Rural Social Movements and Agroecology: Context, Theory, and Process

Peter M. Rosset and Maria Elena Martínez-Torres
Wednesday 13 February 2013 by LRAN

Rosset, P. M., and M. E. Martínez-Torres. 2012. Rural social movements and agroecology: context, theory, and process. Ecology and Society 17(3): 17.

Rural social movements have in recent years adopted agroecology and diversified farming systems as part of their discourse and practice. Here, we situate this phenomenon in the evolving context of rural spaces that are increasingly disputed between agribusiness, together with other corporate land-grabbers, and peasants and their organizations and movements. We use the theoretical frameworks of disputed material and immaterial territories and of re-peasantization to explain the increased emphasis on agroecology by movements in this context. We provide examples from the farmer-to-farmer movement to show the advantages that social movements bring to the table in taking agroecology to scale and discuss the growing agroecology networking process in the transnational peasant and family farmer movement La Vía Campesina.

Key words: agroecology; disputed territories; farmer-to-farmer; re-peasantization; social movements; Via Campesina


At the beginning of the 21st century, the rural areas of the world constitute spaces that are hotly contested by different actors with opposing interests. Organizations and social movements of rural peoples, i.e., peasants, family farmers, indigenous people, rural workers and the landless engaged in land occupations, rural women, and others, increasingly use agroecology (Wezel et al. 2009, LVC 2010a, Altieri and Toledo 2011, Rosset et al. 2011), based on diversified farming systems, as a tool in the contestation, defense, (re)configuration, and transformation of contested rural spaces into peasant territories in a process that has been termed re-peasantization (Fernandes 2009, van der Ploeg 2008, 2010). In contrast, financial capital, transnational corporations, and domestic private sectors are re-territorializing spaces that have abundant natural resources through mega-projects such as dams (Ferradas 2000, World Commission on Dams 2000), large-scale strip mining (Bebbington 2007, Holt-Giménez 2007), and monoculture plantations (Emanuelli et al. 2009). These corporate interests, aided by neoliberal economic policies and laws, have generated the growing land-grabbing problem in many southern countries (GRAIN 2009, Zoomers 2010, Hall 2011, Rosset 2011).

Here, we seek to provide a framework for understanding the increasing adoption of agroecological farming and diversified farming systems by rural social movements. We first paint the changing rural context in broad strokes and then provide a theoretical framework for understanding how this has translated into an increased emphasis on agroecology in both the practice and discourse of social movements as they seek greater autonomy and control over their territory and try to bring agroecology to scale. Finally, we illustrate this with examples from the farmer-to-farmer movement and from organizations belonging to the transnational peasant movement La Vía Campesina (LVC).


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