Organic Farming and Climate-Smart Agriculture – A Complicated Relationship

0 thoughts on “Organic Farming and Climate-Smart Agriculture – A Complicated Relationship”

  1. Hm. I have a lot of sympathy for your take as someone who wants to build bridges as well. Though I would say that “what is good in [CSA] is not new, and what is new is not good”, in that CSA does not involve any kind of conceptual or technical breakthrough, it is (as you refer) another rallying cry. But it is one that as phrased has two major problems:
    (1) It emphasizes productivity first–when productivity should not be goal, livelilhoods, resilience and food security should be. Increased food security without increased productivity is more or less an unalloyed good; increased productivity without increased food security is a tragic farce. Which is all to say: you often get what you measure, and ignore (or underemphasize) what you don’t. Productivity should be a tool. It should not be the first mentioned goal.
    (2) It (or at least, the Global Alliance for CSA) declares that it has no preference for certain kinds of agriculture over others. This is, to me, an a-scientific view, as not all kinds of agriculture are as responsible for climate change as others.

    And I suppose a third problem, which you referred to in a previous post–it doesn’t do anything to address power relationships and imbalances, which are at the heart of much food insecurity, to my mind. Food sovereignty is one proposal to address this; I also like the term “agency” (as in, political agency); Amartya Sen formulated a similar idea under effective democracy and a reasonably free press. But sociopolitical rights, under whatever name, are key–and sociopolitical power is not one of the indicators most prominently mentioned in CSA, let us say. (For a very, VERY long treatise that includes the conclusion that relative equality is a prerequisite for solving complicated problems, see the new conceptualization, “cognitive democracy” — ). While politically challenging, I think the issue of relative and substantive (political) equality is one of the most vital of our times. We court disappointment and failure when we do not include it prominently. (In my opinion.)

    1. These are really, really good points, thank you for them! I had a feeling I was leaving out a lot of other considerations regarding the criticism CSA has received recently, so thanks for complimenting my post. I agree that agency and power relationships are key in achieving a truly sustainable food system. However, I sometimes ask myself how to achieve a transition toward a more democratic system, and how to behave on the way there – it’s no secret that currently, there are huge concentrations of power at every level of the supply chain, so while strengthening actors at grassroots level is paramount, it might be necessary to take big business on board in the meantime at least for the climate component – and there, I think, CSA (esp. when it relates to efficiency improvements) might be a reasonable approach. But again, I’m new to the whole concept, so I welcome a debate obviously!

      1. It is a thoroughly fair question, but my response tends to be “what is the evidence taking big business on board does more to change them than it does to change the expectations of others involved”? I would say the evidence for influencing big business more than them influencing the expectations on them is scant. On the other hand, the power of “oppositional frameworks” — people pushing *against* bad practices and criticizing corporations & big business — would seem to have much anecdotal and circumstantial evidence in favor of it. (To be fair, so does “cooperating with big business”; my more nuanced argument would be that the relative importance of engage vs. oppose is rarely disentangled.)

        We do need good and intellectually honest people “inside” and working with groups that sincerely want to do better (and those who don’t, actually, perhaps more so!) But my analysis is that those on the inside are constrained by a far greater degree than those outside, and the space those “inside” have to operate within is far more dictated by external societal pressures than on internal actions.

        A simple thought experiment is whether/when/how big corporations would have, on their own, chosen to address the concerns of the environmental movement without the decades of largely critical and oppositional actions? Given the potentially *huge* externalities involved, how much can we reasonably expect business to do “willingly” as opposed to resulting from social mobilization and pressure?

        Piven and Cloward in “Poor People’s Movements” found that these movements were most effective when they were the least collaborative; Ana Maria Doimo, in her research on Brazilian social movements, found both “oppositional” and “collaborative” moments were present, and contributed to change, but certainly found the “oppositional” stage to be vitally important, and to essentially lay the groundwork and open the “space” for the collaborative stage, where some changes would get implemented, but the larger agenda weakened, arguably necessitating more “oppositional” organizing.

        I’m open to the idea that we need people–perhaps even businesses–“on board”. I suppose my quibble/preference, however, is that I much more rarely see the recognition (in US/Canada at least) that people criticizing, protesting, and opposing is–from all that I can tell from the evidence–no less important. In fact, it is arguably (but hardly incontrovertibly) *more* important.

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