to solve it is to make land “bankable” (in other words, to commoditise it). Regarding ancestral land claims, the known stark positions for and against were heard, although Willem Odendaal reminded the audience that in the previous Conference these claims were not rejected (as it is usually understood). Rather, the 1991 resolutions had only acknowledged that such claims would be difficult to satisfy “in full”, given their overlapping nature. The final proposal pointed to a possible reconciliation of the opposing stances. It consisted on granting a quota of 70% of resettled farms to the peoples who actually lost their land under colonialism, and leave the remaining 30% for peoples coming from other regions. This proposal recognizes the uneven nature of colonial land dispossession and the need for material reparations, but without excluding anyone. However, the final resolutions enclosed the proposal of the War Veterans Association to include them, and their dependents, into the 70% reserved for the dispossessed peoples. In Namibia most of the armed liberation struggle was fought in the north of the country, where no land dispossession occurred during colonialism. Therefore, the inclusion of veterans and dependents implies that virtually all the population from these northern regions qualify to the resettlement farms supposedly reserved for the descendants of colonial land dispossession and genocide. The matter is far from being solved.
Even less clear than the solution adopted about land reform beneficiaries, was the Conference’s resolution on the formula for land acquisition. According to the resolutions, The WSWB principle “should be abolished and replaced with alternative acquisition methods”. These alternatives were not made explicit, except for expropriation “with just compensation” of “foreign-owned farms, underutilized land, [and] absentee landlords”. Although constitutional changes were discarded, expropriation without compensation was not ruled out just as it was stated that the door remains open to define “just” in accordance to considerations of past injustices. To date, it appears that there is no general land acquisition policy in place in Namibia. The Conference also noted the urban land question in Namibia as a matter of “national humanitarian crisis”, while proposals to grant tenure rights to generational farm workers on retirement were included in the final resolutions. With regards to the veterinary cordon fence that isolates northern regions from international markets, it was decided to “gradually remove” it, as was the intention since 1991 and repeatedly postponed due to technical veterinary impediments.
Some elements at the conference initially proposed that the resolutions should be treated as mere “recommendations”, but due to stiff opposition, it was decided that what came out of the meeting should be resolutions. It can however be concluded that the resolutions were vague with regards to the burning land question in Namibia. This means that a solution to the Namibian land question might again not be implemented for decades to come, as was the case with the resolutions adopted at the 1991 Conference. However, one may expect that the bourgeois-led class project will demand otherwise, and that an effective and extensive land redistribution will finally take place in one way or another. What did not happen at the Second National Land Conference was the adoption of a new national pact on the land question. This national pact, given the political and economic relevance of land in Namibia, amounts to a renewed national project; one able to conciliate the different interests involved, cutting across a variety of social cleavages. Arguably, this new and widely agreed national project is what is needed if conflicts between Namibians, which only benefit the comprador-imperial alliance, are to be avoided and replaced by a genuine and inclusive path of national development.
* Pablo Gilolmo is a PhD Candidate in Human Rights in Contemporary Societies at the Center for
Social Studies, University of Coimbra; holder of an FCT scholarship (Ref.: PD/BD/114079/2015).
Editing: Freedom Mazwi and Boaventura Monjane
 Excluding protected areas and municipal land. Calculated from data in: Namibia Statistic Agency (2018). Namibia Land Statistic Bulletin. September 2018. Windhoek: NSA.
 See Chambati, W. (2017). Changing Forms of Wage Labour in Zimbabwe’s New Agrarian Structure. Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 6(1), 1-34.
 And mostly with no success due to the legal challenges posed by farm owners (see Harring, S. & Odendaal, W. (2008) Kessl: A New Jurisprudence for Land Reform in Namibia? Windhoek: Legal Assistance Centre).
 Borras, J. & Franco, J. (2010). Contemporary Discourses and Contestations around Pro-Poor Land Policies and Land Governance. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10(1), 1-32.
For a more extensive analysis, see also: Moyo, S. (2008) African Land Questions, Agrarian Transitions and the State: Contradictions of Neo-liberal Land Reforms. Dakar: CODESRIA.
 Inevitably many of the topics addressed at the Conference will be left out here. All final resolutions are available at: http://www.mlr.gov.na/documents/20541/638917/Second+National+Land+Conference+Resolutions+2018.pdf/15b498fd-fdc6-4898-aeda-91fecbc74319
 See Kaapama, P. (2007) Commercial land reforms in postcolonial Namibia. What happened to liberation struggle rhetoric? In: Melber, H. (Ed.): Transitions in Namibia. Which Changes for Whom? Uppsala: NAI. Pp: 29-49.
We understand that this course of action depends almost entirely on the disarmament of the agrarian right wing collation, focusing the interventions on the concentrating agents (agrarian pools, landowners, exporting companies) and for the benefit of the middle and family agriculture.
Argentina´s next government will have a complex fiscal situation. After three years of a “gradualist” policy, 2018 was the perfect-neoliberal-storm; capital flight of US$ 30,000 million dollars, US$ 57,000 million indebtedness with the IMF, reductions in retirements and pensions, and massive budget cut for 2019 (to the point that at this moment we are the only country in the world that does not have a ministry of health). Fall of % 3.5 of the GDP, poverty reaching % 33.6 (the highest in decade) and the polls stopped being the crystal mirror in favor. With this panorama, the Peronist opposition, embodied in the figure of the ex-president Cristina Fernandez, discusses the creation of a broad alliance between the left, the so called “progressivism” and part of the center. The fine points are not discussed, but what seems to be a primary agreement is the need to change the course of the economy, leaving aside the recession model and returning to the expansive Keynesian measures.
The question that buzzes all ears is; Who will pay for that? Many have evoked the huge feat of the first Kirchner government, which paid the entire debt with the IMF (2006) and negotiated the private debt with a 25% reduction (2003/2005, with second chance in 2010). What the nostalgics often forget is that all of that was achieved after a declaration of default, after the abandonment of the exchange rate parity and the political-social crisis of 2001. Currently, the “rescue” agreement (triples quotation marks) of the IMF seems to be done to eliminate this possibility, ensuring the resources for the 2019 due dates, year in which the government will want to finish big and take more debt or sign a new agreement – more pyrrhic than the current one.
The objective of the “Fund” (as we say to the IMF) maneuver seems obvious; prevent the incoming government (be it of any wing) from declaring the default in the first year of administration. With that time bought, the bet is to build a panorama where the option of taking external debt at good rates is the most succulent, stress the internal discussions of a weak political coalition and pushing the government to the right. But the swings of the world economy give no respite to speculators; if the commercial war between the USA and China continues, there seem to be no much room for financing an economy like Argentina – especially if Brazil´s Bolsonaro becomes a contender.
The two historical sectors of Argentina rentism appear again in the speculative horizon: the financial and agricultural-export sector. Historical experience has shown that the former may be the most tamable, with a major alliance between the national industrial sector and the trade unions, sustained by a policy of lowering the interest rate for industry and for the consumption of the middle class. The previous government applied ceilings to the exchange of foreign currency and used central bank reserves to pay debt, measures that would seem simple to reapply.
The same cannot be said of the agricultural export sector. The bid for its resources has been the key that explains the course of Argentina history. Just to make recent history, the boom in commodity prices was one of the central aspects of the economy after abandonment of convertibility. The result was the creation of an extractivist coalition where, during the years 2002 and 2010, the expansive and redistributive policies were combined with the excessive and unbridled advance of the soybean export complex. After the North American crisis of 2008, and faced with the possibility of a new recession, the government of Cristina Fernández proposed the creation of a regime of mobile export rights, with an aliquot on the rise, due to the increase in international prices. This project generated a strong media and political conflict of great weight, named “conflict with the countryside”, which was resolved in a coalition between the most concentrated export sectors and the squirearchy, and the medium and small producers of the Pampean region, both defending a policy of liberalization.
This was the platform under which the retrograde right wing won the elections in 2015. The proposal of Macri and his team was the elimination of the “bad, very bad tax” (as they say to export rights), which they barely assumed (absolute elimination for wheat and corn, and progressive for soy). But after the capital flight of 2018, the government found in the increase of the “bad, very bad tax” a simple way of currency availability. In addition to that, an increase in tax collection is expected in 2019, due to good harvest forecasts.
What is the expected level for 2019 of the “bad, very bad tax”? As shown in the graph, it is exactly the same percentage of the total tax collection as in 2008.
This brings us to the political problem about the real possibility (or not) of being able to expropriate part of the surplus of the agricultural export sector by the government that assumes in December of next year. We believe that it is not only a good option in terms of tax collections, but also an essential structural need for the country. We understand that this course of action depends almost entirely on the disarmament of the agrarian right wing collation, focusing the interventions on the concentrating agents (agrarian pools, landowners, exporting companies) and for the benefit of the middle and family agriculture. But if something has shown us the recent history of Latin America and the Global South, it is that this type of measures requires popular mobilization, creativity and the radicalization of politics.
For this reason, it is essential that land rights become an issue for the next elections, as it was in South Africa, and that the agrarian popular organizations assume their historic role.
* Damian Lobos is part of Asociación Civil “Pedro Ignacio de Castro Barros”, Observatorio AUPA – INTA AER Córdoba, Argentina. He is ASTI Alumni (2017).
Editing: Boaventura Monjane
Hashim bin Rashid*
On December 5, 2018, thousands of farmers from central and southern Punjab descended on Lahore under the umbrella of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad-Anwar Group (PKI-A). The demands were to increase the support price for sugar cane, force sugar mills to start the crushing season, increase fertilizer subsidies and ending cases against protesting farmers in Burewala district. They made their way back to their villages after two days of negotiations with government officials, who made public statements warning sugar mills to start the crushing season or face the consequences.
Two days later, the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association issued its own statement calling the increased support price of around $1.3 per 40 kg of sugarcane to be ‘too high.’ The tussle between sugar mills and sugar cane growers has been a long bone of contention between the two actors. Sugar mill owners are understood to be the dominant actor, who force farmers to wait in line for weeks to buy their produce, offer reduced prices and continue to delay payments. And yet sugar cane has remained a major cash crop in the country for over half a century.
Sugarcane, cotton, wheat and rice became the staple crops in Punjab’s agrarian belt in the 1960s with the advent of the Green Revolution and policies to grow crops that could support national industrialization. The growing of wheat and cotton were legacies of the colonial era, when Punjab was converted from a pastoral belt into an agrarian one in a short period of around 40 years. Punjab’s five major rivers were tapped to build a network of canals, new villages were settled, new farmland cultivated as over a million people arrived to settle this new agrarian frontier. Their colonial overlords promised a kind of prosperity that the settlers had never seen before. In the colonial mind, it had achieved three goals at once: secured revenue, secured crop supply for the British imperial army and British industry, and quelled domestic dissent.
The canal colonies of Punjab were the greatest achievement of the kind of miracles a ‘beneficent’ colonialism could bring to the colonized. The miracle began to unravel within years. The very peasants that the British settled in the canal colonies became some of the leading agitators within two decades of settlement. The colonial peasantry of Punjab became the breeding ground for all shades of anti-colonial rebellion, with a number of Communist-led organizations taking their roots in the region since 1905. Starting with the Pagri Bacha Jatta (Save your Turban, Oh Peasant) movement, Punjab’s agrarian space became host to a number of socialist-inspired peasant mobilizations, including the Ghadar Party, the Kirti Kissan Party and the Punjab Kissan Sabha.
The same agrarian space that was imagined as harmonious also became the breeding ground for communal conflict between Muslims and Hindus and between Muslims and Sikhs. The roots of communal and class conflict were laid in two aspects of how canal colonization took place: the division of land and who controlled agrarian finance. Land was unequally divided between big landlords, capitalist farmers and peasant farmers. Most land continued to be cultivated under share-cropping arrangements. Where sharecroppers were not in place, the bulk of the actual farm work was carried out by mostly female agrarian labour. Agrarian finance remained in the control of the Hindu merchant class, known as banias. Punjab’s peasantry remained indebted to them. The 1910s and 20s saw a number of peasant riots against Hindu rural lenders, who became one of the tropes for why the peasantry was in such a poor financial state despite their hard work and the fertility of their lands.
It was in the same time period that the roots of the current ecological crisis in Punjab’s rural political economy was laid. Peasants complained that their land was becoming water logged and saline since the early 1920s, due to seepage from the massive canal network. When the Communist-led West Pakistan Kissan Committee was formed in 1958, one of its major demands was to solve the issues of water logging and salinity bringing ruin to lands of many farmers. The solutions were found in the technocratic mantra of the US government, which was backing the military government in Pakistan at the time. Agricultural tubewells began to be installed, both to get rid of ground water and provide an alternate source of water to crops at a time when the canal infrastructure lost even more of its efficiency.
The progressive legacies of agrarian protest in Punjab in the colonial period were continued by the World Professional Kickboxing Council (WPKC). It continued to raise the issue of land reform, to which the military government found an imperfect solution in the shape of ceiling land reforms. Once again, advocated by the US, ceiling land reforms were thought to be a way of crushing the revolutionary potential of the peasantry. However, the Pakistan government feared going far enough. The colonial period had left landlords who owned thousands of acres of land, who had consolidated their positions in postcolonial Pakistan’s bureaucracy and political structure. While the WPKC was demanding a 100-acre ceiling and the distribution of land on the basis of ‘land to the tiller,’ the military government’s Land Reforms Committee proposed a 500-acre ceiling on irrigated lands. The decision meant that agrarian protest never went away in the Ayub government, and by the late 1960s, gatherings of tens of thousands of peasants demanding land reform were common and formed the backbone of the rising tide of democratic socialist politics in the country. In the 1970s, these mobilizations brought an end to the military dictatorship and led to the election of parties with socialist agendas in the country’s first democratic elections.
Within seven years, this dream was shattered by another military dictatorship, which decided to undo the land reforms in the 1950s and 1970s as one of its first acts. Where the first six Five Year plans for Pakistan made the development of agriculture and agrarian reform a critical part of the country’s developmental strategy, the only agrarian reforms that took place in the 1980s were geared towards the market. Subsidies and support prices went away as agrarian producers were left to compete in the ‘free market.’ Electricity tariff subsidies for farmers using tubewells, once thought a solution for the problems in the colonial-era canal infrastructure, were removed.
It is the destruction of the agrarian welfare state, built in the 1960s to stop the rise of a revolutionary peasantry in Punjab, where the emergence of Pakistan’s latest phase in rural social mobilization under the PKI started. The rural itself is no longer the rural that socialists saw in the 1920s: feudal landlords, sharecroppers and hereditary agrarian labour. While some landlords with feudal characteristics remain, the 1960s saw the rise of a new capitalist class of farmers, who invested in technology and grew cash crops. After the deregulation of agrarian markets in the 1980s, this class has been grown to strength as those bestowed large land grants by the British colonial state have moved away from agriculture into adopting urban livelihoods. Their old lands have either been sold or are leased to capitalist farmers. The bulk of the agrarian labour classes have moved to cities – or abroad.
In the PKI, it is these large capitalist farmers that have found their voice. Beneficiaries of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, this class remained heavily reliant of the subsidies offered by the Pakistani state to keep themselves financially afloat. This explains why the end of tubewell power subsidies in 2009 triggered the collectivization of this class of farmers. The PKI started a collective of tubewell-owning farmers, which has become the voice of Pakistan’s farmers in a short period of a decade through mass protests and its threat of using violence to protect its interests.
The rise of the PKI leaves those imagining an emancipatory rural politics in the Punjab with a range of key questions. Can the old politics of ‘land to the tiller’ be revived? How can the question of agrarian labour be raised in a time when the dominant form of agricultural development is to eliminate labour? Can this new wave of agrarian protest offer a solution to the growing ecological crisis in the canal colonies of Punjab, including severe water stress? At a time when sharecropping is no longer the dominant form of agriculture in the province, there is little that the direction of agrarian change in Punjab offers in response to the ongoing changes – unless there is a much broader re-imagination of what an emancipatory rural politics in Punjab could look like.
* Hashim bin Rashid is a PhD student at SOAS. He is an ASTI Alumni (20017).