Agriculture in the Anthropocene

27 October 2017

SG1 and SG2, Alison Richard Building

Registration for this workshop is now closed.

 

Convenors

Hyun-Gwi Park (University of Cambridge)

Martin Skrydstrup (University of Copenhagen)

 

Summary

Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change, but is also affected by it. Thus, we face the paradox of adaptive capacity on the one hand and the facts of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions produced by agricultural activities contributing to the problem on the other. So far, anthropological work on agriculture and climate change has overwhelmingly focused on the multiple exposures of small-scale farmers in the Global South and largely ignored agriculture as a contributor to climate change. Accordingly, we know about the vulnerabilities that farmers face and how communities respond to climate change through their ingenuity, resilience and adaptive capacities. Yet, it is not only farmers but also anthropologists who need to work against the backdrop of global climate change, as anthropologists are required to consider the global dimension in their research and description of agricultural practices. Anthropologists have shown how farmers are by no means ignorant of climate change, nor are they passive in shaping, interpreting and responding to the challenges and opportunities that might arise from climate change. However, beyond this general insight, there is much more that we need to discover.

The objective of this workshop on Agriculture in the Anthropocene is to address the question of 'adaptive capacity' in a much broader framework across a wide range of scales and empirical contexts. The workshop will bring together anthropologically-minded researchers in diverse areas of research, such as in the sciences, environmental economics, global studies, food and resource studies and human geography, in order to discuss the following topics:    

  • the form of the materiality of concrete adaptation measures to be found in local contexts from seeds to soils;
  • how socio-economic factors such as plot size, labour and markets map onto these;
  • the form of innovative agrarian-governmentalities embodied in new relationships between extension officers distributing climate science in farming contexts;
  • new forms of weather-based index insurance and new political participatory approaches;
  • the complex relationships between value and weather in agrarian products before they reach our tables and throughout the process of storage, processing, packaging and transportation
  • the agriculturalists’ perception of weather, their responses to changes in weather and their (non-)relevance to global climate change.

 

Sponsors

                       

Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).

 

 Administrative assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk

 

Unfortunately, we are unable to arrange or book accommodation for registrants. The following websites may be of help:

9.15 - 9.45

Registration

9.45 - 10.00

Welcome and Introduction

10.00 - 12.00

Session One

Yunita T. Winarto (Universitas Indonesia), Sue Walker (University of the Free State), and R. Ariefiansyah (Universitas Indonesia)

‘People, Clouds, and Roots: Farmers Learning to Adapt’

 

Trine My Thygaard-Nielsen (University of Copenhagen)

‘“It all comes down to climate”: The uncontrollable in the contemporary industrial Spanish-Danish vegetable chain’

 

Hyun-Gwi Park (University of Cambridge)

'Weather, Climate and Market Price of Watermelons in the Russian Far East'

12.00 - 13.00

Lunch

13.00 - 15.00

Session Two

Dong Ju Kim (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)

‘Evocative Farming and Recognizing Climate Change Among Sugar Beet Farmers in Western Poland’

 

Daniel Ortiz Gonzalo and Andreas de Neergaard (University of Copenhagen)

‘Key entry points to enhance the adaptive capacity of smallholder crop-livestock systems to Climate Change’

 

Anshu Ogra (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

'"Decision-Making” in the Anthropocene: Coffee growers, coffee science and adaptation strategies for climate change in South India'

15.00 - 15.30

Break

15.30 - 17.00

Session Three

Martin Skrydstrup (University of Copenhagen)

‘The Weather Man: Anticipating El Niño on the Slopes of Mount Kenya’

 

Gaële Rouillé-Kielo (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre, Laboratoire Mosaïques-LAVUE)

‘Changing small-scale farmers’ practices to counter the anthropogenic transformation of a valued ecosystem: “Payments for environmental services” in Lake Naivasha basin (Kenya)’

17.00 - 18.00

Plenary Session

Agriculture and Anthropology in the Anthropocene 

Dong Ju Kim (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)

‘Evocative Farming and Recognizing Climate Change Among Sugar Beet Farmers in Western Poland’

After the so-called Green Revolution, land erosion and land exhaustion have become a problem in rural areas where intensive cultivation has continued for a long time. More recently, these conditions have become more palpable due to weather conditions affected by global climate change. In response to these conditions, sustainability has become the keyword for exploring alternative ways of cultivation in different parts of the world. From the viewpoint of local farmers, however, these alternatives are still perceived in terms of costs, prices, profits, and calculations of nutrients.

In this article, I examine different ways in which local farmers in Western Poland try to grapple with difficult weather such as prolonged dry periods. For these farmers, farming is evocative of local history and they understand new alternatives as a break from traditional ways of managing the soil and caring for crops. Nevertheless, alternatives are gradually taking root among local farmers because of soil conditions worsen due to the dry weather during spring and summer. Based on observed interactions between farmers, weather, soil, and crops, I argue that the relational semiotic process of reading these signs in the environment leads local farmers to confront the reality of climate change together with other constraints such as costs and fluctuations of the market.  

 

Anshu Ogra (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

'"Decision-Making” in the Anthropocene: Coffee growers, coffee science and adaptation strategies for climate change in South India'

Adaptation to climate change remains a conceptually contested notion both at the interpretative and policy level. This paper addresses this challenge by rethinking adaptation to climate change using Anthropocene as a conceptual framework.  Anthropocene as a hypothesis refers to lack of clear demarcation between humans and nature. No more clear breaks between humans on the one side and nature on the other side. This paper focuses on the unprecedented variation in the rainfall pattern being experienced in the coffee plantations located in the Western Ghats belt of South India. Western Ghats, where coffee is grown in India, is an ecologically fragile and biodiversity rich ecosystem which is facing serious threat from climate change.

The paper focuses on the improvised cultivation practices being introduced by coffee growers to address the challenge at hand. Traditionally, cultivation practices are prescribed by Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI) after studying the rainfall and corresponding soil-crop cycle. By focusing on improvised cultivation practices introduced by growers independent of CCRI’s recommendations the paper explores redistribution of agency, reconfiguring of knowledge- systems and reordering of the loops of consequences between coffee growers, coffee scientists and the local climate. The paper argues that a successful adaptation strategy has to find common grounds between growers’ immediate experience of unprecedented change in weather and the long term scientific research in the field.  Field work for this study was carried out over a period of 7 months from 2011-2015. In total 2 states 4 districts and 41 villages were visited during the course of this study. Detailed interviews were carried out with 82 coffee growers and 61 other responded to a written questionnaire. Additionally interviews were also carried with scientists at Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI). 

 

Daniel Ortiz Gonzalo and Andreas de Neergaard (University of Copenhagen)

‘Key entry points to enhance the adaptive capacity of smallholder crop-livestock systems to Climate Change’

Sub-Saharan agriculture is vastly represented by smallholder rain-fed crop-livestock systems. In the Anthropocene, these farming systems co-evolve with the social, economic and biophysical dimensions across spatial and temporal scales. However, current climate and global changes are altering the magnitude and frequency of disturbances at unprecedented rates, threatening agro-ecosystem functionalities and livelihood options for smallholders. The objective of this study is to examine key entry points to improve adaptive capacity to climate change in coffee-dairy farms in Murang’a, Central Kenya. Framed on the sphere of resilience thinking, our study combines social and natural science methods to: 1) Define shocks, pressures and changes affecting smallholder farms; 2) Examine thresholds and dynamics of the linked social-ecological system (SES) under climate stressors; 3) Identify concerning variables and barriers to achieve a desirable resilience of smallholder coffee-dairy farms to climate change. In recent decades, population pressure and consequent decreasing farm size has forced the shift from extensive livestock practices to zero-grazing systems. This has led to increased crop-livestock interactions, shaping a complex landscape of small farms interconnected and composed of different nodes and fluxes (e.g. use of crop residues to feed the livestock component and manure allocated to cropping systems). We discuss whether the system continues to function even when key nodes collapse after shocking events (e.g. a drought forcing livestock destocking) and what practices improve system plasticity or capacity to recover (e.g. restocking livestock). Lastly, we conclude that desirable farm resilience can be only enhanced from multidimensional and cross-scale approaches. 

 

Hyun-Gwi Park (University of Cambridge)

'Weather, Climate and Market Price of Watermelons in the Russian Far East'

Based on long-term ethnographic research among watermelon cultivators in the Russian Far East since the early 2000s, this paper explores how weather has become the central metaphor in describing their economic circumstances. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the watermelon cultivation was mainly subsistence farming in order to deal with economic turbulence caused by the collapse of the socialist state economy. During this period, the weather was merely one of many factors influencing their economic fortune in cultivation. However, from the mid-2000s with accelerated marketization in Russia, the watermelon cultivation became risky business and the weather became the most important factor in economic performance of their cultivation. This paper approaches how watermelon cultivators make two correlated uncertainties-weather and market price- in their domestic economy. Facing uncertainty of weather and market price, the cultivators adopt the idiom of gambling to perceive this insecurity.

In addressing their responses, rather than seeking for causal link between regional weather condition and global climate change, this paper at first examines the division among the watermelon cultivators between those who expanded cultivation area despite the risk by unpredictable weather and those who gave up cultivation because of the risk associated with weather change. Across the scales of local and global, I discuss the dividing line among the watermelon cultivators as an analogical reference to the conflict about the global climate change. I argue that the actions taken by watermelon cultivators is not related with the truth of weather change, but whether the watermelon cultivators are willing to engage with the wider public domain.  The paper, then, discusses two strands of activities against the weather carried out by the watermelon cultivators. On one hand, the cultivators use technologies to make the harvest earlier than others in competitive mode. On the other hand, they throw themselves into the market by binding themselves into the chain of market-state relations. 

 

Gaële Rouillé-Kielo (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre, Laboratoire Mosaïques-LAVUE)

‘Changing small-scale farmers’ practices to counter the anthropogenic transformation of a valued ecosystem: “Payments for environmental services” in Lake Naivasha basin (Kenya)’

The introduction of the concept of the Anthropocene has opened up intense discussions among scholars in the environmental humanities about who (or more precisely: which economic system at a specific period of time and in a specific region of the world) should be considered as accountable for the advent of this new era, which is characterized by deep anthropogenic transformations (Haraway et al., 2016 ; Bonneuil, Fressoz, 2016). At a much more local scale, research studies in natural sciences about one of the most studied lakes in Africa (Lake Naivasha in Kenya) have sought to identify how and when human activities have interfered with and disturbed local ecosystem processes (Harper et al., 2011). Lake sediments have notably been used as long-term indicators of anthropogenic environmental changes (Stoof-Leichsenring et al., 2011). These studies have revealed the acceleration of negative human impacts over the past several decades, largely as a result of a rapid transformation and intensification of agricultural land uses.

Since 2009, a program of payments for environmental services (PES) has been implemented in the water basin in order to render small-scale farming activities upstream more 'sustainable' and to mitigate soil erosion on these steep areas and, consequently, to slow down the siltation of the lake. Industrially-exporting flower farms downstream participate in the project financially as 'buyers' of the environmental services.

In this paper, I will try to show how the implementation of PES in the basin of Lake Naivasha has led to shifting the focus solely on the impacts of the farming activities upstream. Just as the notion of the Anthropocene eludes the unequal responsibility of various human societies for the transformation of the Earth, PES and other instruments of the 'green economy' obliterate the crucial importance of unequal power relationships within a space to help explain ecoengineering processes. More critically, this mechanism provides the capitalist system (embodied in this case by flower-exporting companies) with a misleading capacity to 'redeem' the (global) negative ecological impact of their activities by investing in environmental projects such as payments for environmental services. 

 

Martin Skrydstrup (University of Copenhagen)

‘The Weather Man: Anticipating El Niño on the Slopes of Mount Kenya’

This paper explores weather forecasting as an emergent technology of indirect governmentality through a detailed ethnography of the ways in which the relationships between weather and crops are rendered knowable in a 'Participatory Scenario Planning' (PSP) workshop in Naromoru in the Central Highlands. The workshop was convened by the County Meteorological Office and the Agricultural Sector Development in Nyeri to disseminate 'climatic advisories for MAM' (the long rain season for March/April/May) in order to make farmers anticipate and prepare for three different precipitation scenarios. During the two-day workshop the farmers were 'made into meteorologists' and developed their preparedness for hazards, impacts, opportunities, strategies and responsibilities within the context of facing El Niño at the slopes of Mt. Kenya.

The relationship between the county meteorologist and the participants and the complex discussions amongst farmers on distinctions between 'probabilities' and 'possibilities' and how 'hazards' relate to 'opportunities', provide a window to revisit two strands in political ecology: I) post-Foucauldian arguments clustering around 'the tyranny of participation': the predictive State, the making of responsible subjects and the colonial legacies of agricultural meteorology in the Central Highlands of Kenya; II) post-ANT arguments about how the emergence of new epistemic objects (climate change, El Niño and La Niña) and their situated interpretations induce new collectives, networks, topologies and scales. The paper builds on recent attempts to integrate these two strands and the implications this might have for what we mean by the 'political' in political ecology.

 

Trine My Thygaard-Nielsen (University of Copenhagen)

‘“It all comes down to climate”: The uncontrollable in the contemporary industrial Spanish-Danish vegetable chain’

This article explores the relationship between policy-initiatives (local, international, and supermarket) and production methods in the midst of rising environmental concerns in the anthropocene at Europe’s biggest fresh tomato production area, Almería. From the 50s, Almería province formed part of a national colonisation strategy intending to cultivate all land suitable for production. Since then production methods alongside policy initiatives have undergone great changes in the view of different environmental regimes. The latest local policy-initiative introduces holistic production, which includes biological control, water recycling, and zero waste. The concept holistic is promoted through written policies, university conferences, and tourist trips, however the concept is neither adopted by local producers nor reaching the consumers around Europe.

Yet producers do verbalise the consequences and conform to the demands brought about under the policy along with demands from supermarkets and the EU. With the introduction of new policy-demands producers raise new questions, and their understandings of production methods, and reflections on their own potential impact on the environment and climate (changes) are transformed.

Drawing on recent work from the anthropology of policy, this article discusses how local producers navigate new demands and affect them (un)knowingly. Intersecting recent work on global value chains in the anthropocene with classic work on commodification processes, this article will illuminate the ways in which the governance of agricultural commodities affect production methods, as well as the re-environmentalisation of the (holistic) tomato. The overall argument is that the novel technologies of governmentality brought about by the anthropocene not only effect production methods, but also extend their efficacy to the wider social networks of second-generation greenhouse producers and the aspirations and hopes they engender for the future.

 

Yunita T. Winarto (Universitas Indonesia), Sue Walker (University of the Free State), and R. Ariefiansyah (Universitas Indonesia)

‘People, Clouds, and Roots: Farmers Learning to Adapt’

Various studies reveal a paradox of farmers’ local knowledge in farming. On the one hand, farmers have detailed empirical knowledge of their own habitat along with the traditional cosmological knowledge developed by their ancestors. On the other hand, farmers have been trapped in their existing knowledge framework which could not grasp and thus, could not understand diverse unintended consequences emerging from the changes in their environment. The unintended consequences of Green Revolution in Indonesia, the ongoing climatic phenomena, and the changes in climate fall beyond farmers’ schema of understanding their world. In response to those limited knowledge and farmers’ inappropriate strategies leading to the creation of non-resilience and unsustainable ecosystems, the Indonesian government introduced an education programme called as 'Farmers Field Schools' (FFS) in the areas of integrated pest management, and lately in climate. Unfortunately, the programme was introduced in a limited period without follow-up activities in sustaining farmers’ own learning. Accordingly, farmers have been kept in their limited knowledge framework and inappropriate response strategies.

How to help farmers not to be 'trapped' in those 'cages' is the aim of an inter- and trans-disciplinary educational commitment developed by agrometeorologist/s and anthropologist from Universitas Indonesia since 2008. The anthropologists, hand-in-hand with the agrometeorologist/s, have been engaged in designing and deliberating the programme named as 'Science Field Shops' (SFSs). The learning in the SFSs is based on a dialogue and knowledge-sharing between farmers, scientists, and extension intermediaries with farmers as the active researchers/learners. Helping farmers to understand better the relation between 'the clouds, the roots, and in between', its ongoing changes, and impacts on agriculture is the main objective to achieve. The paper explains the role of anthropologists and how 'farmers’ knowledge of the relation between "clouds and roots"' has been improved and what the results are in knowledge and decision making.