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Family, territory, nation: post-neoliberal agroecological scaling in Nicaragua

December 2016 Food Chain Vol. 6 No. 2
Family, territory, nation: post-neoliberal
agroecological scaling in Nicaragua
Nils McCune ( is a researcher in the Department of Agriculture and
Society at El Colegio De La Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Chiapas, Mexico.
© Practical Action Publishing, 2016,, ISSN: 2046-1879 (print) 2046-1887 (online)
Agroecological scaling-up, as the words suggest, is best achieved as a process constructed
‘from below’. How then to understand the political dimension of agroecological scaling,
if not also as a popular process of democratization of food systems? This article explores
the political and social dimensions of the Nicaraguan process of agroecological scaling,
using the frame of food sovereignty, or the right of peoples and nations to define, build,
and defend their own food system. As part of the ALBA alliance of Latin American
countries, Nicaragua’s government positions itself to the political left of many of the more
neoliberal governments in the region. Post-neoliberalism provides a historical context for
the repositioning of the state in regard to peasant and family agriculture, rural education,
and social economies. As agroecological knowledge is re-produced, shared and multiplied,
agroecological organizational structures become essential to scaling-out and scaling-up
processes. We discuss the role of the state in determining the popular diffusion of agroeco-
logical methods and thinking across the Nicaraguan countryside.
Keywords: agroecological scaling, food sovereignty, post-neoliberalism, knowledge
demands, territorial mediators
AGROECOLOGY IS, IN COLLOQUIAL TERMS, the talk of the town these days (Montenegro,
2015; FAO, 2016; Mpofu, 2016). However, within the growing institutional enthu-
siasm for agroecological theory and practice a fundamental dispute is emerging,
one which reflects the confrontation of two distinct visions of agricultural
development: on the one hand, that promoted by conventional monoculture
agribusiness interests, while on the other, the vision of diverse social movements
made up of organized peasants, indigenous peoples, traditional herders, fisherfolk,
and young people entering farming. For example, in its efforts to engage with
agroecology since 2013, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) has encountered a fierce and vocal resistance among civil society organi-
zations (CSO) such as the global agrarian movement La Via Campesina (LVC) to
what these organizations call the ‘cooptation’ of agroecology by interests tied
to corporate development and financial capital (Giraldo and Rosset, 2016). Rather
than seeing agroecology as just another ‘tool’ in the ‘toolbox’ of conventional,
corporate agriculture, social movements see it as the social and productive model
destined to replace agribusiness (LVC, 2015; Declaration of Nyéléni, 2015).
The political vision of agroecology as a fundamental break with corporate
agriculture is best articulated in the concept of food sovereignty, which can be - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
Food Chain Vol. 6 No. 2 December 2016
briefly defined as the ‘right of nations and peoples to control their food systems,
including markets, production modes, food cultures and environments’ (Wittman,
2010). Proponents of food sovereignty argue that food security, while important
for recognizing constitutive elements of hunger, also masks some of the funda-
mental causes of hunger, such as commoditized food and the liberalized global
commerce model. Food security makes no mention of where food comes from
or how it is produced (Rosset, 2003). On the other hand, food sovereignty makes
explicit the underlying relationships between democracy, culture, economics and
the environment, by understanding food as a right, rather than merely another
commodity. Additionally, in the world of international law and politics, food sover-
eignty is one of the first concepts to emerge ‘from below’, as peasant and indigenous
movements introduced the concept in the early 1990s and demanded that it be
taken seriously (Wittman, 2010).
According to its proponents, agroecology has important synergies with the
food sovereignty paradigm, including its focus on local resources and knowledge,
women’s participation in food systems, and long-term economic, ecological, and
social sustainability. Both agroecology and food sovereignty can be understood
as responses to the postwar processes of capitalist globalization, including the
commodification of food and increasing control over food systems by transnational
corporations (Friedmann and McMichael, 1989; McMichael, 2005; Bernstein, 2010).
In the meetings of La Vía Campesina, organizations often declare that ‘food sover-
eignty without agroecology is empty discourse, while agroecology without food
sovereignty is just a technical fix’ (Martínez and Rosset, 2014).
In this contribution, we explore the connection between agroecology and food
sovereignty in Nicaragua, where recent laws passed by the National Assembly
(Law 693—The Food and Nutritional Security and Sovereignty Act of 2009, and
Law 765—The Foment of Agroecological and Organic Production Act of 2011) have
at least in theory opened the door to institutionally scaling up agroecology using
the food sovereignty paradigm. This would put Nicaragua in a category of Latin
American countries currently being observed by academics seeking to understand
the challenges of implementing food sovereignty and scaling out agroecology.
We use the concept of post-neoliberalism to describe the somewhat contradictory
political nature of Nicaragua’s current development model.
In the following section, we provide a brief introduction to the theoretical under-
pinnings of the food sovereignty–agroecology nexus, as understood by the social
movements that have propelled the passage of recent laws and even national consti-
tutions that use food sovereignty language. Next, we look at recent Nicaraguan
history and the consolidation of a National Unity and Reconciliation Government
by the Sandinista Front and President Daniel Ortega, elected three times since
2006. Specifically, we seek to shed light on the content of the post-neoliberal model
adopted by the Sandinista Front and its importance for scaling up agroecology. Then,
we present findings on the role of the state, both as an actor in scaling agroecology
and as a negotiator in the conflict between social movements and transnational
capital. By analysing the politics of agroecological scaling in Nicaragua, we are
able to compare the Nicaraguan experience with other countries that make up the - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
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Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a left-leaning coalition that
grew out of successful resistance to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA)
promoted by the United States’ Bush administration in 2005 and 2006. Finally, our
conclusions point to the thorny issues that prevent the emergence of ‘food sover-
eignty in one country’ and the uncertain future for a conceptual framework that is,
in our view, linked to humanity’s right to a future.
Agroecology to conform, agroecology to transform
At the International Forum on Agroecology of 2015 in Nyéléni, Mali, organizations
of indigenous peoples, peasants, herders, fisherfolk, family farmers, rural workers,
and consumers, as well as allies from the NGO and academic sectors, produced
a declaration in favour of ‘agroecology as transformation’ involving redistributive
land reform to small producers, defence of the commons, the proliferation of
agroecology via horizontal methods such as farmer-to-farmer, and a fundamentally
new relationship between the city and the countryside (Declaration of Nyéléni,
2015). Rather than the ‘cookie cutter’ solutions of the technical packages of conven-
tional, Green Revolution agriculture, agroecology emphasizes place-based, unique
solutions to unique problems, involving deep local knowledge (Gliessman, 1998).
For social movements, agroecology comes from a vast dialogue among several
different ways of understanding the world; rather than Western reductionist logic
dominating, it must enter into substantive dialogue with empirical knowledge as
well as knowledge embodied in indigenous and peasant productive cultures in
the Global South. As such, agroecology as a science is the systematic organization
and explanation of indigenous knowledge about agriculture, accumulated during
millennia (LVC, 2015).
The contradictions of the corporate-industrial agriculture model have by now
become widely known. The global food system, which produces roughly three
times the quantity of calories needed by the world’s human population, has not
come close to resolving the moral dilemma of nearly a billion malnourished people.
The corporate agribusiness model is only about 60 years old, but has already
threatened global water resources, replaced tens of thousands of seed varieties with
several dozen cash crops, diminished soil fertility in every continent, accelerated
the exodus of rural communities towards unsustainable megacities, and contributed
to the incidence of chronic and infectious diseases that affect much of the world’s
population (Patel, 2013). Monoculture production tends to consume more energy—
in fuel and synthetic inputs—than it produces in calories, even before including
the energy budgets of global commodity routes and ‘food miles’. When one
includes the production and transportation of inputs, as well as field and feedlot
processes and the distribution of food commodities, the activities of the corporate
food system currently contribute between 44 and 57 per cent of global greenhouse
emissions (IAASTD, 2008).
Green Revolution technologies, initially associated with major leaps in the
indicators of land-efficiency and especially labour-efficiency of monocultures, - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
Food Chain Vol. 6 No. 2 December 2016
have failed to keep up their pace of productivity increases since the 1970s (Rosset,
2003; Patel, 2013). This fact has combined with highly complex problems of soil
degradation, water contamination, rural exodus, increasing farm input costs and,
in short, sustainability problems in the for-profit agriculture model built around
the technologies of the Green Revolution. As ecological, social and economic
problems have accumulated, new political challenges emerged for the conventional
agribusiness model, in the form of consumer movements for food safety and against
genetically modified crops, global campaigns against seed privatizers like Monsanto,
and increased recognition of the association of the conventional model with global
environmental change. In response to these pressures, transnational farm input
and food industries have implemented measures to ‘green’ their image and appeal
to environmentally conscious consumers. According to the Declaration of Nyéléni
(2015), slogans such as ‘climate-smart agriculture’ or ‘sustainable intensification’ are
essentially false solutions pushed by the same interests who created the problems
of monoculture.
Agroecology, then, as a set of practices based on ecological principles and locally
available resources, is useful to banking sectors, development organizations, and
agrifood companies, to the extent that it can be made into another tool in a portfolio
of techniques for making industrial agriculture profitable (Giraldo and Rosset, 2016).
The version of agroecology as a complement to existing conventional technologies
is rejected patently by social movements who promote agroecology as a way to move
away from the abyss of cataclysmic environmental and social crises (Declaration of
Nyéléni, 2015). Such conflicting, polarized conceptions of the problems of global
agriculture have increasingly become part of the debate in institutional spaces, such
as the FAO’s 2014 Symposium on Agroecology in Rome and subsequent regional
encounters in Brasilia, Dakar, and Bangkok (Giraldo and Rosset, 2016). It is in this
global context of increased institutional recognition of agroecology, coupled with
highly distinct visions of its meaning, that countries such as Nicaragua begin to
enact, or attempt to enact, public policy to promote agroecology.
Post-neoliberalism in Nicaragua and agroecological public policy
The Sandanista revolutionary government, which seized power in 1979 immedi-
ately began literacy campaigns such as Fernando Cardenal’s world-renowned
literacy crusade, which reduced illiteracy to 8 per cent. The agrarian reform process
eventually touched 3 million hectares of the country’s 5 million hectares of
farmland (Núñez-Soto, 2015). Additionally, Nicaragua’s health care infrastructure,
including the system of public hospitals and clinics, essentially dates back to the
revolutionary period of the 1980s.
During the next three presidential periods, the Nicaraguan Government priva-
tized health care and introduced educational ‘autonomy’, which made each public
school responsible for paying teachers’ and administrators’ salaries, essentially
passing the cost of education to parents. By 1996, 34 per cent of the population was
considered illiterate, while half a million children and teenagers were outside of the - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
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school system, in a country with a total population of 6 million people (Hanemann,
2006; UNDP, 1998). Nicaragua became the second poorest country of the western
hemisphere, after Haiti, as international aid and remittances from Nicaraguan
citizens living abroad became the pillars of the economy (Bonino, 2016). The ‘lost
decade’ of the 1990s and early 2000s was not simply an uncontested, top-down
process; on the contrary, student movements shut down Managua for several months
protesting against budget cuts, and rural workers virtually occupied state farms on
the cusp of being privatized, creating cooperatives and a bottom-up process of land
reform (Wilson, 2013). After coming in second in three consecutive presidential
elections, Daniel Ortega beat all other candidates with 38 per cent of the vote in
2006 and returned to the presidency in 2007 after 17 years.
The incoming Sandinista-led coalition created a National Unity and Reconciliation
(NUR) government, with slogans such as ‘Christian values, socialist ethics, and
actions in solidarity’. Within its development plans, the ‘recuperation of rights’
plays a major role, guiding diverse policies, including the renewed literacy
campaigns, and the reconstruction of public education and public health care,
among other key areas (National Human Development Plan of Nicaragua, 2012).
Social infrastructure, including roads, parks, farmers’ markets, child care centres,
and maternity homes in each municipality of the country, has been the hallmark
of the NUR government.
One of the first laws related to the food sector to be enacted by the returning
Sandinista government was Law 693, the Law of Food and Nutritional Sovereignty
and Security of 2009. This law, the goal of several years of social movement artic-
ulation and lobbying, declared food sovereignty and security to be the responsi-
bility of the state, to be carried out in collaboration with territorial and social actors
(Araujo and Godek, 2014; Godek, 2015). Aside from Law 693, there are several recent
laws that contribute to the argument that food sovereignty is a legitimate analytical
lens for understanding Nicaraguan food and agricultural social processes. Law 717
mandates the creation of a fund for purchasing land for distribution to women
peasants. Law 765, the Law of Foment to Agroecological and Organic Production,
establishes norms for agroecological production and the capacity for municipalities
to create local ordinances to foment agroecology. New state entities, such as the
Ministry of the Family, Community, Cooperative and Associative Economy, have
become spaces for promoting small-scale farmers and food producers through fairs,
farmers’ markets, micro-loans, and training (Núñez-Soto, 2015).
Perhaps more important than each individual step taken since 2007 to promote
agroecology is the emerging institutional context, involving the relationships
between legal structures, institutional policy and practice, territorial capacity, and
participation. In the next section, we review some of the more important shifts in
the Nicaraguan context for agroecological scaling, from the perspective of territorial
realities, but also with a privileged angle on state-led activities. This is not to look
past the vast, diverse, and substantial accumulation of non-state experiences in
agroecology, including the campesino-to-campesino (farmer-to-farmer) programme
(PCAC) of the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG), started in 1987
(Holt Gimenez, 2006), and more recently the Via Campesina’s Agroecological - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
Food Chain Vol. 6 No. 2 December 2016
Corridor (McCune et al., 2016). Similarly, the National Autonomous University of
Nicaragua (UNAN), in its Leon campus, has a Department of Agroecology and a long-
running programme offering a degree in agroecological engineering, and the National
Agrarian University (UNA) has recently started Master’s and doctorate programmes
in agroecology (McCune et al., 2016). Here, as we are particularly concerned with the
political economy of agroecological scaling, we take a special look at the state, due to
its potential for broader territorial impacts.
Actions from the state: recovering public policy, negotiating
From commodity production to solidarity exchanges
Prior to 2007, Nicaragua’s experiences with seed banks were generally carried out
as projects of foreign non-governmental organizations, where the objective was
(and often still is) seed commercialization. These ‘private sector’ seed banks saw
seeds as commodities to be produced profitably by small farmers, either in cooper-
atives or as individuals. The majority of such projects involved the injection of
resources, equipment, financing, and technical assistance to organized groups,
to help them commercialize seeds and recover the initial investment, with the
assumption that through gaining an income by selling seeds, communities would
improve their capacity to purchase food, household goods, and basic services, thus
reducing poverty (Fernandez, Mendez and Bacon, 2013).
In most cases, these experiences failed as soon as the projects ended, and faced
the notorious problem where financing opportunities were concentrated by one
person who used the status of the community group for personal benefit. Rarely
did projects put effort into strengthening communities’ organizational capacity and
committed autochthonous leadership that would be able to work transparently to
sustain collective plans and activities without a funded project. Neither did these
projects focus on strengthening what peasant farmers had already been doing on
their own for centuries: seed exchanges, knowledge exchanges, and experimen-
tation (Guharay, 2012).
Since 2011, the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology, INTA, has facili-
tated an organizational model for the production, conservation, and participatory
breeding of heirloom and adapted seeds, through the organization and estab-
lishment of Community Seed Banks (CSB). These banks’ goal is that the producers
in each community have at their disposition quality seeds adapted to local environ-
mental conditions and the productive restrictions imposed by the effects of global
climate change (INTA, 2013). The key indicator is that communities save suffi-
cient seeds for the next production cycle, reducing the external seed dependence
of communities and, as such, improving their food sovereignty and security. With
the shift in strategy, other characteristics have also changed in Nicaragua’s seed
banks, including a marked increase in the participation of women in seed saving
and exchanges (Gonzalez Manchón & Macleod, 2010).
In the CSB model, seed exchanges take place both among producers in a
community, and between communities. To achieve this, the chief effort is placed - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
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on strengthening community organization and territorial leadership. In the rural
territories of Nicaragua, INTA technicians approach communities that bring
together two conditions: limited access to heirloom and adapted seeds, and
favourable soil and climate conditions for seed productions. In dialogue with the
locally based technicians, communities form collectives and define their collec-
tive’s name, the seeds they want to grow, possible fields that can be assigned
to seed production, and the roles and responsibilities of each person. With the
support of their technician, the community prepares organic fertilizers and pest
management strategies using local resources such as fresh cow’s milk, molasses,
manure, tree leaves, and rice husks. They also create strategies and local practices
for controlling erosion, such as living fences and mulch. In what is known
as Nicaragua’s Dry Corridor, communities often put into practice technologies for
capturing and storing rain water, first in the collective areas designated for seed
production, and later, gradually, in their individual parcels. Each collective must
also create an agroecological plan for gradually transitioning their farms using
agroecological principles.
CSB processes are carried out with the support of INTA technicians, who facilitate
constant exchanges of knowledge among producers in the agroecological transition
process. These knowledge exchanges constitute the essential element of this organi-
zational model’s success. The CSBs break with the logic of the conventional model
of extension, which emphasizes individualism, vertical relationships, market-based
pre-packaged solutions, and mechanical thinking—replacing it with a logic that is
complex, creative, contextualized, and constructed ‘from below’. The neoliberal
logic is being replaced by a post-neoliberal, constructivist logic that re-constructs
community social relationships on the basis of solidarity and active participation of
families and communities in the search for local solutions to local problems related
to seed access, and complete social integration of women and youth.
In 2015, there were 380 Community Seed Banks at a national level, although
50 per cent had suffered major seed reserve losses following the two consecutive
years of lost first harvest seasons due to drought (INTA, 2015). Among the many
challenges that the CSBs face is to consolidate the organizational model and to
build deeper trust in relationships based on solidarity, in order to advance not only
in the production and supply of seeds, but also in crop diversification, post-harvest
handling, processing, infrastructure, tools, equipment, and other areas related to
the well-being of families that participate in collectives, such as health care, as well
as permanent educational and training opportunities.
Knowledge exchanges in pursuit of unique solutions in unique agroecosystems
Just over 600 Territorial Research and Innovation Farms (TRIFs) dot the Nicaraguan
landscape, with a minimum of one such farm per municipality. TRIFs are small
and medium productive units chosen by INTA for their representative size and
climatic conditions, and for the producer family’s history of empirical research,
innovation, territorial leadership, and willingness to share knowledge. In these
farms, producers carry out their own research using INTA technologies such - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
Food Chain Vol. 6 No. 2 December 2016
as water sequestering lagoons, mesh hoop houses for germinating seeds, and
improved heirloom seeds, as well as strictly local ‘inventions’ such as new organic
fertilizer recipes, natural medicines, and improvised irrigation systems. They share
their findings with neighbouring families, CSB collectives, technicians, university
students, and professors, as well as agricultural cooperatives and non-governmental
organizations that schedule exchange visits. Most of the technical trainings in
agriculture currently taking place in Nicaragua are being carried out in TRIFs, and
host farmers are the major trainers.
TRIF families work in close coordination with INTA technicians to make farm
self-assessments and plans for the agroecological transformation of their farms.
Agroecological transition plans are generally based on using local resources with
a creative, context-specific application of certain INTA technologies. Both farmer
family and technician conceive of the farm as a place of local reference and as a
learning space for other producers and the community, based on its productive,
ecological, social, and economic components. TRIF learning spaces have an overtly
horizontal character, as farmer exchanges are based on dialogue, the sharing of
experiences, and practical workshops with broad participation. The ‘popular’ educa-
tional processes taking place have generated a great deal of discussion on how to
develop peoples’ consciousness—including and especially technicians’—through
innovation and learning processes centred in TRIFs. Government institutions that
attend to the countryside have removed patronizing phrases such as ‘technical assis-
tance’ and ‘beneficiaries’ from their methodological documents, replacing them
with ‘accompaniment’ and ‘protagonists’.
From conventional rural education to popular education
In 2014, Nicaragua’s National Technological Institute (INATEC) created a system
of ‘Augusto Cesar Sandino’ Technical Schools of the Countryside (TSC), oriented
to improve technical capacities, abilities, and self-confidence in peasant families
(Osejo, 2014). By 2015, the TSCs had just over 70,000 registered participants, of
which over half were adults over 30. These free schools are established on farms, at
existing schools, in community centres, cooperative halls, and other spaces available
for encounters. The schools are part of INATEC’s efforts to promote employment,
especially self-employment, opportunities in the countryside. The TSC system
represents an important step towards de-privatizing knowledge and education
in Nicaragua, and a major contribution towards generalizing the agroecological
production model in Nicaraguan rural society.
The TSC system responds to the need for more massive education and training in
the countryside, but also by and for the countryside; that is, based on the real needs
and articulated from the grassroots community level. In this sense it is comparable
to the Educação do Campo that has been developed as a result of social movement
presence in the Brazilian countryside (Pinhiera-Barbosa, 2015). As opposed to the
neoliberal period, when the public school system was being privatized and only
10 per cent of secondary school graduates were able to pass the university entrance
exams (even fewer in rural areas), the TSC school system is based upon a non-elitist,
contextualized education in the countryside (Núñez-Soto, 2015). - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
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Technical Schools of the Countryside are formed when a community organizes
and signs up at least 20 people to take classes. As the community members develop
a TSC proposal, they identify the main ‘knowledge demands’ of the community,
for example: ‘animal feed during the dry season’, ‘birth and delivery of calves’, or
‘avoiding crop disease’. Community leaders—who may be religious leaders,
teachers, nurses, or farmers—take the petition to any of the institutions that make
up Nicaragua’s System of Production, Commercialization, and Consumption, to ask
for a TSC teacher, who will be a technician from INTA or INATEC.
The school’s learning plan is established in the first meetings between the
technician and the community, based on the community’s knowledge demands.
Learning in the TSC begins with the recognition of the knowledge and experience
of peasant families, in order to create a dialogue between these ‘popular knowl-
edges’ and the theory and practical experience of the technician. The purpose of
this popular education approach is to develop an enriched practice and a conscious,
planned agroecological transition. The month-long introductory module is always
the same: ‘Mother Earth’, and focuses on topics including water, biodiversity,
health, forests, and soil. Basic courses include ‘Family Garden’, ‘Small Animal Care’,
‘Large Animal Care’, and ‘Farm Planning’, among others. In contrast to conven-
tional agronomic education, all the curriculum of the TSCs is based upon organic
agriculture, and includes no references to agrochemical formulas. Basic courses
focus on ecological soil management, compost, earthworm production, manure
management, erosion control, intercropping, water efficiency and catchment, and
disease prevention and diagnosis. Specialized courses include the establishment of
veterinary medicine clinics in communities, as well as production of more specific
management plans for cacao production, coffee farming, or fruit tree management,
among other options.
The TSC system contributes to Nicaragua’s recovery of the right to an education.
Students without secondary school diplomas are able to gain equivalency though
graduating all of the TSC basic modules. In groups in which the students have
difficulty reading and writing, the course becomes eminently practice-based,
so as not to exclude anyone based on their previous schooling level. This degree of
flexibility gives the TSC a widespread relevance to rural populations that have low
and very low levels of formal education. Many TSC students go on to become
community leaders, and there is a considerable overlap between TSC students and
TRIF families. This overlap means that on one hand, TSC students begin to achieve
greater social status as they transform their farms, and on the other hand, Territorial
Research and Innovation Farm families use the TSC school system to strengthen
their mastery of farm techniques and, often, to brush up on their reading skills.
Territorial articulation for agroecological scaling-up
Territorial Research and Innovation Nuclei (TRIN) are made up of leading agroeco-
logical farmers, representatives of cooperatives, university researchers, and techni-
cians from institutions of the productive sector in a given territory. In these territorial
nuclei, participants analyse local problems involving food production, processing,
and consumption, in order to coordinate, plan, implement, and evaluate the use of - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
Food Chain Vol. 6 No. 2 December 2016
research and innovation to find solutions. A central assumption of the territorial
nuclei model is that for research to be relevant to local realities, local producers,
cooperatives, food processors, and retailers should be present and actively participate
in research processes (INTA, 2015). The recognition of the importance of empirical
knowledge in rural territories helps scientific research approach the real needs of
rural communities. The generation of technologies should be a social process based
upon dialogue and recognition of common problems. This avoids cookie-cutter,
one-size-fits-all solutions, as well as academic isolation and government bureaucracy.
Rather than a question of solving problems based on technological adoption, these
territorial nuclei focus on technological generation from the specific territories of
Nicaragua, based on local realities. They highlight age-old practices of technological
innovation in peasant agriculture, and look to multiply agroecological practices
already present in a territory as well as trying out agroecological practices that are
working in other territories.
Several territorial nuclei constitute a Regional Agricultural Research and Innovation
Council (RARIC), where the needs that have been identified in the territorial nuclei
are transformed into a research agenda for INTA. The regional council also takes on
the follow-up and evaluation of participatory research projects taking place within
its territorial nuclei. Rather than create institutional articulation around specific,
funded projects—as was previously the case—the regional councils are permanent
spaces that maintain an agenda based on local needs and a long-term vision of
territorial development. The articulation of these institutional and territorial spaces
is shown in Figure 1.
The integration and articulation of territorial and institutional actors into the
Nicaraguan Agricultural Innovation System was a major achievement of 2015 for
the Nicaraguan Government. This national system is designed to conform to
context-specific knowledge needs at the local, territorial, regional, and national
levels, with the participation of public and private actors, universities, farmers,
ranchers, and the state, in order to increase agricultural sustainability. At the
community level, this increasingly means agroecological transformation of farms,
Research agenda
Producer families
Technical schools
of the countryside
Community seed
Community leaders Institutions of the
productive sector
Research institutions
Figure 1 Articulation among territorial and institutional actors for scaling up agroecology in
Nicaragua - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
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December 2016 Food Chain Vol. 6 No. 2
led by the examples of over 600 territorial innovation farms. The direct participation
of 70,000 students—youth and adults—in the technical schools of the countryside,
often held in agroecological farms, is clearly pointing in the direction of a multiplier
effect in agroecological production. The direct participation of over 4,000 people
in 380 community seed banks is another indicator of the massive nature of the
agroecological transition taking place.
In as much as Nicaragua has been able to develop a development model that
distances the society from neoliberal realities, new synergies are emerging in
the collective construction of the countryside. There is a surprising degree of
overlap among the visions of rural communities, territorial government insti-
tutions, and social movements in promoting agroecological farming as a way
to reduce dependence on farm inputs and food imports, conserve agrobiodi-
versity and maintain food production levels despite the long-running drought
that afflicts the country. The number of agroecological farmers in Nicaragua
is rapidly growing, as is their social prestige and, importantly, their capacity
to innovate and generate solutions from below. Agroecological organizational
structures in the rural territories of Nicaragua are also generating secondary
benefits, such as massive processes of education, prevention of mosquito-borne
epidemics, and greater levels of citizen security. Some historical conjectures
are more propitious to scaling-out agroecology than others, and in the case of
Nicaragua, post-neoliberal development under the leadership of a National Unity
and Reconciliation government is creating a fertile medium for agroecological
transition at the national scale.
However, it should be recognized that the substrate of Nicaraguan agroecology
is the agrarian structure left by over three decades of revolutionary convulsion and
negotiations. The creativity and diversity of state programmes and collaborations
that Nicaraguan producers currently enjoy are possible because of the favourable
conditions of land access, as well as the memory of major popular victories over
conservative sectors such as the national oligarchy, which obliges such sectors to
negotiate with the state in order to preserve their privilege. The Nicaraguan state is
thus able to dedicate public spending to social needs, and is slowly showing signs
of being able to negotiate with certain agribusiness interests, such as is the case
with commercial rice producers, who have incremented the national production of
rice from 30 per cent of total national consumption in 2008 to 80 per cent in 2015
(Núñez-Soto, 2015).
Much scholarship has been dedicated to discussing the ideological character of
Latin America’s left-leaning ALBA alliance, which includes Antigua and Barbuda,
Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis,
Santa Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela. Here, we use the
term ‘post-neoliberal’ to make clear what the progressive alliance is seeking to
overcome, as well as the ambiguous nature of what, exactly, it is proposing in place - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
Food Chain Vol. 6 No. 2 December 2016
of the neoliberal model. With a political doctrine that some pundits call ‘resource
nationalism’, governments began to renegotiate hydrocarbon rents and redis-
tribute national budgets to address the grave social consequences of five centuries
of colonialism and neocolonialism, as well as the ‘lost decade’ of neoliberal
reforms. Elected leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia have spoken most clearly
in favour of ‘21st Century Socialism’, a kind of national self-determination led
by worker and neighbourhood cooperatives in collaboration with democratized,
participatory state institutions and a regulated private sector (León, 2013). The idea
of agroecological farming as a dominant paradigm, with small farmers enjoying
access to local markets, spaces for exchanging seeds and knowledge, public sector
investment and accompaniment, and, as such, a reality in which all consumers
had access to agroecological food, is known in Latin American countries as the
masificación (roughly translated as ‘massive character’) of agroecology. Machín
et al. (2010) and Rosset et al. (2011) explore this process in Cuba, where the loss of
all major trading partners stimulated a unique search for autonomy at a national
level, eventually uniting the conditions for a globally unprecedented prolif-
eration of agroecological thought and practice, which penetrated virtually all of
the island’s municipalities and now guides over half the country’s peasant farmers
(see also Chan and Freyre, 2012).
Brazilian social movements have taken to calling centre-left governments
‘neo-developmentalist’, in that they re-assert the role of the state as negotiator
in the conflict between capital and labour (Ban, 2012). Bolivia and Ecuador have
been the source of rich theoretical constructions on the Buen Vivir, a concept of
‘living well’ that defies the assumption of perpetual growth that underlies capitalism
(Santos, 2009). Cuba’s recent economic reforms point to a future based on decen-
tralized cooperative and small business production and distribution, while retaining
state control over fundamental and strategic assets (Odriozola et al., 2013). Despite
the differentiated proposals, the period since ALBA was formed in 2001 has been
one of unprecedented Latin American unity, culminating in the founding of the
CELAC, or Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, in 2012, which
for the first time brings together all Latin American countries without the presence
of the United States or Canada.
The food movement, as it is known in several countries of the Global
North, connects a basic daily material necessity—eating—with irreconcilable
structural contradictions of late-stage global capitalism, and in doing so begins
to trace out elements of what could emerge as a social and economic system
better suited to a finite planet. The missing link in making progress with
agroecology—in time to prevent extraordinary socio-ecological disaster during
the 21st century—is the question of scale. The agroecological logic, an appro-
priation of nature’s functioning principles, must be taken to scale and converted
into a mass movement in every continent. As a movement and historical process
developed from below, agroecological change is manifested through the transi-
tions under way in hundreds of thousands of small and medium farms across
the planet. - Friday, March 24, 2017 4:02:20 AM - University of Bath Library IP Address:
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... Especially in the case of agroecology, linear, top-down models of knowledge diffusion, whose limited success even for conventional farming is hardly a secret [18,19], cannot capture the complexity of systems and processes [20]. To be useful, new agroecological knowledge should be place- [21], context- [22], and culture-specific [23]. It should be consistent with local conditions, specificities, and problems; particular social contexts; and the local culture. ...
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How do agronomists offering advisory support to farmers who practice agroecology construct agroecology-related knowledge, and how does experiential, social, and connectivist learning lead to knowledge creation and facilitate their personal and professional transformation? In this study, following a mixed research design, which combined thematic analysis and simultaneous regressions, and drawing on data from a sample of Greek farm advisors, we sought to answer these questions. Our analysis revealed that the engagement with the praxis of agroecology lays the basis for the development of advisors’ agroecological knowledge. This knowledge is then negotiated and socially reconstructed within the social fabric of agroecological communities. Connectivist knowledge, derived from multiple sources, is also validated within these communities. In its turn, agroecology-related knowledge leads advisors to alter their worldviews, thus transforming their professional and personal selves. These findings confirm that agroecological knowledge has both an experiential and a social dimension. Our results also disclose that advisors facilitate the osmosis of knowledge toward agroecological communities. From a theoretical point of view, our study highlights that by merging different learning theories, we can better depict how agroecological knowledge emerges and evolves.
Technical Report
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This publication is a Technical report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service. It aims to provide evidence-based scientific support to the European policymaking process.
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In this chapter, we examine how marginalization and inequity—from international policy arenas to the household level and along the intersecting dimensions of gender, age, class and caste, religion, health and race—pose a major barrier to the development of sustainable food systems. The more transformative edges of the agroecology movement are advancing feminist, decolonial and anti-racist approaches that move the analysis from the centres of power to the margins where the hitherto excluded and oppressed are claiming power. Inequity manifests in overt discrimination as well as unequal access to resources and decision-making power at the household or farm level or to markets, credit, knowledge, governance, relations and other resources at the community or territorial level. In the absence of a focus on equity, efforts to advance agroecology risk exacerbating inequity.
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In this chapter, we focus on issues of power, control and governance in agroecology transformations. Synthesizing the findings across the six domains of transformation introduced in Part II, we explore how the different ‘governance interventions’ of different actors have multiple effects on a transformative agroecology. Interventions that undermine agroecology have two effects: (i) suppressing agroecology by actively repressing and criminalizing it and (ii) co-opting agroecology by supporting it only to become equivalent to the dominant regime. Interventions that maintain the status quo enable co-existence by (iii) containing agroecology as elements of the dominant regime are strengthened and alternatives ignored and (iv) shielding agroecology from regime dynamics so it is less threatened. In contrast, agroecological transformation of agri-food systems are enabled by (v) processes that support and nurture agroecology to develop on its own terms and (vi) release agroecology from its disabling context by dismantling elements of the dominant regime and anchoring the values, norms and practices of agroecology within and between territories, and at different scales.
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In this chapter we further discuss the rationale for a participatory and reflexive governance process as the basis for agroecology transformations. We discuss governance and facilitation mechanisms that enable continuous discussions, negotiations, exchange and joint planning between actors. Further, we provide guidance on this ongoing and iterative social learning processes among actors that can enable and ensure governance interventions that both nurture and anchor agroecology. This often requires an expansion of ‘direct’ democracy in decision-making in order to complement, or replace, models of representative democracy that prevail in conventional policy-making. Finally, we articulate the territorial approach to governance which is increasingly seen as the decisive level in fostering agroecological transformations and the scale where reflexive and participatory governance can be effectively implemented.
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In this chapter, we introduce the origins and history of agroecology, outlining its emergence as a science and its longstanding history as a traditional practice throughout the world. We provide a brief review of the evidence of the benefits of agroecology in relation to productivity, livelihoods, biodiversity, nutrition, climate change and enhancing social relations. We then outline our approach to agroecology which is rooted in the tradition of political ecology that posits power and governance have always been the decisive factors in shaping agricultural and other ‘human’ systems.
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In this chapter, we survey the recent literature that speaks directly to the issue of bringing agroecology to scale. We discuss the shift towards analytical frameworks that consider not only the farm level but rather whole food system transformations. We then introduce the multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions which we adopt for the purpose of this book. Moving beyond the technical analysis often found in research on sustainability ‘transitions’, our approach thus adopts agency-centric approach to food systems ‘transformation’. To do this, we introduce the notion of domains of transformation, which represent discrete areas where the conflict between agroecology and the dominant food regime manifests and where the potential for collective and transformation is transformation is most potent.
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In this chapter we examine how local organizations, affinity groups and the formal and informal networks they form provide the basis for the collective, coordinated actions needed for agroecological transformation at different scales. Civil society-driven networks are crucial because they facilitate a kind of cooperation that cannot be generated by the market or the state. On the other hand, the absence of appropriate networks can substantially limit agroecological transition, for example where political dynamics undermine or weaken the development of networks for collective action. Another disabling dimension of this domain is the compartmentalization of networks (e.g. by commodity group), which is a contradiction to the holism of agroecology. Perhaps most challenging is the growing individualization of society that is creating a growing barrier to cooperativism.
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In this chapter we examine the importance of systems of economic exchange for agroecology. These include the practices and processes by which agricultural products move from producers to various users and by which agri-food producers acquire inputs that cannot be produced on the farm. We review the importance of traditional systems of exchange (such as informal markets and barter systems), subsistence (or family and community self-provisioning) and ‘nested markets’ that are embedded in democratic social relations for agroecology. These markets thicken networks of solidarity and relations of reciprocity in territories. Nested markets value the ecological, social, economic and political functions and outputs of agroecology and support the development of trust-based networks. Regrettably, mainstream food markets favour large volumes and standardization and exclude most agroecological producers.
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In this chapter, we examine the role of knowledge processes in the form of local practice, research, innovation and education in agroecology transformations. Knowledge and power are intimately linked; the questions of ‘what knowledge’ and ‘whose knowledge’ is valued are vitally important. We review the informal (outside of institutions) and formal knowledge processes that have been found to support agroecology. These affirm and enable the knowledge systems of agricultural producers, especially those of women and youth. We further discuss how the combination of scientific knowledge with local and traditional knowledge is important in agroecology transformations. Unfortunately, mainstream knowledge systems often disable agroecology because they privilege outside and top-down processes of knowledge transfer that invalidate local, farmer and indigenous knowledges.
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The Spanish word formación can be translated as ‘training’ or ‘education’, but Latin American social movements use it as inspired by Che Guevara’s notion of ‘molding’ the values of the new woman and new man for egalitarian, cooperative social relations in the construction of a ‘new society’. This contribution presents findings on the dialectical linkages between the formación processes led by the Rural Workers’ Association (ATC) and the gradual transformation of the Nicaraguan countryside by peasant families choosing to grow food using agroecological practices. We use Vygotsky’s sociocultural historical theory to explore the developmental processes of formación subjects and the pedagogical mediators of their transformation into movement cadre. The motivations of active learners to develop new senses and collective understandings about their material reality become a counterhegemonic process of internalization and socialization of agroecological knowledges and senses. In this paper, we further explore the formación process by identifying territorial mediators: culturally significant elements within and outside of individuals that facilitate the rooting of agroecological social processes in a given territory where the social movement is active. By placing the territory, rather than the individual, at the center of popular education processes, new synergies are emerging in the construction of socially mobilizing methods for producing and spreading agroecological knowledge.
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Resumen La agroecología está de moda. Es un acontecimiento nuevo con el cual ha aparecido una constelación de oportunidades que pueden aprovechar los movimientos sociales para avanzar en la transformación del sistema alimentario. Sin embargo, también ha emergido el riesgo de que sea cooptada, institucionalizada y despojada de su contenido político. Esta es la disyuntiva que analizamos en el presente artículo en clave de la ecología política: si la agroecología va a terminar siendo parte de la caja de herramientas del sistema agroindustrial para reestructurarse en el contexto de la crisis civilizatoria, o sí, por el contrario, se potenciará como una movilizadora alternativa política para transitar hacia la construcción de las alternativas al desarrollo. Palabras clave: ecología política, contradicciones del capital, acumulación por desposesión, alternativas al desarrollo. Abstract Agroecology is in fashion. It has burst on the scene as something new that offers a constellation of opportunities that social movements can leverage to push for the transformation of the food system. But the risk of being co-opted, institutionalized and stripped of its political content has also emerged. This is the dilemma we analyze in this article, using a political ecology lens. The question is if agroecology will end up just being part of the toolbox of the agroindustrial food system as it restructures in the context of the civilizational crisis, or, on the contrary, will it be strengthened as a mobilizing political alternative to move us toward the construction of alternatives to development?
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The transnational rural social movement La Vía Campesina has been critically sustained and shaped by the encounter and Diálogo de saberes (dialog among different knowledges and ways of knowing) between different rural cultures (East, West, North and South; peasant, indigenous, farmer, pastoralist and rural proletarian, etc.) that takes place within it, in the context of the increasingly politicized confrontation with neoliberal reality and agribusiness in the most recent phase of capital expansion. This dialog among the ‘absences’ left out by the dominant monoculture of ideas has produced important ‘emergences’ that range from mobilizing frames for collective action – like the food sovereignty framework – to social methodologies for the spread of agroecology among peasant families.
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Agroecology has played a key role in helping Cuba survive the crisis caused by the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe and the tightening of the US trade embargo. Cuban peasants have been able to boost food production without scarce and expensive imported agricultural chemicals by first substituting more ecological inputs for the no longer available imports, and then by making a transition to more agroecologically integrated and diverse farming systems. This was possible not so much because appropriate alternatives were made available, but rather because of the Campesino-a-Campesino (CAC) social process methodology that the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) used to build a grassroots agroecology movement. This paper was produced in a 'self-study' process spearheaded by ANAP and La Via Campesina, the international agrarian movement of which ANAP is a member. In it we document and analyze the history of the Campesino-to-Campesino Agroecology Movement (MACAC), and the significantly increased contribution of peasants to national food production in Cuba that was brought about, at least in part, due to this movement. Our key findings are (i) the spread of agroecology was rapid and successful largely due to the social process methodology and social movement dynamics, (ii) farming practices evolved over time and contributed to significantly increased relative and absolute production by the peasant sector, and (iii) those practices resulted in additional benefits including resilience to climate change.
In 2009, Nicaragua joined a growing number of Latin American nations with the passing of its Law of Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security. The law combines elements of both the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty frameworks and offers a broader and radical perspective to achieve the right to food. This chapter explores the origins of the law, the process by which it was passed, and its institutional framework. The chapter puts particular emphasis on the role of peasant and other civil society organizations in conceiving and adopting the law, as well as the mechanisms for participation of civil society in implementing the law. More generally, this chapter explores the potential of the law to enhance democratic food and agricultural policymaking. A member of the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA), Nicaragua offers a unique perspective of the role of internal and external factors in the design and implementation of new food policies to achieve the right to food.
In the early 2000s the coffee crisis emerged as a central object of study for commodity chain scholars. In this paper I revisit the scene of the coffee crisis in Nicaragua to understand violent processes of devaluation and disinvestment that devastated the countryside for more than five years (2000-05). Employing a commodity disarticulations approach, I argue that conventional explanations of the coffee crisis as one of overproduction and devaluation generally failed to unravel the layered spatiality of dispossession that enables coffee chain formations. Digging below the surface text of the crisis narrative, I illustrate how the coffee crisis in the central highlands was exacerbated by an aggressive land grab by a consortium of agroindustrial capitalists called CONSAGRA-AGRESAMI that had dispossessed farmworkers of land rights and accumulated the spoils of the Sandinista-led agrarian reform over the previous decade. When CONSAGRA-AGRESAMI folded in 2000, an unemployed farmworkers movement surged to reclaim land promised to farmworkers in the popular revolution. Using this alternative reading of the crisis in Nicaragua, I aim to bring into focus the ongoing processes of dispossession that render coffee workers vulnerable to hunger, exploitation, and abuse.
Is Brazil's economic policy regime a mere tinkering of the Washington Consensus? The evidence suggests that Brazilian governments institutionalized a hybrid policy regime that layers economically liberal priorities originating in the Washington Consensus and more interventionist ones associated with neo-developmentalist thinking. To capture this hybridity, the study calls this regime ‘liberal neo-developmentalism’. While defending the goal of macroeconomic stability and sidelining full employment, Brazilian governments also reduced reliance on foreign savings and employed a largely off-the-books stimulus package during the crisis. Brazil experienced important privatization, liberalization and deregulation reforms, but at the same time the state consolidated its role as owner and investor in industry and banking while using an open economy industrial policy and a cautious approach to the free movement of capital. Finally, while conditional cash transfers fit the Washington Consensus, Brazil's steady increases in the minimum wage, industrial policies targeted at high employment sectors and the use of state-owned firms to expand welfare and employment programs better fit a neo-developmentalist policy regime. In sum, while the main goals of the Washington Consensus were not replaced with neo-developmentalist ones, Brazil's policy regime saw an extensive transformation of policy orthodoxy that reflects Brazil's status as an emerging power.
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