Peasants, Food and Agrarian Change
with Dr. Haroon Akram-Lodhi
More than 3.4 billion people live in the countryside of developing countries. The vast majority of these women and men rely, to a lesser or great extent, on small-scale farming as the basis of their livelihood. By some counts 70 per cent of the world's food is grown by small-scale peasant farmers – but at the same time some 70 per cent of the world's poor live in the world's rural areas. So the world's food is grown by the world's poorest people. If global citizens want to address human inequality we have to start by understanding how the world's largely ignored peasant farmers have become the epicenter of global poverty. After all, if we want the world to become a better place a good place to start would be among the lives of the world's forgotten peoples that provide the bulk of humanity with their food.
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What are some of the characteristics of contemporary peasants in Asia, Africa and Latin America?

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If we are going to understand the lives of peasants, we must clearly understand what makes them unique.

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Historically, peasants have lived in communities with unique mechanisms of redistribution. These mechanisms have broken down as peasants have become exposed to modern economic processes.

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If we want to understand the role played by peasants in the emergence of modern economies, we have to understand what might be meant by economic development.

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The key differences between the economic characteristics of developing countries and the economic characteristics of developed countries are discussed.

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Farming is unique because it has the capacity to produce a surplus. The use of the surplus gave rise to modern society.

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The basis by which peasants live, work and care is the household. Within peasant households divisions of labour between women and men and girls and boys are clearly seen.

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The first investigations of how peasant households allocated their resources within themselves was by the Russian A.V. Chaynov, who remains influential to this day.

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As a general rule of thumb, women allocate their time differently than men. So what do women and men do differently?

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The different use of time by women and men in households is the result of implicit and explicit negotiations between them that is called ‘bargaining’.

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Examples of how peasant households become producers of surplus are discussed.

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Peasant surplus production of some alongside deficit accumulation of many results in the emergence of distinct groups of peasants with different objectives and behaviours.

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The distinctions between groups of peasants can be understood by focusing upon three areas of empirical investigation and analysis.

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Is it possible to generalize about the distinctions between groups of peasants in the modern world?

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Across three contemporary rural ‘worlds’ five livelihood strategies can be witnessed among contemporary peasants. Only one offers them a future in farming.

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For almost 20 years the sustainable rural livelihoods approach was the basis by which action to improve the circumstances of peasants were undertaken.

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The strengths and weaknesses of the sustainable rural livelihoods approach, and why it fell into disuse, are discussed.

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Many peasant households are integrated into global agriculture through forms of contract farming.

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The terms and conditions by which small-scale peasant farmers are able to use land are discussed.

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What are the reasons to alter the terms and conditions by which small-scale peasant farmers access the land that they use to farm?

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Whether land reform can be an effective means of addressing rural poverty is examined by looking at some experiences of i

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The contemporary wave of large-scale land acquisition of peasant land by foreign companies is discussed.

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How Norman Borlaug’s decade-long quest to solve the wheat rust transformed world farming.

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The technical components of the Green Revolution are discussed, and their capacity to be adopted by small-scale peasant farmers evaluated.

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What the Green Revolution promised and what the Green Revolution delivered were two very different things.

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The capacity of genetically modified organisms to increase world food supplies is evaluated.

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How the introduction of genetically modified organisms has produced biological reactions within nature that undermine any benefits from genetically modified organisms.

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Can anything definitive be said about the impact of genetically modified organisms on human health?

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The basic mechanics of orthodox financial institutions – banks – are described.

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What kinds of interventions were undertaken by governments between the 1950s and 1980s to create rural financial systems in developing countries?

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The principles and operations of rural microfinance in developing countries are discussed.

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The capacity of rural microfinance to address the needs of the rural poor is assessed.

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How small-scale peasant farmers have used and continue to use the ‘weapons of the weak’ to continually if quietly challenge the more powerful.

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In the 20th century a large number of peasant revolutions changed the shape of the world. What were the common factors behind these revolutions?

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Two important contemporary peasant movements are discussed.

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The origins, objectives and accomplishments of the world’s largest social movement, the global peasant organization La Via Campesina.

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