Agrarian Sovereignty and the Agrarian Question

Published on The Bullet, Socialist Project’s E-Bulletin No. 884, by A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi, September 23, 2013.

… The Agrarian Question:

That economic system is capitalism, and in the last three centuries it has transformed food provisioning and farm production. To understand how capitalism has changed farming and agriculture, the ‘agrarian question,’ first introduced by Karl Marx in volume 1 of Das Kapital, needs to be tackled: whether or not, and if so, how, capital and capitalist relations of production are or are not transforming agriculture. This transformation occurs by dispossessing farmers through outright displacement from the land or through the advent of marked differences in rural wealth arising from the everyday workings of highly imperfect markets.  

How Did Capitalism Transform Agriculture? … //

… Is There a Route Out of the Global Subsistence Crisis?

Two contrasting visions of a way out of the global subsistence crisis are currently on offer: namely the continued deepening of capitalism in agriculture advocated by the World Bank, or food sovereignty, which is advocated by the largest social movement in the world, the global peasant movement La Via Campesina. The World Bank’s vision reiterates and indeed accelerates the very processes that created the global subsistence crisis; while it can be suggested that behind food sovereignty lies the dilemma of market imperatives, which as it stands are not tackled by the global movement for food sovereignty.

So the struggle for food sovereignty needs to be reinforced on a broader scale; fundamental changes to global farming and agriculture are needed to tame capitalist markets and construct a people- and community-centered, climate-friendly, local and sustainable food system that is not subservient to the law of value and which produces abundant, nutritious, culturally appropriate and tasty food using low impact agroecological principles that work to conserve the environment. An alternative food regime is possible, and answering the agrarian question of our times and eliminating the global subsistence crisis is possible, and now; but it will require transcending capitalist social relations in farming and agriculture and instead uniting diverse food movements around an agrarian alternative that, in meeting the need for food justice, meets the aspirations of global consumers, family farmers and peasants. It will require agrarian sovereignty.

Haroon Akram-Lodhi teaches agrarian political economy and political ecology at Trent University in Peterborough, Canada. More information about his work can be found at
(full text).

(More information on Hungry for Change: Farmers, Food Justice and the Agrarian Question can be found at Fernwood


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