Caring agriculture(s) for degrowth: Against capitalist dichotomies and logic of appropriation

Table of content

Na Haby Stella Faye a

a Department of Human Geography, Lund University, Lund

Introduction

Capitalist agriculture is the major driver for land-system change, as the clearance of forests for cropland and pasture use drives 80% of global deforestation. It accounts for 70% of global withdrawals of freshwater. It leads to soil, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity, due to the excessive flows of nitrogen and phosphorus, largely caused by agrochemicals use. It is the most significant factor behind the loss of genetic and functional diversity. It heavily contributes to climate change, emitting between the equivalent of 5.0 and 5.8 gigatons of CO2 per year in greenhouse gases, between 14 and 24% of global emissions. (Campbell et al., 2017; Springmann et al., 2018). Moreover, land use change and deforestation to obtain cropland and pastures are the primary causes for the dispossession and displacement of peasants and Indigenous peoples. This condemns communities to poverty, marginalisation and violence (Haiven, 2009; Coulthard, 2014; Federici, 2019). In turn, the removal of people from their ancestral lands causes the loss of place-based knowledge of sustainable agricultural practices and livelihoods (Chatty & Colchester, 2008; Fujikane, 2021). These are just a few examples of the devastation caused by capitalist agriculture to ecosystems and their inhabitants.

Degrowth is an increasingly comprehensive alternative to the capitalist system, especially through the contributions of feminist, decolonial and anticapitalist thinkers (Akbulut, 2021; Dengler & Seebacher, 2019; Gregoratti & Raphael, 2019; Nirmal & Rocheleau, 2019). Given its centrality, the degrowth literature has engaged extensively with the subject of food systems, the interconnected processes and relations involving food production, consumption, sharing, distribution, disposal and governance (Vermeulen et al., 2012, p. 197). These works provide inspiring proposals and examples of food systems following degrowth principles (Fehlinger et al., 2022; Infante Amate & González de Molina, 2013; McGreevy et al., 2022; Nelson & Edwards, 2022; Plank, 2022, pp. 202-206). Nevertheless, degrowth has engaged to a lesser extent with agriculture, as a specific aspect of food production (Gerber, 2020; Gomiero, 2018, p. 1825). Moreover, this collection approach, while providing an overview of existing alternatives, often lacks an extensive critique of the capitalist and productivist agricultural system it counters. Such a critique is fundamental to avoid capitalist co-optation of the movement, and to propose a comprehensive vision for a degrowth-based alternative, for example to operate beyond the local scale and broaden its pool for transformational strategies (Guerrero Lara et al., 2023, pp. 8-9; Plank, 2022, p. 205).

In this essay, I address these gaps by engaging in a dialogue between degrowth and some authors in critical theory and eco-Marxism. The literature synthesising Marxism and degrowth is very rich and is lately becoming increasingly relevant. Many degrowth scholars have provided critiques to the capitalist system, mostly focusing on its compulsion for growth and its devastating socioecological consequences (Akbulut, 2021; Dengler & Struck, 2018; Hickel, 2021; Kallis et al., 2014, pp. 10-11; Schmelzer et al., 2022). Some scholars have employed Gramscian theory to better define the role of the state in degrowth strategy (D’Alisa & Kallis, 2020; Koch, 2022), while others have called for an eco-socialist degrowth (Akbulut, 2021; Barca, 2019; Kallis, 2019; Löwy et al., 2022). Matthias Schmelzer et al. (2022), in particular, lay out a comprehensive picture of what degrowth is in relation to the capitalist system and all the other interconnected systems of oppression, allowing for a comprehensive outline of fields of action (Schmelzer et al., 2022).

In this essay, I pick up on this method. I focus on how a structural critique of agriculture within capitalism and interrelated systems of oppression, can help in defining fields of action for a degrowth-based alternative agriculture. In the next section, I will present the theory of capitalism as an institutionalised social order and provide a critique of capitalist agriculture according to this framework. Following these reflections, in the second section I identify some priorities for a degrowth agriculture in the fields of land redistribution and regeneration, resurgence of regenerative agricultural knowledge systems, and more equal global trade relations. I conclude by summarising my argument, and by indicating care ethics and practices as a way to frame a degrowth-based agriculture.

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How to cite

APA

Caring agriculture(s) for degrowth: Against capitalist dichotomies and logic of appropriation. (2023). In Degrowth journal (Vol. 1). https://www.degrowthjournal.org/publications/2023-06-29-caring-agricultures-for-degrowth-against-capitalist-dichotomies-and-logic-of-appropriation/

MLA

“Caring Agriculture(s) for Degrowth: Against Capitalist Dichotomies and Logic of Appropriation.” Degrowth Journal, vol. 1, June 2023, https://www.degrowthjournal.org/publications/2023-06-29-caring-agricultures-for-degrowth-against-capitalist-dichotomies-and-logic-of-appropriation/.

Chicago

“Caring Agriculture(s) for Degrowth: Against Capitalist Dichotomies and Logic of Appropriation.” 2023. Degrowth Journal. https://www.degrowthjournal.org/publications/2023-06-29-caring-agricultures-for-degrowth-against-capitalist-dichotomies-and-logic-of-appropriation/.

Harvard

“Caring agriculture(s) for degrowth: Against capitalist dichotomies and logic of appropriation” (2023) Degrowth journal. Available at: https://www.degrowthjournal.org/publications/2023-06-29-caring-agricultures-for-degrowth-against-capitalist-dichotomies-and-logic-of-appropriation/.