International Shifts in Agricultural Debates and Practice: An Historical View of Analyses of Global Agriculture
edited by: W. Bruce Campbell, Silvia López Ortíz
This paper reviews the changing issues that shape understandings of agriculture, agroecology, rural landscapes, and food production over the course of the last 50 years. While we will highlight the specific changes that characterize the last two decades, we will situate current conditions and shifts against the longer backdrop of the post-World War II period. Providing a historical context for ongoing debates and practices will enable us to show how current debates respond to, challenge, extend, and at times, reproduce ideas and strategies of an earlier period. Thus, this review will have two interrelated goals: First, to outline the backdrop against which we can understand current shifts in agricultural debates and policy choices; and second, to show how these debates feature in contemporary understandings of the status of global agriculture. We will suggest that while there has been continued growth in scientific expertise and specialization in the agricultural sciences, an expansion of the kinds of technology and innovation that characterize agricultural production, and broad changes in production and trade relations, food crises continue to pose a challenge to national and global agricultural policies. We also will suggest that despite significant changes in crop production, consumption, and exchange notwithstanding, there has been a decline in open policy debates both across and within disciplinary boundaries. In some cases, this decline recalls an old debate about the relationship between science and policy, but also about the role of politics and policy choices and the different interests that constitute policy implementation and practice in relation to agricultural production choices. These, as we will show, help to explain the re-emergence, even if framed by a new discursive formation, of public-private partnerships over the past two decades and their link to questions of equity, sustainability, and climate change. We suggest, too, that by not fully appreciating the long history of debate and analyses in the broad field of rural production and practice, land relations, and the relationships between non-farm and farm livelihoods, current food crises appear as unexpected or surprising rather than in relation to the policy choices that currently shape agricultural production and policy implementation. We thus examine some of the debates of the earlier period for what they can contribute to understanding these crises, current agricultural production practices and policy choices, global poverty, various forms of inequality, including that between individuals and households as well as between states, and food security and ecological sustainability. This means that our discussion is selective and does not seek to address all of the important issues within the broad arena of international shifts in agricultural debates and practice. The arguments to follow will be based largely on secondary material. These materials include an understanding of global agricultural policy through analyses of the documents that guide global food production choices. Such choices are outlined by the contributions of the major international organizations including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and the global assessments that either directly address agriculture or one or more of its critical attributes. We also will examine meso- and micro-studies and policy documents that address the prospects and effects of such policy choices on the lived experiences of food producers and food consumers, and the ongoing debates that shape understanding food sovereignty, climate change, environmental degradation, equity and ecological sustainability.