Prof Tania Murray Li: Farmers, seeds and soil in highland Indonesia: the challenge of food sovereignty when capitalist relations take hold. March 14th 2016. EHESS, Paris.

Agriculteurs, sols et semences dans la globalisation.

le 14 mars de 11 h à 13 h (salle 587, bât. Le France, 190-198 av de France 75013 Paris),

La professeure Tania Murray Li de l’Université de Toronto

Farmers, seeds and soil in highland Indonesia: the challenge of food sovereignty when capitalist relations take hold

A central figure in the food sovereignty movement is the « middle peasant », a cautious figure who balances food with cash-crop
production, guided by a strong aversion to ecological and market risk. Drawing on long-term field research in highland Sulawesi, Indonesia,  the seminar presentation explains why farmers switched from food to mono-crop cacao production, and a stable middle peasantry did not emerge. It outlines their reasons for the switch, their struggles to make ends meet on small plots of poor-quality land, and the rapid polarization that soon arose. Ironically, their farm-dependence increased their vulnerability. Unlike farmers in many parts of the world who appear to be autonomous but are actually supported by statetransfers, remittances or wage work, these farmers were on their own.
Competitive capitalist relations quickly emerged and took on anespecially virulent, almost textbook form. These relations were compulsory. Farmers with inadequate plots of land, and newly landless highlanders, could not opt out, challenging notions of food  sovereignty framed in terms of liberal notions of choice. Even when small-scale farmers are untouched by land grabbing or corporate  schemes, as in this case, expanding their capacity to exercise control over their food, their farms and their futures is still a huge challenge.

Tania Murray Li is Canada Research Chair in the Political Economy and Culture of Asia in the Department of Anthropology at the University of

Toronto, and author of  Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier (Duke University Press 2014), Powers of Exclusion:  Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia (with Derek Hall and Philip Hirsch, NUS Press, 2011), and The Will to Improve: Governmentality,  Development, and the Practice of Politics (Duke, 2007).

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