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Farming at the Margins in the Andes: a geography of resilience and transformation

Feola G. 2014. Farming at the Margins in the Andes: a geography of resilience and transformation. Food Justice 2014. Knowing Food/Securing the Future, 16-17 July 2014, University of Reading, Reading, united Kingdom.


Abstract

Peasant communities in the Colombian Andes are facing times of transformation. In a territory that has been plagued by decades of armed conflict, climate change is already having effects on the ground, and the country has recently liberalization trade with the United States of America and the European Union. While peasant communities have shown resilience over centuries, it is unclear whether the pace and magnitude of the current pressures is beyond their capacity, and willingness, to change and adapt. The ongoing protests in the country confirm that peasant communities experience these pressures as threats to their survival. These protests are characterized by the co-existence of element of resistance and proactive demands for the right to defining in own terms the nature of the pressures faced, and the direction of future changes.

In this contribution, I draw on own ongoing ethnographic research in the Colombian Andes. I argue that it is necessary to understand the marginality of peasants in order to explain the resilience and transformation of these communities. I first outline the socio-political, physical and cultural marginalities, as observed e.g. in access to land and services, distance from markets, and non- utilitarian rationalities. I then illustrate how these marginalities interplay with agricultural modernization and climate change adaptation programs and determine their failure, albeit without reducing their disruption of peasant communities’ livelihoods and informal institutions.  

I conclude by highlighting that the marginality of peasants has also protected cultural diversity in the form of informal institution (e.g. reciprocity). Without naively idealizing peasant traditions, and recognizing the rapid disappearance of these alternative forms of social organization and interaction with the natural environment, I suggest that these institutions not only can be important elements of an endogenous transformative program in the Andes, but also examples of cultural models from which modern societies can learn.