Program Officer for the Latin America and Caribbean Division of IFAD, Michele Pennella virtually joined the FS 511 course on Food, Rurality, and Local Development to discuss the role smallholder, family farmers in Argentina. Michele spoke on the conflicting notions of rurality, pulling on his own perspectives as someone raised in the urban metropolis of Buenos Aires and as a researcher who often engages with the countryside. His lecture was guided by three central questions: Who are peasant or family farmers? Why are they important? How can we support them?
Michele relied on the following definition to guide his discussion on the hardships that smallholders face in rural environments:
“Peasants are households which derive their livelihoods mainly from agriculture, utilize mainly family labour in farm production, and are characterized by partial engagement in input and output markets which are often imperfect or incomplete.” -Ellis, F. Peasant Economics. Farm Households and Agrarian Development
In Argentina, and the Americas more generally, peasant farmers face incredible barriers to success and stability, given their marginalization from larger, international markets. While often a profession by choice in developed countries, smallholder farming in developing nations is a practice rooted in necessity as a means of survival. Yet, the challenges for family farmers extend far beyond the physical demands of the job, as they typically reside in peripheral areas with limited access to basic services, like hospitals or internet connectivity. Furthermore, financial insecurity serves as a major challenge, particularly when faced with shocks to the agricultural system.
Quoting R.H. Tawney, “The rural population is like a man standing up to his neck in water, so that even a ripple is sufficient to drown him,” Michele emphasized the vulnerable state of peasant farmers, who require greater financial and social supports from the state. Professor Rita Salvatore compounded on this idea by noting that, beyond its literary significance, climate change has made this metaphor a reality in many cases as well. The threats of changing weather patterns create additional shocks to the system, which peasant farmers must learn to navigate.
Michele engaged the class by encouraging them to pick three priorities that a rural development policy should address to mitigate financial, environmental, or social shocks to rural farming, with the ultimate goal of improving smallholder resiliency. Generally, the cohort focused largely on gender equality, access to financial services and markets, and adaptation to climate change as the top three priorities of future rural development projects. Michele acknowledged the value of every option, but noted that political dialogue was an emerging, and particularly interesting, method of intervention to highlight the voices of smallholders themselves in the political arena. However, a comprehensive rural development policy must address all components to effectively support peasant farmers and strengthen their resiliency, particularly in a climate change context.
Graduate Student Assistant