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«Expansion of oil palm agribusinesses over indigenouspeasant lands and territories in Guatemala: Fuelling a new cycle of agrarian accumulation, ...»

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Expansion of oil palm

agribusinesses over indigenouspeasant lands and territories in


Fuelling a new cycle of agrarian

accumulation, territorial dominance and

social vulnerability?

by Alberto Alonso-Fradejas

Paper presented at the

International Conference on

Global Land


6-8 April 2011

Organised by the Land Deals Politics

Initiative (LDPI) in collaboration with the

Journal of Peasant Studies and hosted

by the Future Agricultures Consortium at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex Expansion of oil palm agribusinesses over indigenous-peasant

lands and territories in Guatemala:

Fuelling a new cycle of agrarian accumulation, territorial dominance and social vulnerability?

Alberto Alonso-Fradejas Head of Land and Territory Research Area, Institute of Agrarian and Rural Studies Guatemala´s National Coordination of NGOs and Cooperatives (IDEAR-CONGCOOP) Contact: a.alonso@congcoop.org.gt.

-Prepared for delivery on panel 28: “Biofuels and Livelihoods”, at the International Conference on Land Grabbing, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, U.K, 6th to 8th of April 2011.

Abstract: This paper is a critical analysis of the political economy and ecology of the current territorial re-structuring processes associated with the deployment of a flexible regime of agrarian capitalism in Guatemala, in light of its determinations over the human and social vulnerability of indigenous-peasant farmers in the territories of expanding oil palm industrial monocrops.

Attention is paid to the main discourses of public and private stakeholders as well as to the specific material and cultural dispossession practices of this revisited dynamic that generates agrarian and resource-use conflict, once again catalyzed by demand drivers emerging from world (northern) markets related to the revalorization of commodities and the agrofuels fever.

The discussion focuses on the impacts on three fundamental components of the livelihoods of Guatemala´s indigenous-peasant population, as core determinants of human and social vulnerability: i) the entitlements and rights to access, use and control of the means of production and natural resources; ii) household productive and reproductive strategies; and iii) the labor implications and changes in the social relations of production and reproduction.

Key words: Latin America, Guatemala, agrofuels, agribusiness, post-colonial states, local elites, livelihoods, land, territory, peasantry, indigenous peoples, land and natural resources management practices and institutions, women in indigenous-peasant economies.

Introduction This paper invites a critical analysis of the political economy and ecology of current territorial re-structuring processes associated with the deployment of a flexible regime of agrarian capitalism in Guatemala, in the light of its determinations over the human and social vulnerability of the indigenous-peasant farmers in the territories of expansion of oil palm industrial monocrops. In doing so, results from research carried out from 2006 to 2008, as well as preliminary results from research from 2009 to 2010 are presented.

Some methodological reflections are considered before briefly describing the research setting in Guatemala embedded in the current historic context of Latin American capitalism. It will then present an analysis of the legitimizing discourses, the land appropriation mechanisms, and the territorial re-structuring strategies developed by the oil palm agribusinesses, followed by an analysis of the role played by the Guatemalan state and other influential private and public stakeholders within the mechanisms and strategies of the latter.

The paper will then discuss how these strategies and mechanisms impact the livelihoods of indigenous-peasant peoples and communities as core determinants of the degree of human and social vulnerability. Finally, some preliminary conclusions are advanced.

I. Aims, scope and methodological background Considering that the defining features of agrofuels capitalism are not essentially different from other forms of capitalist monocrop production (White & Dasgupta 2010, Merlet et al 2010, Gudynas 2010, and Rubio 2009 among others), I focus on a critical analysis of the political economy of the current territorial re-structuring processes associated with the deployment of a flexible regime of agrarian capitalism in Guatemala, in light of its determinations over the human and social vulnerability of indigenous-peasant farmers.

In this sense, my approach to the concept of human and social vulnerability is “forward looking” (Alwang et al 2001) since it seeks to describe the susceptibility of indigenouspeasant people and communities to a future decline in, or loss of, their collective capability to play a role in today's agriculture and food provision, as well as in their capacities to family and community reproduction.

Chambers (1989:11) defined vulnerability as “the exposure to contingencies and tension, and the difficulty to face them”. Vulnerability is therefore a complex concept embracing different components which according to Chambers (1989), Cannon (1994), and Blaikie et al (1994) are part of the two fundamental dimensions of vulnerability: i) the risk and ii) the lack (or erosion) of human and/or social capacities, as well as of entitlements to resources.

While each dimension of vulnerability affects the other, the first is related to structure and context issues, whereas the second is highly determined by the composition, sensitivity 1, resilience 2 and sustainability 3 of the practiced livelihoods. For the purposes of critical research, I approach the concept of livelihoods through a customised conception which I believe allows for its critical and comprehensive use.

Following Blaikie et al (1994), I understand livelihoods as interrelated systems of different components among which are included not only the productive and reproductive strategies focused on generating income, surplus, added value, food and other goods and services, but also the entitlements to access, use and control of the means of production, common pool and natural resources, the means and abilities to make sustainable use of them in the socioecological context, and the rights and social relations that allow and legitimize their use.

Livelihoods, then, are neither immune from contextual influence nor are they static and constant, but are subject to multiple tensions and are historically determined. This approach

to livelihoods has three main analytical and methodological implications:

1. The Rights Approach -in its most ample and politicised conception- is inherent to it.

2. It pays analytical attention to a key element in agrarian change, such as the “interplay between structures, institutions and actors” (Borras 2009:22). Accordingly, it is well worth combining structure and power oriented approaches with those oriented towards knowledge and culture in order to overcome dualisms of structure and agency.

Giddens’ (1984) concept of structuration is useful as it points to the continuous dynamic interplay between structure and agency sedimented in space and time, as well as his view of social agency as the relation between the power -or the determinism of the structure- and the capacity to act. I use the concept of social agency to consider the opportunity for action and resistance on the part of the indigenous-peasant people and communities (Macleod 2009).

3. This approach to livelihoods is necessarily cross-disciplinary and focuses on addressing the complexity of agrarian realities. Consequently, it relies on, and analytically benefits from the theoretical debates on agrarian political economy while at its core, it considers the relations of power, politics, class, gender and ethnicity.

In this sense, a systematic agrarian systems comparative (political economy) approach is used as the “methodological backbone” of this inquiry in which framework synergic Or the capacity to respond rapidly to changes, whether endogenous or exogenous, positive or negative Maxwell & Smith (1992:33-37).

Or the capacity to recover after a crisis (ibidem).

Or the capacity to endure in spite of aggressions suffered, or adverse long term tendencies, without eroding the resource basis (ibidem).

concepts and approaches are also employed. An agrarian system is understood as a “long lasting, historically constructed means of exploiting the milieu. A production forces´ system adapted to the bio-climatic conditions of a given space which responds to the moment´s social necessities and conditions” (Mazoyer 1985 in Apollin & Eberhart 2001).

Harvey (1996) remarked that space is not a natural entity, but a social byproduct of the mode of production which is possible to understand by taking its history as a starting point.

However, I believe it is necessary to complement this economic determination first with those derived from the political ecology associated with common pool resources management in order to point out the “political issues of structural relations of power and domination over environmental resources” (Scoones 1999:492); and second, with those determinations which refer to the “regulatory role of culture” (Parekh 2000:157) through which power is institutionalized, enforced and distributed, and power relations and meanings are legitimized or contested4.

Additionally, and always from a comparative perspective, it is important to “capture the relational and political side of property and labor regimes, labor processes and structures of accumulation” (White & Dasgupta 2010:600) in the compared agrarian systems. In this regard, most approaches to peasant economy and agrarian social relations refer us to the familiar debate about the survival and reproduction of the peasant mode of production or its decomposition and eradication under the capitalist system.

However, following remarks by Hurtado (2009:23) and White (1989:28) on this issue I recur to Chayanov´s view of the conditions of reproduction of the peasant household and its extraordinary capacity to confront external conditioning factors (related to the resilience, sensitivity and sustainability of livelihoods from a vulnerability perspective) together with Deere & de Janvry´ s (1979) framework for an empirical analysis of the mechanisms of surplus extraction from the peasant household in a given social formation.

In order to avoid the limitations that a conservative family and/or household approach might imply, in terms of not giving due attention to intra-household dynamics that are of great relevance, I use the Complete Economy Approach employed by feminist economists to illustrate a number of analytic dimensions relating to the sexual division of work in the productive and reproductive strategies of peasant households and communities.

Finally, in the discussion on agrarian and rural differentiation 5, I adhere to White´s (1989:19-20) view that “it is not about whether some peasants become richer than others Culture is a domain of regulation and emancipation (de Sousa Santos 2001), or in Gramsci’s terms (1971) of hegemony and counter-hegemony.

It is frequently distinguished among three categories of “landowners” in Guatemala: i) corporate landowners (i.e agribusinsesses) whose owners are absentee from the producing territories; ii) landlords, who but about the changing kinds of relations between them (or between peasants and nonpeasants, including extrarural groups) in the context of the development of commodity relations in rural economy. The changes involved in differentiation processes are thus essentially qualitative rather than quantitative, although of course they may be quantitatively measurable”.

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