Xavier Rambla Sociologia

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Archive for gener, 2013

gen. 31 2013

Agriculture and globalisation

In 2008 the price of food increased dramatically throughout the world, aggravating the deprivation of the needy particularly in low and middle income countries. This year students of the course in Social Change and Globalisation have written on the global transformations affecting agriculture. This post summarises the discussion with a brief state of the art.

Generally speaking, agriculture has undergone important social changes at the global, national and local scales of decision-making. This is not an obvious point because agriculture is clearly a local activity due to its necessary location in places with specific environmental conditions. However, some agricultural products became the commodities of international trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and that trend was intensified by the late nineteenth century. The last decades have shown a further implication of the economic globalisation of agriculture to the extent that it has been “financialised” by transforming some products (e.g. soya) into commodities that are traded in stock markets. Apparently, the volume of capital invested in these assets has not only to do with the increasing demand in Eastern Asia but also with speculation about future prices as well as with the need to substitute derivatives and other financial products downgraded by the crisis.

Agriculture has also gone global because it has been organised along global value chains. Experts have coined the term “agri-food” to define this phenomenon. Although operations are inevitably local, the whole process entails inbound logistics, makerting and sales and services which are produced in many other places. These operations are often coordinated from somewhere else so that food is sent to markets in many geographical locations. Global value chains are “governed” in varied ways including quality standards, inter-firm consultancy and variable components of inter-firm cooperation and competition. These chains shape a political field where firms have to deploy a strategy to get to the most strategic positions. But such a political dimension entails a further implication to the extent that transnational advocacy networks can also influence in global value chains. Actually, some of them have already launched campaigns to do so concerning the environmental effects of industrial agriculture, the quality of industrial food and social and human rights of peasants.

At the same time as these two transformations unveil the importance of global decision-making, some national and local phenomena are also impinging on this economic activity. At the national level debates on free trade are crucial since agriculture was included in the agreements promoted by the World Trade Organisation as well as bilateral Free Trade Agreements. The local face of agriculture is quite visible in the dramatic (sometimes perverse) environmental and social consequences of agricultural production for the global market in Southern America and India.

Remarkably, it is wrong to assume that the causal mechanisms impinging on these processes proceed through an unilinear connection from global causes to local effects. On the contrary, local environmental problems are also conditioning global prices, and local social problems trigger movements and campaigns at the national level. Similarly, global value chains link local and regional economies in varied ways.

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