Land Reform, Rural Social Relations and the Peasantry
Access to land allows families to use their labour in farming, either as the central productive activity or as a supplement to rural off-farm, rural non-farm or urban work. Moreover, land, as a resource, can, in addition to being directly used, be lent out, rented out, or sold, all of which can sustain the financial security of rural people. At the same time, land can be transferred across time, providing a possible source of livelihood for future generations. Finally, and vitally, land is a cultural resource, being a principal way in which the social and cultural identities that shape power and powerlessness within the myriad diversity of rural societies are formed.
A new book, Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform, edited by Peter Rosset, Raj Patel and Michael Courville is considered. This book, via both general analytical treatment and a series of case studies set in Latin America, Asia and Africa, offers a powerful critique of the World Bank’s market-led agrarian reform (MLAR) and provides an alternative model of agrarian reform, the ‘food sovereignty movement’, that has been articulated by La Via Campesina. Food sovereignty requires that priority be allocated to the domestic production of food and that a right to land be given to small farmers and their families. It is a vision of agrarian reform, with an emphasis on smallholder farming and the transformative power of rural social movements, that has truly emerged ‘from below’. The critique of MLAR is compelling. It is argued in this essay, however, that two crucial questions are abstracted from. The first is that of the vastly differing sets of social relations that exist (compare, say, socialist Cuba and capitalist Brazil) and their implications. It is not clear that food sovereignty can, in effect, offer a coherent political economy of an alternative global agrarianism. The second relates to the implicit assumption, found throughout the book, that the peasantry is a homogeneous, undifferentiated social group. This is manifestly not so, and what the existence of socially differentiated peasantries implies requires careful examination.
agrarian reform, rural social movements, inverse relation ship, differentiated peasantries, World Bank, Latin America, Asia, Africa.
For people living in the countryside of poor countries, access to land is the most critical means through which subsistence can be sought and income generated.