Constructing a New Framework for Rural Development: Volume 22

Cover of Constructing a New Framework for Rural Development

Table of contents

(19 chapters)
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List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
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Introduction

Pages 1-16
Abstract

This book is the result of a selection of papers presented in the seminar held in Beijing in 2012. It is the third in chronological order of a seminar series on the comparative analysis of rural development in China, Brazil, and the EU. In previous seminars (2010 in Rome, 2011 in Porto Alegre) the focus was, first, on the nature and dynamics of rural development processes and, second, on the performance of rural development policies. In the third seminar (held in Beijing in November 2012), the focus was on actors and practices. What motivates the actors who are actively involved in rural development? And how do they structure their new practices? In this chapter, different stories on rural development practices between China, Brazil, and the EU are illustrated, highlighting the differences and also commonalities and similarities. In this story, the figure of the peasant appears crucial and in different dimensions: from the manager of natural resources who takes the greatest care of their condition in order to achieve the largest profits; to the innovator who builds on age old methods to find novel solutions with the available conditions, resources, and technologies, and who creates the right synergies for harmonious and positive impact solutions; to the rural villager who does with what he/she has and knows, but who at the same time is curious about innovations; to the father who is aware that he is responsible for building a future for his children. Peasant agriculture seems to go beyond its own limits through a transition process that has led to a paradigm shift moving away from the modernization and creating new opportunities and alternatives in terms of practices, products, and markets. These alternatives are now representing the base for a new autonomy and competitiveness of rural areas in an increasingly globalized world.

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From a more general point of view the initiatives and novel practices of farmers represent ‘seeds of transition’. They are the ‘sprouts’ out of which new socio-technical modes for organizing production and marketing emerge – ‘sprouts’ that, taken together can be described under the term ‘rural development’. The examples are, on the whole, well-known; they include agro-ecological production, on-farm processing, agro-tourism, new credit associations and cooperative forms of commercialization. But it remains important to develop a more sociological interpretation of these new forms: since they are produced by social actors and are constantly redefined and modified through the relations and interactions implied by these new forms. This chapter defines the outline on actors and practices that will be discussed in later chapters of the book.

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This chapter falls into two parts. The first offers a theoretical overview of three actor perspectives on issues of development intervention: (a) activity theory, (b) actor-network theory and (c) actor-oriented interface analysis. The second provides an illustrated discussion of the usefulness of actor perspectives for understanding the encounters that take place between ‘development experts’ (local and foreign) and so-called ‘beneficiaries’. The argument draws upon ethnographic data relating to issues of development interface, actor identities, networks and discourse.

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This chapter gives several explanations as to why peasant agriculture results in sturdy and sustainable growth – it also identifies the factors that undermine this capacity. Peasant agriculture entails a constructive capacity: it includes mechanisms that are used to make agriculture grow and to face adverse conditions. And when the ‘normal’ level of resilience does not suffice, the constructive capacity is employed to redesign and materially rebuild agriculture through the development of new products, services and markets. This capacity leads to a new farmer’s empowerment that have in the multifunctionality the key to go beyond the classical agricultural system where the farming capacity is completely expressed out of the farm leaving farmers to do only mechanical operation. The chapter illustrates several examples of how farmers are reclaiming control over their own resources by defining a new level of farm autonomy and by oriented their farm towards multifunctional activities and the concept of peasants agriculture. The ‘new peasantry’ is consolidating itself and becoming a highly effective alternative: a viable way of addressing the multifaceted crisis that beleaguers farmers, the increasing strictures they face and the ongoing challenges of sustainability.

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In any time and space and under any circumstance, we find peasants are never passive actors in their livelihoods and rural development. Instead, they always create space for manoeuvre in order to make changes. This chapter analyses the innovative actions taken by the majority of rural inhabitants in rural areas during the overwhelming modernization process, so as to affirm that peasants are the main actors of rural development. It is they who have shaped the transformation of rural societies and the history. Through the analysis, this chapter concludes that rural development is not an objective, a blueprint nor a design. It is not the to-be-developed rear field in modernization. It is not the babysitter for cities, nor a rehearsal place for bureaucrats to testify their random thoughts. Rural development is what peasants do. The path they have chosen reveals scenery so different from modernization. If we regard development as a social change, or a cross with influential meanings, we could understand rural development as peasants’ victories over their predicament. Villages accommodate not only peasants, but without peasants villages would surely vanish. In this sense, the most important part in rural development or rural change is peasants – their conditions and their feelings.

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In this chapter we examine how the small scale agro-industries located in Southern Brazil, specifically in the North of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, started to deal with changes in their production processes, how they created and adapted technologies, and devised new products. Among the main outcomes of the study we highlight the novelties observed during the field research, especially regarding the family situation and the agro-manufacturing activities, in which we observed (i) a relative raise in autonomy; (ii) improvement in both the income level and the quality of life of household members; (iii) creation of new nested markets and marketing channels; (iv) development of more environmentally sustainable products; (v) improvement of the value added to food products; and (vi) development of new interfaces between families and other social actors.

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Fighting the drought. Based on this idea, for almost two centuries now the Brazilian State has elaborated policies and programmes intended to stimulate rural development in the semiarid region of the country. It is this idea which has nourished the illusion that immense infrastructures need to be built to capture, store and transport large volumes of water in order to supply production activities in the region. Associated with this proposal is the attempt to reproduce the same pattern of development adopted in other Brazilian biomes, the main characteristic of which is the use of monoculture practices on large properties managed according to entrepreneurial modes of production. However the rich social experience promoted by rural worker organizations in the region has challenged this model by proposing living with the semiarid (Convivência com o Semiárido) as the guiding principle for alternative trajectories of development. Inspired by the experience of territorial development under way in the Agreste da Borborema region of Paraíba state, the chapter shows that the evolution of these new paths of development depends on revitalizing and mobilizing locally available resources, such as ecological potentials, social mechanisms for organizing labour and for producing and sharing knowledge, local forms of connecting food production to consumption and so on. The text concludes by emphasizing the need to design and implant institutional frameworks that enable a more balanced distribution of power between the State and civil society organizations, thereby allowing the latter to assume a more substantial role in identifying and managing endogenous resources that underpin self-centred development strategies.

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Today a large majority of European citizens feels very uncomfortable about the lack of solutions for the ongoing economic-financial crisis. The EU institutions and the member states are engaged in intensive dialogues with each other while ignoring the necessity to translate the crisis into clear political terms understandable for public opinion. This may be one of the explanations of the disconnection of public opinion from the integration process which is often leading to a support for populist and nationalist movements. At the same time this crisis has made Europe more important than ever before for the daily lives of citizens. It is therefore important to support projects that allow citizens and civil society at large to become involved in EU affairs. Apart from the “Europe for Citizens program” (2014–2020) there are, although very few, examples in EU policy making where the sphere of public debate has been widened up, allowing citizens to participate more intensively in the democratic life of the Union. In the rural development pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) a “participatory democracy” tool has been created in order to stimulate from the grassroots the economic growth of rural areas: the Leader initiative.

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Comparing rural development with agricultural modernisation, there are fundamental differences. Industrial development of agriculture more and more segregates agriculture from other functions and is based on an ‘individualised transaction model’ in which the world consists of loose particles that are linked by markets (atomistic world view). Conversely rural development can be perceived as a form of re-socialisation of agriculture and is based on a ‘relational cooperation model’ in which new relations characterise business development.

This chapter is a second level type of analysis of many research findings of these common traits or features and gives a picture of the distinctiveness of rural development practices. Nine different features that characterize rural development practices are described and discussed: (1) novelty production, (2) relative autonomy, (3) synergy, (4) clashes and competing claims, (5) coalitions and new relations; the construction of rural webs, (6) common pool resources, (7) new division of labour, (8) the distinctive different impact and (9) resilience. The more these features are present and intertwined, the better the specific practice can face and withstand adverse conditions. These features and the associated practices have to be understood as part of a wider transitional process that might co-evolve with or run counter to competing transitional processes.

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Rural development is, above all, constructed by actors operating at grass-root level. These actors are increasingly facilitated by specific policy programmes, but these programmes often follow the initiatives and practices already developed by the grass-root actors themselves. Policies follow, they do not trigger nor drive. This chapter is a second-level analysis of available European and national research material and focuses on the role of agricultural actors as crucial co-constitutors of RD processes. Some distinctive elements and characteristics of RD-practitioners are identified, described and discussed. Taken together these characteristics underscore that RD-actors may reflect distinctive features. It is finally argued that RD-actors will develop especially distinctive personal attributes through iterative learning by doing processes and unfolding agency. Both are thought to be key components of the resilience of RD-actors to withstand adverse conditions and to grasp new opportunities for alternative, more promising agricultural pathways.

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The chapter seeks to reflect on the dynamics of the reconstruction of family farming and peasant agriculture in agrarian reform settlements (“assentamentos”) in Brazil, exploring the limits and potential of government food purchases from family farming, particularly the Food Acquisition Program (Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos – PAA), in the creation of alternative paths of rural development. The work analyzes the different strategies through which farmers and their organizations mobilize public policy instruments and market connections, expanding their room for maneuver and agency capacity. Research was conducted in the Baixo Sul Territory of the state of Bahia, focusing the heterogeneous web of social organizations involved in the implementation of the Food Acquisition Program in this setting.

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Critically reflecting upon the role of and integrative function that relocalisation of agri-food plays in the development of what we call rural and regional ‘webs’ of interconnection, this chapter revisits two regional case studies in Devon and Shetland, UK. Exploring the challenges and continuities in the unfolding of the rural web, we pay particular attention to the role that agri-food initiatives play in mobilising distinctive rural and regional development processes. Although we point in both cases to the marginalisation of agri-food and its potential centrality in rural development, it is clear that this fails to disappear completely. The trends in these two rural regions, at either ends of the UK archipelago, suggest that the combinational effects of declines in multi-functional agri-food support, on the one hand, and a neo-liberalised retraction of non-agricultural rural development support on the other, are providing a potential and chaotic new governance squeeze which is likely to severely reduce the massive but latent adaptive capacity embedded in the rural eco-economy. Indeed, a more multi-functional governance and policy-based approach, based upon creating conditions for the eco-economic rural web to flourish needs to find ways of harmonising different aspects of the post-carbon landscape such that its various segments (energy, tourism, agriculture, creative industries, etc.), can work in synergy with one another. To conclude, we argue that such fragmented and competing conditions as those revealed in both case study areas are unlikely to be sufficiently capable of meeting the new national and global demands for food security which have risen up the political agenda since our earlier phases of field work.

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Peasants play a key role in the processes of growth and development of rural areas. But the practices and the organizational forms or arrangements can be very different in relation to the context or territory of origin. This has resulted in a multiplicity of solutions unlikely to be repeated in other sectorial or scientific context. This heterogeneity of responses allows the peasants model to strengthen the resilience of rural areas and offer itself as an alternative model of agricultural modernization paths increasingly ineffective in managing the modern complexity. This is a common element that emerges in all experiences of rural development in Brazil, China, and Europe, which are compared in this book. In addition to this, this chapter highlights some commonalities that can be used to delineate the attributes of the new peasantry and its consolidation and dissemination in space and time.

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About the Authors

Pages 335-338
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Cover of Constructing a New Framework for Rural Development
DOI
10.1108/S1057-1922201522
Publication date
2015-03-09
Book series
Research in Rural Sociology and Development
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78441-622-5
eISBN
978-1-78441-621-8
Book series ISSN
1057-1922