25 Years

Landless Science and Capitalist Development in Colombia

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 12:00pm
Event Location: 
537 Heller Hall

Presented by Alexander Liebman, Department of Horticulture, University of Minnesota

On November 30th, 2016, the Colombian government and FARC signed a peace agreement following months of deliberation after the Colombian electorate narrowly rejected the Havana Accords in a national plebiscite vote.  The historic peace deal ends a 50-year civil war between FARC and the Colombian government, yet the consequence of the “No” vote reconciliation and negotiations effectively halted the return of agrarian reform. Agrarian reform has long been a central aim of the FARC, as peasants have been displaced in successive waves of violent dispossession. Colombia boasts the highest disparity of land inequality in Latin America, with little to suggest that this may change in the near future. If not agrarian reform, what do international and Colombian institutions offer as a response to the contradictions of rural Colombia?  To explore this, I ask if international agricultural research centers, such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CG) and its Latin American flagship in Colombia, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), include land distribution and inequality in their research and outreach aims.  I analyzed a decade of policy documents from the CG and CIAT, and also traced the history of agrarian land conflicts and land reform and counter-reform in Colombia throughout the 20th century and preceding the recent peace accords. Preliminary findings support my hypothesis: abject lack of research and directives on land distribution and conflict in the CG system and ongoing institutionalization of industrial agriculture at the expense of Colombian smallholder autonomy and land access. How can we explain this disjuncture between material reality and development policy? By sidestepping the question of land, CG policy maintains - rather than resolves - rural inequity. Furthermore, I will argue that dominant mechanisms for improved small-farmer livelihoods that CG espouses – decreased barriers to markets, improved genetic resources, and linked “win-win” production-conservation practices– are all dependent on increased land access and tenure for small holders. But with the world’s largest germplasm libraries and high quality research personnel and facilities, we agricultural scientists face a dilemma: Do these institutions offer some use to the ‘left’? To conclude, I discuss preliminary attempts and concerns in leveraging this institutional space.

Alex Leibman is a Masters' student in the Department of Horticulture, studying the dynamics of soil organic matter in legume cropping systems in the upper Midwest, USA and in southwest Colombia. He uses the lens of agroecology – in its biological, political, and socio-economic dimensions – to explore nutrient cycling in agroecosystems and its relationship to food sovereignty and ecological conservation. He also explores the ways in which agronomic research is practiced, how scientific knowledge is disseminated, and how historical and ideological trends continue to shape the questions agronomic research asks today. When not confined within the academy, he escapes through saxophone soundscapes, food production, serving as fundraising chair of the Twin Cities Agricultural Land Trust (TCALT), and exploring post-industrial urban wilderness.