Food for Naught: The politics of food in agricultural modernization for African smallholder food security
Abstract: Why is there hunger in sub-Saharan Africa? What forces drive the global food system? What is the global food system? To approach these questions, this study investigates power and politics in food, in its production and in its organization. Proceeding from a critical realist approach, focus of this study is on the challenge of African smallholder food insecurity and how it is presented as part of a dominant discourse of agricultural modernization. This study identifies a framing of agricultural modernization being used and promoted by influential actors of international development that respectively represent the inspiration, the science and the mobilization of resources for contemporary African agricultural development efforts. A text from each of the actors has been identified and analyzed to draw out common principles of how African smallholder food insecurity is framed and what solutions are subsequently promoted. Based on a food regimes framework of analysis, the tenets of agricultural modernization adhere to a reigning corporate-environmental food regime where the logic of the wider capitalist system guides development objectives and means to achieve those objectives. Several contradictions of this framing are identified in this study regarding how it serves to depoliticize food insecurity. This includes the way it presents specific images of and oversimplified relationships between the environment, the people, the livelihoods, the institutions and the ideologies that are involved in smallholder food production. This framing of agricultural modernization has since 2005 been applied in the form of an on-the-ground development intervention in sub-Saharan Africa through the Millennium Villages Project (MVP). As part of this critical discourse analysis, fieldwork was conducted at the MVP project site in southern Malawi. Findings from fieldwork indicate ways in which the MVP, either advertently or inadvertently, contributes to the marginalization of smallholders through impacts on power at different levels. This includes the reinforcement of debilitating structures and ideologies in the recipient community whereby certain resources such as technical know-how and political positioning in society become privileged at the cost of other resources such as local knowledges and autonomy becoming devalued. In conclusion, this study builds the argument that the inclusion of power when addressing smallholder food insecurity is not only helpful but necessary in order to address this persistent and urgent challenge, due to the multiple and various functions food plays in society.
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