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Farshad Araghi, Florida Atlantic University, USA
David Burch, Griffith University, Australia
Geoffrey Lawrence, Central Queensland University, Australia


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food
The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food (IJSAF) is an
official publication of the Research Committee on Sociology of Agriculture and Food
(RC40) of the International Sociological Association (ISA) and is published under the
auspices of the Florida Atlantic University, the Institute for Sustainable Regional
Development, Central Queensland University, and the Science Policy Research
Centre, Griffith University. The journal publishes theoretical and empirical papers in
the general area of the sociology of agriculture and food. This includes the study of
labor, production, market, policy, technology, and global and local change. Manuscripts are subject to external review before a final judgment on publication is made
by the editors. The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food
publishes original works. Previously published papers and works under consideration
for publication in other journals will not be considered. For information on previous
volumes, subscriptions, and submission and style guidelines, visit the IJSAF web site
at , or contact one of the following co-editors:
Farshad Araghi, IJSAF Co-editor
College of Liberal Arts
2912 College Avenue
Florida Atlantic University
Davie, Fl 33314
Email: araghi@fau.edu
David Burch, IJSAF Co-editor
Science Policy Research Centre
Griffith University
Nathan QLD 4111
Email: d.burch@sct.gu.edu.au

Geoffrey Lawrence, IJSAF Co-editor
Institute for Sustainable Regional Development
Central Queensland University
Rockhamton QLD 4702
Email: g.lawrence@cqu.edu.au


Editorial Board: Reidar Almås, U. of Trondheim, Norway; Alberto Arce, U. of Wageningen,
Netherlands; Monica Bendini, U. Nacional de Comahue, Argentina; Alessandro Bonanno, Sam
Houston State U., USA; Lawrence Busch, Michigan State U. USA; Frederick Buttel, U. of
Wisconsin, USA; Hugh Campbell, Otago U., New Zealand; Douglas Constance, Sam Houston
State U., USA; Maria Fonte, U. di Napoli, Italy; William Friedland, U. of California, Santa
Cruz, USA; Harriet Friedmann, U. of Toronto, Canada; Lourdes Gouveia, U. of Nebraska,
USA, William Heffernan, U. of Missouri, USA; Bertrand Hervieu, CPSP, France; Ray
Jussaume, Jr., Washington State U., USA; Chul-Kyoo Kim, Korea U., South Korea; Mustafa
Koc, Ryerson Polytechnic U., Canada; Richard Le Heron, U. of Auckland, New Zealand; Luis
Llambí, IVIC, Venezuela; Norman Long, U. of Wageningen, Netherlands; Philip McMichael,
Cornell U., USA; Mara Miele, U. of Pisa, Italy; Manuel Belo Moreira, U. Tecnica del Lisboa,
Portugal; David Myhre, Ford Foundation., Mexico; Patrick H. Mooney, U. of Kentucky, USA;
Laura Raynolds, Colorado State U. USA; Yoshimitsu Tanigushi, Akita Prefecture College of
Agriculture, Japan; Sarah Whatmore, Bristol U., UK
© 2001

Research Committee on the Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC40)
International Sociological Association

Printed in the USA by Printing and Mailing Services, Princeton University
Design, layout and production by David Myhre

ISSN: 0798-1759


Farshad Araghi

Florida Atlantic University, USA

David Burch

Griffith University, Australia

Geoffrey Lawrence

Central Queensland University, Australia

Editors’ Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Corporate Strategies in the Global Era: The Case of
Mega-Hog Farms in the Texas Panhandle Region
Alessandro Bonanno and Douglas H. Constance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Reforming New Zealand Agriculture: The WTO
Way or Farmer Control?
Bruce M. Curtis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Renegotiating Gender and the Symbolic Transformation
of Australian Rural Environments
Stewart Lockie and Kristen Lyons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Community Forestry as Embedded Process: Two
Cases from Durango and Quintana Roo, Mexico
Peter Leigh Taylor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
Reprise on Commodity Systems Methodology
William H. Friedland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
Abstracts / Resúmenes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104

The Research Committee on
Food and Agriculture (RC40) is a
world wide organization of social
scientists who are interested in
the study of contemporary food
and agricultural systems. RC40
publishes the International
Journal of Sociology of
Agriculture and Food. Visit the
RC40 web site at:



e welcome readers to Volume 9 of the International Journal of Sociology of
Agriculture and Food (IJSAF). In keeping with the journal’s international
focus we have selected, for this edition, a diversity of papers from authors
throughout the world dealing with such topics as the strategies of corporate hog
producers in the U.S., the reforming of New Zealand agriculture, the symbolic
transformation of Australian rural environments, and community forestry in Mexico.
We conclude with an important contribution from Bill Friedland on commodity
systems methodology. We thank the authors for submitting their papers to the
IJSAF and ask readers to consider the journal as an outlet for their own work. We
intend, for example, to compile a special edition (or part of an edition) on the
sociological aspects of agro-biotechnology and encourage those researching in that
area to submit material.

As most readers know, the IJSAF is concerned with a critical, sociological,
understanding of food, of agriculture, and of relations between the two. It covers
issues of policy, market, technology, labor – as well as the wider concerns relating
to all aspects of production and consumption. It provides a forum for scholars
whose research can provide insights into contemporary agri-food restructuring in
a globalising economy. It also promotes, where possible, comparative and historical
analyses that can contribute not only to a broader political economy and political
ecology of agri-food issues, but also to progressive social action.
The new editorial team which is now in place (and will be for the next two years)
has sought to streamline the processing of papers that have been submitted to the
journal. We are now doing all the ‘work’ of the journal electronically. When we
receive a paper (as a Word attachment) we quickly examine it for content and style.
If the paper is clearly not appropriate for the Journal we send an email to the author
– usually identifying a more appropriate outlet for publication. If the paper’s
content is acceptable we check for style. If the author has not conformed to the new
style guide we send it back to be reformatted. Once the paper has been received in
an acceptable format we provide the paper in electronic form to three reviewers,
along with an electronic proforma. Once the reviews of each paper are received, the
editors synthesise the comments, and send these back to the author of the paper. If
the paper has been accepted for publication, we ask the author for a quick
turnaround – of about one month. While this process is still ‘on trial’ we believe
that it will allow us to publish our target of two editions per year.
Readers may be unaware that the Research Committee on the Sociology of
Agriculture and Food (RC40) is the only research committee of the International
Sociological Association with its own journal. We are very proud of this and hope
that we can seek greater participation by RC40 members in the various activities of
the journal. We have, for example, begun to identify the main areas of academic
strength of members as a prelude to targeting particular people to undertake reviews


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

of papers. We acknowledge the assistance provided to date, but also ask for
increased participation for the future.
Finally, the smooth transition from the previous editor to the current editorial
team could not have occurred without the support of Mustafa Koc, David Myhre,
Ray Jussaume, Jr., and Phil McMichael. Special thanks also go to Simon Kitto of
Central Queensland University who worked, tirelessly and professionally, as
editorial assistant for this volume.
Farshad Araghi
David Burch
Geoffrey Lawrence

Alessandro Bonanno
Douglas H. Constance

Sam Houston State University
mploying the case of the expansion of mega-hog production facilities in the
Texas Panhandle region, this paper contributes to the globalization of
agriculture and food literature by illustrating the strategies employed by
transnational corporations (TNCs) to advance their economic and social interests
and respond to emerging resistance. We argue that – rather than substantively
addressing property, quality of life and environmental concerns raised by rural
activists and residents – TNCs complement their hyper-mobility with corporate
actions at the legitimative, political and economic levels which support their plans.
At the legitimative level, hog-producing TNCs reacted to the challenges of local
residents by presenting a “green” image which indicates conformity to good
practices of environmental stewardship, narrows the definition of sound
environmental actions and devalues opposition’s claims. Politically, TNCs modified
existing environmental legislation to fit their agenda. By exercising direct control
over the polity, TNCs were able to eliminate citizen participation from decision
making processes concerning environmental issues. Additionally, they were able to
further depoliticize environmental and property issues by shifting them from the
political realm to the administrative sphere. Economically, TNCs stressed the
benefits that communities received from the relocation of mega-hog operations in
their areas in a context characterized by a high demand for corporate investments
from other regions. Additionally, TNCs employed their economic clout to exploit
communities’ needs in order to gain acceptance of corporate positions.


This case study is grounded on a Critical Theory framework (Antonio 1983;
Horkheimer 1972; Wiggershaus 1994). While sharing the Marxian tenets of
economic domination and class struggle over of the control of the means of
production, Critical Theory pays attention to the cultural and ideological sides of
class domination. For Critical Theory mature capitalism is characterized by the
cultural hegemony of dominant classes and the economic and ideological
oppression of subordinate groups. Though the use of Immanent Critique, critical
theorists document the false unity of theory and history, the claim that current social
arrangements correspond to the bourgeois ideals of universal equality, justice and
* Address all correspondence to Alessandro Bonanno, Dept. of Sociology, P.O. Box 2446,
Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX 77341, USA; e-mail: soc_aab@shsu.edu. We
would like to thank Chris Mayda, Bob Antonio, Andrea Castro Medina, Ronda Harris,
Lourdes Gouveia, Laura Raynolds and the anonymous reviewers for their comments to early
drafts of this manuscript.
International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, Vol. 9, No. 1. © 2001 Research
Committee on the Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC40), International Sociological Association.



International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

freedom. Accordingly, our study of TNCs is framed in a context in which the
corporate search for more profitable forms of production is accompanied by
similarly important actions at the cultural and ideological levels. In this context,
culture and ideology are contested terrains in which hegemonic discourses support
but also legitimize the interests of dominant classes. These assumptions allow us to
approach domination and resistance from an economic as well as cultural and
ideological levels without having to commit the ontological primacy of one of the
other components. For Critical Theory the relationship between economy and
ideology is a dialectical one.
A case study methodology featuring content analysis is employed to examine the
discourses and actions of TNCs and their opponents. These data were generated
through keyword searches of available data bases at the Sam Houston State
University Library and the internet. Keys words included “CAFOs,” “Seaboard
Farms,” “Texas Farm,” “Premium Standard Farms,” and “ACCORD.” Data consist
of the universe of published works and documents available on the subject from
1995 to 2000. The majority of the data for construction of the case were obtained
from internet versions of local, regional and national newspapers that provided
balanced accounts of the controversy. Documents generated through these searches
were organized and analyzed for content focusing on the debate over the impacts
of swine CAFO location in the Panhandle region of Texas.
The paper is divided into four sections. The first section reviews salient literature
on the globalization of agriculture and food and of the primary tenets of the
literature of the globalization of the economy and society. The latter is employed
to frame the discussion of the former. Moreover, the major findings of this literature
are employed as departing points for the analysis of the case. The second section
presents the case study. Here, the illustration of the events follows more an
analytical than a chronological pattern, although some faithfulness to the events
time sequence is maintained. After a brief description of the expansion of the
industry in the region, the section explores the actions taken by TNCs at the
political, economic and legitimative levels along with local resident’s responses.
The third section consists of an analytic discussion of the case study. It is
maintained that TNCs employ an array of strategies to advance their agenda. These
strategies transcend hyper-mobility and involve control of the polity, TNCs’ use of
economic clout, and attempts to legitimate their actions to broader segments of
society. The fourth and concluding section discusses the impact that corporate
strategies have vis-a-vis the issue of democracy in the global era.
One of the major tenets of the now vast literature on the global economy and society
(see Cox 1997; Carnoy, Castells, Cohen and Cardoso 1993; Dicken 1998; Harvey
1990; Lipietz 1992; Sassen 1996; Sklair 1993; Spybey 1996) is that transnational
corporations are among the most powerful agents in today’s society. They are
entities endowed with powers which shape contemporary patterns of socioeconomic development. Some view TNCs as key vectors for the expansion of the
economy and the creation of better socioeconomic conditions (e.g., Kindleberger
1986; Strange 1996). They believe that the TNCs’ ability to bypass state imposed

Bonanno and Constance


laws and regulations is an indication of the problems that state intervention has
generated in socioeconomic matters and, ultimately, a solution to this issue
(Friedman 1982; Rubner 1990). They generally hold that TNCs should be allowed
to freely maneuver if better socioeconomic conditions are to be sought.
Diverging positions stress that newly created jobs do not transcend low to
minimum wage levels and their existence is subjected to corporate relocation
strategies (Bluestone and Harrison 1986). When pressures to raise wages and/or to
conform to existing state imposed regulations emerge, corporations can exercise
their enhanced global mobility to relocate in areas characterized by less expensive
labor pools and more favorable political climates (Lash and Urry 1994; Sassen
1996). Hyper-mobility of capital is the term employed to refer to the now expanded
capacity of TNCs to move about the globe in search of more favorable factors of
production and sociopolitical climates (Harvey 1990). Pitelis (1993), for instance,
argues that the desire of TNCs to control labor and diminish production costs
motivate them to consider alternative production sites. This situation increases their
bargaining power over nation-states which compete for direct investments. The
nation state is, consequently, faced with a contradictory situation in which its desire
to attract investments limits its responsibility to monitor TNCs’ actions. Locals
within nation-states are forced to compete with each other in order to attract TNCs’
investments. In so doing, however, they discount local resources for corporate use.
Recent studies (see, for example, Barlett and Steele 1998) indicate that
communities’ efforts to provide incentives for corporations do not necessarily net
job increases. This corporate welfare is simply a system to shift public resources
toward the corporate side with minimal – and often negative – results for
communities. Despite this evidence,1 TNCs’ ability to move, and/or threat
relocation, has been a powerful tool for the generation of less expensive and/or
more convenient factors of production (Sassen 1996; Sklair 1998; Storper 1997).
Works in this camp also argue that the transnationalization of economic relations
weakens the ability of the nation-state to monitor groups and resources which, in
turn, compromises the maintenance of established forms of democracy. Because
nation-states have historically been the vehicles of self-government, they have been
able to allow citizens – albeit in different degrees – to bring their judgments and
1. According to Barlett and Steele (1998) the practice of “corporate welfare” has skyrocketed
in recent years in the United States. Corporate welfare refers to the wealth of state subsidies,
tax abatements and general incentives that corporations receive in order to invest, create
employment and limit disinvestments in local areas. These authors also demonstrate that
despite the heralded benefits that corporate welfare was supposed to generate, evidence
indicates that it is rarely responsible for employment growth. Some among the many
examples of corporate welfare include: a $10 million incentive package provided by the city
of Jonesboro, AK to Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of the powerful PepsiCo Inc; $16.9 million in
tax exemption and $3 million in property sale tax reduction to General Motor from the state
of New York; $29 million of tax and investment credits and $2.5 million for job training
programs to the meat packing company Nebraska Beef Inc from the state of Nebraska; $253
million to the automobile giant Mercedes from the state of Alabama; $355 million from the
state of Ohio to General Motors; a $2 million a year sale tax exemption to Time Warner from
the state of Florida; an $80 million incentive package to UPS from the state of Kentucky
(Karmatz, Labi, and Levinestein 1998).


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

values to bear on the economic forces that dominate society. The ability of
economic actors to transcend national domains has greatly diminished the historical
capabilities of citizens to participate in decision making processes, a situation which
redefines the limits and scope of democracy (Danley 1994; Sandel 1996).
Complementing contributions referring to other productive sectors and society
as a whole, the literature on the sociology of agriculture and food has provided
numerous analyses of the behavior of TNCs and the consequences that their actions
have on various segments of society and institutions. A number of authors have
documented the ability of TNCs to establish global production networks based on
the identification of more desirable factors of production (e.g., Friedland and
Bendini 1998; Heffernan and Constance 1994; Sanderson 1986). Global sourcing
is the concept employed to describe TNCs’ capacity to operate worldwide in search
of less expensive labor and resources, friendly legislation, and more
accommodating social relations (Fink 1998; Gouveia 1994; Higgins and Jussaume
1998; Raynolds 1998; Raynolds and Murray 1998). To be sure, this literature
stresses that the concept of “more desirable factors of production” involves more
than TNCs’ simple search for less expensive labor and natural resources. It
contemplates processes of identification of those locations endowed with good
business climates, that is, regions in which the intervention of the state, industrial
relations, political postures and cultural outlooks assume procorporate tendencies.
The ability of TNCs to bypass state rules, regulations and demands has also been
one of the foci of the sociology of agriculture and food literature. Employing the
cases of various agro-food commodity chains and corporations, authors maintain
that TNCs’ hyper-mobility and the transnationalization of social relations within
which it emerged have allowed corporations to increase their control over the state
(e.g., Bonanno and Constance 1996; Friedland 1991; McMichael 1996; McMichael
and Myhre 1991). For some, this control is only partial as TNCs need state support
to carry out capital accumulation projects (Friedland 1994; Koc 1994). Others
indicated that the state has already been controlled by TNCs and its national form
has entered an irreversible crisis (Llambí 1993; McMichael 1996; McMichael and
Myhre 1991). Regardless of these differences, it is commonly agreed that TNCs’
hyper-mobility has weakened the ability of nation-states to monitor and/or oppose
the activities of corporate actors. This situation, they argue, also weakens the ability
of citizens to participate in decision making processes concerning food security and
availability, scientific research patterns, environmental sustainability and
community development , (e.g., Busch, Lacy, Burkhardt, and Lacy 1991;
Constance, Kleiner, and Rikoon 1997; Mason and Morter 1998; O’Connor 1998;
O’Connor 1994; Vellema 1999).
A growing concern among students of global phenomena in agriculture and food
has been the implications that the TNCs’ actions and their ability to bypass state
imposed rules signify for democracy (Bonanno 1998; Busch 1998). Authors pointed
out that the bypassing of state-imposed rules and regulations allows TNCs to be
exempted from submitting to democratically established rules and procedures. It is
a situation, they continue, in which TNCs can select which ones among the
democratic processes and outcomes they want to follow and accept. Bonanno and
Constance (1996), for instance, documented how agro-food TNCs avoided U.S.based environmental legislation by claiming another nationality through moving

Bonanno and Constance


their production facilities overseas and reflagging their fishing vessels. These
actions, it is maintained, jeopardize the existence of basic assumptions upon which
democracy has historically evolved (Busch 1998). Lacy captured the essence of this
literature by articulating the situation in these terms: “Both democracy and
globalization have important implications for empowering communities. However,
the overarching challenge of our age is the crisis in democracy itself. Globalization
may contribute significantly to that crisis” (RSS 1998:2).
The Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) Come to the Panhandle
The case study discusses the establishment and growth of CAFOs in the Texas
Panhandle region. This area has been targeted for CAFOs due to its social,
economic, geographical and political characteristics. This multi-state region (Texas,
Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico) allows TNCs to select among a
variety of state regulations, socioeconomic incentives, political postures and
community sentiments within a relatively limited area. Because of this proximity –
but not exclusively because of it – TNCs have the possibility to choose the most
favorable conditions of production by enticing adjacent communities, counties and
states to compete against each other for corporate investments (Barlett and Steele
1998; Constance and Heffernan 1991; Giardina and Bates 1991). Additionally,
TNCs view the low concentration of population, the limited political opposition that
this situation entails and the long standing tradition of animal agriculture typical to
this region as ideal conditions for the establishment of CAFOs (Barlett and Steele
1998; Hart and Mayda 1998). Finally, the low socioeconomic status of counties
within the region motivates political elites and some local residents to welcome
industrial investments (Lee 1998:4d).
CAFOs have appeared in a variety of locations across the United States (Ladd
and Edwards 1998; Thu 1996; Thu and Durrenberger 1998). Fueled by corporate
needs to homogenize production, satisfy processing sector demands, and reduce
costs, this type of business emerged as a desired option for large agro-food firms.
The industry justifies CAFOs as an answer to the increased demand for lean meat
generated by enhanced quality of life consumption models typical of postindustrial,
affluent societies. Additionally, it is viewed as an effective manner to reduce
production costs and bring jobs to economically depressed areas (Houghton 1998).
However, it is also evident that restructuring internal to the sector and the
development of more elaborated commodity chains requiring enhanced commodity
standardization and delivery systems contributed to the growth of CAFOs (Kilman
1994). To this effect an industry representative recently stated: “Texas has been
viewed as the next frontier for giant hog farms capable of turning out hundreds of
thousands of uniform animals for a fast-growing market” (Lee 1998:4d).
In recent years there has been a rapid growth of CAFOs in the Panhandle region.
This growth began with the location of the Seaboard Corp. pork processing plant
in Guymon, Oklahoma in 1995. In this area, major hog production firms have
permits to raise more than 2,000,000 animals annually and this number is on the rise
according to Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas officials (Ledbetter 1997c). Firms that
have recently located or expanded include: Premium Standard Farms, the 2nd largest
pork producer in the U.S.; Seaboard Corporation, the 3rd largest; Texas Farm, the


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

20th; Vall, Inc., the 25th; and Hitch Pork Producers, the 39th (Successful Farming
As of December of 1997, in Ochiltree County on the northern border of Texas
and Oklahoma, Texas Farm is a subsidiary of Nippon Meat Packers. Nippon Meat
Packers is one of Japan’s largest meat packers. It processes pork at a plant in
Nebraska in the U.S. that it jointly owns with the major U.S. meat packer and
processor, IBP (Insights 1997). Nippon raises hogs in the Texas Panhandle to
export to Japan. In response to concerns about BSE (mad cow disease), Nippon
Meat Packers began specifying the source of its meat (Hoover’s Online 2000).
Nippon Meat Packer is one of Japan’s largest food companies with 115
consolidated subsidiaries. Some ninety four are in Japan and there are twenty one
abroad (Wright Analysis 2000). Texas Farm had 7,000 sows in production which
were scheduled to grow to 53,000 by the year 2000. It had permits to raise 431,593
hogs per year and build 52 lagoons to service those facilities. It was also seeking
additional Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) permits
for another 307,350 hogs and 64 lagoons to control animal waste. Additionally, it
had four facilities permitted and four more pending for more than 300,000 hogs
located near Perryton in Ochiltree County. According to Texas Farm sources, the
company operations covered 10,000 acres in Ochiltree and Hansford Counties,
Texas, employed 140 workers, and projected the number of employees to expand
to 420 by the year 2000 (Ledbetter 1997c). Most of Texas Farm’s production was
targeted for export back to Japan (Morris 1997).
Seaboard Farms is the hog producing subsidiary of Seaboard Corp., a diversified
international agribusiness and transportation company primarily engaged in the
domestic production of poultry and pork, commodity merchandising, baking, flour
milling, and shipping. Overseas, Seaboard Corporation primarily engages in shrimp
production and processing, flour milling, produce farming, sugar production, and
animal feed production. It has over 4,000 domestic employees as well as substantial
employment within its Latin American and African operations. Seaboard’s Pork
Division started in the early 1990s and quickly gained market share in the U.S., as
well as became one of the leading exporters from the U.S. to Japan, Mexico, Korea
and other premium foreign markets (Seaboard 2000). Seaboard Farms already had
permits to raise 392,750 market hogs. It had also permits pending for another
716,920, and just submitted another permit application for an additional 296,000
hogs (total of 1,411,670) according to the Water Quality Services of the Oklahoma
Department of Agriculture. Seaboard operations just moved to the Oklahoma side
of the Panhandle after leaving Southeastern Minnesota despite receiving significant
economic contributions from local authorities to establish and carry out production
in that region (Barlett and Steele 1998:54–55). Environmental problems generated
by animal waste and inadequate lagoon-based waste treatment systems coupled with
the company unwillingness to invest to upgrade its facilities resulted in Seaboard
leaving now polluted Minnesota areas for new uncontaminated lands (Barlett and
Steele 1998:53).
Spanish-owned Vall Inc. is a subsidiary of Vall Company headquartered in
Lleida Spain. Vall Company pioneered the system of livestock integration in Europe
and currently has 2,500 collaborators supplied by its companies with livestock for
fattening, feedstuffs, and technical assistance on animal health. The company owns

Bonanno and Constance


and operates five hog farms in the Panhandle of Oklahoma with, 2,500 sows per
farm and around 250,000 fattened pigs. The company has a feedmill in Texahoma,
Oklahoma that provides feed to its hog operations (Vall Inc 2000). Vall Inc. has
five applications to permit 86,400 head of hogs. Presently it has about 12,000 sows
producing approximately 240,000 pigs per year and employs 120 people. By the
year 2000 the company is expected to have 24,000 sows and raise 500,000 pigs per
year at its 35 to 40 finishing barns. Vall, Inc. sites are located in Sherman County,
Texas, and at Four Corners and Texahoma, Oklahoma. (Ledbetter 1997c).
Premium Standard Farms (PSF) is a subsidiary of the ContiGroup, a division of
Continental Grain, one of the largest privately held corporations in the Unites
States. ContiGroup is a leader in integrated pork and poultry production, cattle
feeding, and aquaculture, with nearly 200 years of experience in agribusiness and
global trade. It operates in thirteen countries through facilities and affiliates and is
one of the world’s largest cattle feeders, the sixth-largest integrated poultry
producer in the U.S.; and through its joint venture with Premium Standard Farms,
the U.S.’s second-largest integrated hog producer. The Company is a leader in
aquaculture and flour milling, and one of the largest animal feed and poultry
producers in China. It also operates the largest integrated shrimp farm and hatchery
in Ecuador, raises and markets more than 12 million pounds of fresh salmon per
year along the U.S. Maine coast, and is a major producer of animal feed, wheat
flour, pork, and poultry in Latin America and the Far East. ContiGroup is one of the
world’s largest agribusiness companies with 14,000 employees worldwide – plus
an additional 10,000 in joint venture operations (ContiGroup 2000). PSF has
188,892 head approved on Subchapter K permits and another 925,000 head on
Subchapter B permits.2 Its operation near Dalhart has 22,000 sows with 251
employees located on 40,000 acres in the area and is stocking its facilities with
additional sows. According to a PSF spokesperson, “We’re simply adding sows as
we can to the High Plains farms” (Ledbetter 1997c:3d). The regional manager for
the TNRCC in Amarillo, commented that, although TNRCC did not have the actual
number of requests because many of the operations were just stocking their farms,
things were just hectic in the Panhandle (Ledbetter 1997c:3d).
Table 1 below lists the annual estimates of hogs at each location according to the
company figures provided to the TNRCC, the Oklahoma Agriculture Department,
and newspaper reports (Ledbetter 1997a:1).
Corporate Strategies and Local Responses
Corporate Actions at the Political Level
In early 1993 complaints about hog production generated environmental pollution
began reaching TNRCC offices. In particular local residents complained about
intense odors and respiratory problems. An investigation from TNRCC concluded
(Morris 1997:10a):
The concentration of dust being carried outside the feedlot was adequate to
interfere with the normal usage and enjoyment of … private property. The
2. Subchapter K permits are those issued after the TNRCC changed its permitting regulations
and eliminated public hearing processes for neighbors of cattle feedlots or hog farms; under
Subchapter B permits, neighbors were allowed such hearings. See below for more details.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Table 1. Estimates of number of hogs produced annually by site, 1997

No. of hogs



Premium Standard Farms




Texas Farm




Vall, Inc.








Dean Paul




Paul Hitch








dust could potentially cause adverse physiological discomfort, such as burning and
itching eyes, coughing and breathing difficulties, to persons of ordinary (sensitivity).
Individuals with compromising health conditions could be more severely impacted.

Despite these findings, TNRCC did not issue any odor-related citations to
CAFOs. The air program director for TNRCC’s Field Operations Division
commented that the agency’s ability to cite CAFOs for nuisance odors had been
impaired by a 1993 Texas Supreme Court ruling. In 1993 F/R Cattle Co. of Erath
County, TX contested a citation from the Texas Air Control Board (the predecessor
to TNRCC). They claimed the odors emanating from the feedlot were part of a
“natural process” and were therefore exempt from regulations linked to the Texas
Clean Air Act. While F/R Cattle Co. lost the original trial and the appeal, the Texas
Supreme Court found in their favor (Morris 1997:10a). As a result of this decision,
the director informed the TNRCC regional offices that all proposed CAFO odor
citations were to be sent to a review committee at the central office in Austin. The
task of the committee was to ascertain whether there was evidence of “flagrantly
bad management practices, extremely intense impact and/or a pattern of problems
at the source” (Morris 1997:10a).
The limited ability of environmental agencies to cite CAFOs did not halt local
residents from complaining and raising doubts on the presumed benefits that the
introduction of these agro-food operations brought to the area (Morris 1997). Faced
with growing resistance, CAFO corporations sought political assistance from state
agencies. In late 1993, steps were taken to secure the support of an eminent Texas
State Senator3 and like-minded political figures. CAFO representatives protested
TNRCC’s investigations of cattle feedlots that were allegedly producing pungent
and “potentially unhealthful” clouds of dust. Additionally, they complained that the
TNRCC was not giving them time to correct their infractions, a reversal of this
agency’s previously established policy and a behavior which was almost
unanimously considered overzealous.
The strategy worked. By the summer of 1994 a proposal was drafted to simplify
3. The name of this state senator is omitted to protect privacy. Records of meetings between
state and CAFO officials disclose the identities of the participants (Morris 1997).

Bonanno and Constance


the permitting process for CAFOs in Texas. A key element was the elimination of
the public hearing process which was contingent upon the farm or firm meeting
certain environmental criteria. In a letter to TNRCC, the state senator stated, “The
perception throughout the United States that the regulatory environment in Texas
is burdensome and unfavorable creates disincentives (for CAFOs) to locate in
Texas” (Morris 1997:10a). The Senator’s self-professed aim was to attract
operations that had been moving into states such as Oklahoma and New Mexico.
Additionally, he also made it clear that CAFOs should not be made against the law
just because some of the neighbors find them offensive. “While many people would
like to use the TNRCC as a sort of rural zoning agency, that’s not their job. Their
job is environmental protection” (Morris 1997:10a). The Chairman of TNRCC
responded quickly by indicating that the TNRCC had “been thinking along the same
lines” and agreed with the “basic thrust of his proposal” (Morris 1997:10a).
Dissatisfied with this outcome, the air quality manager for the Amarillo chapter of
TNRCC resigned his post in August of 1996. Co-workers stated that he had
resigned because he “could no longer tolerate the agency’s hands-off policy toward
CAFOs” (Morris 1997:10a). By the summer of 1995 the TNRCC had incorporated
the proposal into the changed rules regarding CAFO permits: “Its field personnel
were ordered to stop issuing nuisance-odor citations to CAFOs, regardless of how
disagreeable their emissions became” (Morris 1997:10a). The new rules stated that
permits could be challenged only on matters of technical merit and not “the fact that
a barn might reek or otherwise be troublesome” (Morris 1997:10a).
According to a local TNRCC agriculture and water quality specialist, Texas
adopted CAFO permits in an effort to streamline a fragmented system and make
better use of the agency’s limited resources. From his point of view, the new system
has worked fairly well. The Chairperson of TNRCC stated, “If you compare what
Texas requires with what other states require, we are as stringent, if not more
stringent. What we require in Texas is protective of the environment and the people
around these facilities” (Morris 1997:10a). He went on to say that Texas was
following a national trend in doing away with site-specific permits and hearings
based “more on land-use disputes than on actual environmental risks” (Morris
1997:10a). To be sure, this posture clashes with the content of existing Federal
regulations. The EPA, for instance, requires inspection of soil sample every three
months while the TNRCC requires for soil checks every year. Additionally, the
EPA mandates inspection of waste-retention lagoons ever two years while the state
of Texas requires these inspections every five years (Barta 1998). With this change
in the regulatory climate, large-scale pork producers began to locate and expand
rapidly in the Panhandle region.
Local Resistance
As information spread in 1995 that the CAFOs were moving in, some residents
formed a group called Active Citizens Concerned Over Resources Development
(ACCORD). A similar group had formed a few years before in Texas County,
Oklahoma in response to the rapid growth of CAFOs around the Seaboard Farms
pork processing plant in Guymon, Oklahoma (Morris 1997). By early 1998
ACCORD had grown to 155 members. The group held monthly meetings inside a
farm-supply business called the Outhouse which became their “war room” where
they plotted the movement of hog farms on two large county maps that cover one


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

wall (Lee 1998:4d). In short, ACCORD was a community-based small group that
was created by concerned citizens disturbed by declining property values and
quality of life in their communities. Members were local residents, mostly farmers
and ranchers, who felt threatened and violated by the establishment of the CAFOs.
The development of health problems and the discomfort caused by CAFOs’ air
pollution emerged as the primary reasons motivating protest. However, the fear that
persistent quality of life problems could affect the value of local residents’
properties, enhance social problems such as crime and school overcrowding, and
deteriorate the community’s overall socioeconomic conditions further motivated
anti-corporate actions. Anti-corporate feelings remained strong even in the presence
of claims that the CAFOs’ presence generated new jobs and other economic benefits
to local communities (Constance and Bonanno 1999).
Exemplifying local residents’ willingness to fight for their substantive ability to
participate in decision making processes in their communities, ACCORD’s most
visible action came when they initiated a lawsuit against TNRCC. ACCORD
claimed that the rule changes deprived property owners of their fundamental right
to a hearing prior to the permitting of a feedlot (Lee 1998; Morris 1997).
Furthermore, they claimed that the “awful odors from large-scale hog farms waft
into their homes and their tractor cabs and generally threaten their quality of life”
(Lee 1998:4d). According to the ACCORD legal representative, “The state
permitting process should not be a formality. It is now, but it shouldn’t be. [Also]
the rights of the hog firms to make money should not supercede the rights of
adjoining landowners to be free from annoying and possibly hazardous air
pollution” (Morris 1997:10a). ACCORD legal representative’s additional statement
that the State Senator who was author of the changes “has written off the citizens
of Ochiltree County” was emblematic of local residents’ resentment regarding the
collusion between corporate and political powers and their broader capacity to
scrutinize links between these two spheres. The Court eventually ruled that the 56
CAFO permits approved by TNRCC for cattle feedlot expansions, new dairy
operations, and pork facilities under Subchapter K since 1995 were invalid4
4. The use of legal strategies to combat corporate actions is an important component of the
local anti-corporate resistance. Following previous successful attempts by other segments
of the environmentally based anti-corporate movement, ACCORD members challenged
TNRCC’s pro corporate standings on the grounds that the elimination of hearings was illegal
and therefore that CAFO permits issued under the new regulation should be revoked. The
design was to replicate the strategy employed in a number of previous cases in which locally
based environmental groups challenged corporate entities on legal grounds. In these cases,
the use of the Court was aimed at requesting the enforcement of already existing laws and
regulations unattended by corporations. Like other attempts before this one, this strategy was
successful as Court support for pro-environmental claims is growing (see also Constance et
al. 1997; DeLind 1995). However, this victory discloses also its limits. It was primarily
directed at preserving the implementation of already existing norms which have been on the
verge of being reformed by pro-corporate forces. It was a defensive battle which is telling
of the difficult political climate within which pro-environmental and community based anticorporate groups operate. Indeed the vulnerability of this strategy is evident in the instance
in which the Texas Supreme Court overruled a lower court judgement which supported an
originally more aggressive role of TNRCC in monitoring and citing CAFOs.

Bonanno and Constance


(Ledbetter 1997d; Lee 1998). The sentence motivation was based on the fact that
TNRCC had failed to show “reasoned justification” for eliminating hearings for
permits (Lee 1998:14d).
Corporate Actions at the Economic Level
CAFO representatives insisted that the new regulations were more stringent than
ever before and that the facilities in question “were designed and constructed
properly to be protective of the environment”(Ledbetter 1997d). They attributed the
ruling to a “technicality” having little to do with the environment, citizens’ health
and property value.5 These objections notwithstanding, considerable emphasis was
placed on the economic effects that the ruling might have on the Panhandle. One
representative stated: “We’re confident the state will work out the technicality
because the importance of animal agriculture to this region and our state is very
substantial [as] operations touched by the ruling account for more than $2.3 billion
and 2,400 jobs” (Ledbetter 1997d). An animal science professor and director of an
industry related institute at a major Texas university warned of the consequences
that a situation such as this could have in a competitive market populated by highly
mobile corporations. He stated: “[the ruling] has already had an effect. Companies
are doing site selection – they’re just doing it in other states… And if [pork meat]
is not produced in Texas, it will be produced overseas” (Lee 1998:4d). “After all,”
the Head of the Animal Science Department at the same university concluded, “the
pig industry has provided a vehicle for communities to grow [and] to preserve a way
of life” (Brown 1998:9). Following established mobility-based corporate strategies,
Nippon Meat Packing was quick to announce that “major additions to its Panhandle
facilities were on hold”(Lee 1998:4d). An analyst noted that “he knows of a least
two corporate hog producers that had eyed new locations in the northern Panhandle
but now have become skittish” (Lee 1998:4d) while another study stressed that
“there are already reports of plans to develop huge hog farms in Mexico, where the
restrictions on them would be less onerous” (Hart and Mayda 1998:76). Texas Farm
issued a formal statement saying that it had selected the Panhandle region of Texas
because it was environmentally sound and it already had a long and successful
history of large-scale cattle feedlots. The company further stressed that its lagoons
surpassed federal and state standards and that it intended to bring “new life” to the
declining local economy by building a $10 million feedmill in Ochiltree County that
would employ 400 workers (Morris 1997).
The possibility of the existence of local resistance was quickly acknowledged by
the CAFO corporations. However, rather than simply relocating to a new area,
CAFO TNCs employed their economic clout to counter such opposition. In late
December of 1997 Seaboard Farms announced that it was negotiating with officials
and residents of Cimarron County, Oklahoma to build facilities to house about
5. To avoid the limitations imposed by the Court ruling, TNRCC reworked CAFO
regulations. In late 1998 a new set of rules were adopted which, however, were almost
identical to the previous ones. This new set of rules continued to prohibit residents from
challenging CAFO operation permits unless the challenge involved technical merit. Also
eliminated in this version was the right of residents for a public hearing following a
complaint. CAFO representatives commented on the new rules by stressing that they “allow
agriculture to return to business in Texas” (Barta 1998).


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

400,000 hogs. The deal called for the community of Keyes to become home to a
feedmill, but also to have its grade school reopened (Ledbetter 1997b:1a).
According to Seaboard Farms estimates, when all the construction was finished the
operation would add $50 million to the tax rolls and an annual payroll of $2.5
million for about 75 employees and managers (AP 1997). “The Keyes school
district was in trouble,” a Seaboard Farms spokesperson stated and “we agreed to
give them some up-front money so they could reopen their elementary school” (AP
The agreement between Seaboard Farms and Cimarron County included the
construction of a 259,000 head hog farm covering 8,000 acres and a 500,000 ton
feed mill to be located near Keyes, Oklahoma and the commitment on the part of
the community to allow the construction of 400 buildings for growing the hogs.
More importantly, Cimarron County officials and residents would not take any
action to restrict Seaboard’s ability to acquire land for the construction of the
buildings (Ledbetter 1997b:4a). In return, Cimarron County would receive the
promise that the hog buildings would be located within a 5-mile radius of property
Seaboard currently owned and outside a 5-mile radius of any town in the county;
a $125,000 donation to the Keyes Public School District upon commencement of
construction of the feed mill, and a $2,500 donation to the district for each new
student whose attendance in the district is directly related to the employment of a
family member at Seaboard Farms or the feedmill during the two-year period
following the establishment of these operations.
Cimarron and adjacent Counties, as well as the state of Oklahoma, funded
Seaboard to a much greater extent than the corporate grants that they received. The
state of Oklahoma passed a $700 million measure to build infrastructures to
facilitate Seaboard relocation and $47 million were allocated for highway
improvement to accommodate Seaboard generated traffic in the area. Additionally,
Seaboard was granted a number of fiscal abatements which translated into a
situation in which the company was excused from paying 78 percent of its taxes.
For the fiscal year 1998, Seaboard was required to pay only 17 percent of its
assessed tax bill (Karmatz et al. 1998). Finally, while great emphasis was placed on
the importance that CAFOs had for the region, little was said about the quality of
the jobs created. These were low paying jobs starting at $7.00/hr. characterized by
harsh labor conditions which prompted a turnover of 100 percent a year (NCRCRD
1999). The net result was that this combination was rejected by the majority of local
residents and the plant was staffed increasingly with migrant, often illegal, labor
composed by some Asian workers – mostly Laotian and Vietnamese – but mostly
by Latin American laborers (Karmatz et al. 1998).
Corporate Actions at the Legitimative Level
Texas Farm called the odor problem “challenging.” Employing a posture which
showed formal consideration of the issues at hand, it indicated through a
spokesperson that the company did not dismiss odor complaints and tried to locate
barns far enough away from neighbors to minimize negative effects. It was claimed
that Texas Farm continually evaluates its state-of-the art waste treatment systems.
According to the same spokesperson, “we’ve tried to address those concerns headon. We have been as candid and upfront as I know to be. There needs to be some

Bonanno and Constance


level of tolerance” from the neighbors (Lee 1998:4d). These arguments were backed
by a member of a local university who concluded that it was possible “to produce
pigs in confinement in ways that do not harm the environment It is possible to
produce pigs without odor” (Brown 1998:9).
This type of attentive position was not shared by independent CAFO producers.
For instance, a local CAFO operator who had expanded his operations in the area
to about 15,000 hogs in two buildings dismissed the critics as “radicals” who “need
a cause.” He said that his permits had all the required safeguards for odor and
spillage and that “we don’t need a watchdog group to oversee our operations. The
TNRCC’s got that completely covered” (Morris 1997:10a). These sentiments were
not just confined to a realm external to corporations. A hog industry expert
suggested that the Texas legislature create penalties for false charges made against
CAFOs equal to the penalties imposed for violations by CAFOs. Furthermore, along
with physical setbacks, there should be “philosophical setbacks,” or what he
referred to as “pig enterprise zones,” which would buffer the industry from
“agricultural terrorism” and “corporate sabotage” by opponents (Brown 1998:9).
The damage done by anti-CAFO protesters required additional counter actions.
Accordingly, it was decided to initiate a campaign to elevate the image of CAFO
corporations by stressing their environmentally sound operations, their willingness
to dialogue with local opposition, and their past and present respect for existing
rules and regulations. To these ends in April of 1998 the Perryton Chamber of
Commerce sponsored a tour of Ochiltree County hog and cattle CAFOs followed
by a public hearing. On the tour were a number of state Senators and
Representatives, five members of the Texas House Environmental Regulation
Committee, several CAFO industry officials, and several interested citizens. The
official purpose of the tour was to study the “cumulative effects of numerous
CAFOs in a concentrated geographic area, and to determine whether environmental
protections are adequate” (Brown 1998:8). The tour stops included two Texas Farm
facilities, a commercial sow operation and a nursery/finisher, located within 10
miles of Perryton. At the Texas Farm’s sites, the entourage of about 25 vehicles got
no closer to either facility than the county road, from which no animals or waste
lagoon was visible. The group did stop at the site of a lagoon under construction
where Texas Farm officials explained the process of compacting and core testing
used in building the clay lined lagoon pits that hold the hog effluent flushed from
the barns (Brown 1998). The tour then stopped at Wolf Creek Feeders to visit the
feedlot feedmill under construction. The manager of Wolf Creek explained to the
group their dedication to environmental protection and detailed their efforts to
control dust and minimize odors. After lunch the group stopped at a confined hog
feeding operation owned by Dean Paul Farms. The group observed the operations
from about one-half mile away and smelled no odors. On the return trip to town
they stopped to see the progress on the construction of the new Texas Farm feedmill
due to be finished in mid-1999. At the mill a Texas Farm official displayed
drawings of the mill and commented that when completed, it would be the fifth
largest consumer of grain sorghum annually in the world. However, he was “noncommittal” when asked how much grain would be purchased locally (Brown
Visitors signing in at the following public meeting were greeted with banners for


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

ProAg (Plains Residents Organization of Ag Growth), a newly-formed organization
reported to have 1500 members in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The ProAg group
formed in early 1998 to combat anti-corporate hog farm sentiments which had
emerged in several states “targeted by the industry for development” (Brown
1998:24). Sign-up sheets for those people wishing to address the Committee were
available at the ProAg table, along with free bumper stickers, hats, and newsletters
promoting the group. The white ProAg hats were very noticeable during the three
hour meeting (Brown 1998).
The Texas House Environmental Regulation Committee, along with the other
state legislators, heard the testimony of 29 people. One of the State Senators began
the testimony by praising the economic benefits of live pork production and the
slaughter facilities, which he promised would follow. He cited the example of the
prosperous hog expansion around Guymon, Oklahoma were the Seaboard Farms
processing plant is located. Since that time, Seaboard Farms-owned and Hitchowned hog production facilities had expanded to a level of 740,000 head annually.
He reported that an $8 million investment by the City of Guymon had resulted in
5,000 new jobs, residential property value increases of up to 30 percent, and 140
new businesses in the past five years (Brown 1998). The Senator admitted that
Guymon was experiencing some problems due to its sudden growth such as housing
shortages, a surging crime rate, school crowding, and odor problems, but he
commented that those are “more social problems than pork problems” (Brown
1998:8). He “shrugged off” the complaint about noxious odors coming from the hog
farms. “Once you get a mile away, you can’t (sic) hardly smell them,” the senator
stated (Brown 1998:8).
A local farmer’s wife and retired schoolteacher challenged this definition of the
situation. The third generation farm she lives on has 400,000 hogs to the south,
southwest and east of her home. She testified, “Our roots run deep. We care about
our community and our environment. I live by hogs 24 hours a day, and have not
found one Seaboard or Hitch official that lives by them” (Brown 1998:9). She
stated that many residents in the Guymon area are victims of “hog smog” which she
described as pockets of ammonia that linger in furniture and drapes in their homes.
“We cannot keep (the fumes) out of our homes,” she said. “We’ve done everything
we can to seal our homes and yet they persist” (Brown 1998:8). Showing pictures
of decomposing dead hog in dumpsters to the Committee, she further testified that
neighbors of hog farms suffered health problems ranging from nausea, headaches,
and congestion. They also have seen their living and working quality of life decline
and property values drop. She also reported other negative effects such as increase
gang activity in the schools, increased demand on welfare programs, and overall
crime rates up by 65 percent with violent crime rates even higher than that (Brown
A representative of Texas Farm testified in defense of the industry. He said that
pork production provided stable jobs, a good working environment, and good benefits.
Furthermore, the Governor of Texas and the Agricultural Commissioner assisted in
recruiting the corporate hog industry to Texas. “Our company was recruited to this
state, this region, this county,” he said (Brown 1998:9). The Senior Vice-President of
the First Bank of the Southwest, supported these claims and concluded by testifying
to the beneficial effects on what was a rapidly declining tax base in the county.

Bonanno and Constance


Confronted with locally-based resistance, TNCs displayed a variety of counter
actions. Following the categorization employed in the presentation of the case
study, we organized corporate actions in three general groups: political, economic
and legitimative. These three distinct – yet interrelated – facets of corporate
behavior are analyzed in terms of: (1) the positive image of themselves that CAFO
corporations proposed in regard to the environmental and quality of life issues
(legitimative strategies); (2) their control of environment regulatory processes and
state environmental agencies (political strategies); and (3) the use of their economic
powers in regard to local communities and groups (economic strategies).
The Image
Throughout the case, CAFO TNCs projected an image portraying their Texas
Panhandle presence as environmentally sound and conforming with existing rules
and regulations. Employing their own rendering of the situation, support from
political and scientific leaders, and their reading of the opposition, CAFO
corporations presented a technologically “green” and socially positive image which
narrows the definition of environmentally sound operations and displays a
delegitimized view of anti-CAFO postures. We would like to illustrate four
constitutive elements of this image.
The first of them refers to CAFO corporations’ definition of their operations and
adopted technology as scientifically and technically sound. Despite local residents’
complains, throughout the case corporate arguments indicated that CAFOs were
structures designed to address present and emerging environmental problems.
CAFO representatives claimed that these were the product of state of the art
research which was aimed at combining productive efficiency with environmental
sensitivity. Downplaying nationwide complaints against CAFOs, in a number of
occasions members of local universities and research institutes supported the
soundness of CAFO technology. “It is possible to produce pigs without odor,” one
pro-CAFO expert concluded referring to new technological advancements in the
field. The message was clear, science indicated that the opposition’s complaints
over CAFO pollution transcended legitimate concerns. CAFOs were technically and
ecologically adequate and the supposed problems were simply not existent.
Simultaneously, this message supported a much narrower definition of
environmental problems. Those problems generated by CAFOs did not deserve this
label because they were at best “temporary problems” which can be further
addressed with available instruments. Following this discourse, the entire issue was
displaced to the levels of the opponents’ unreasonable demands and CAFO TNC’s
positive attitude toward the adoption of technical solutions.
CAFO corporation’s awareness of, and willingness to, address environmental
contamination is the second constitutive item of this positive corporate image.
While corporate representatives acknowledged that an odor issue existed, they
employed this admission to legitimize the “reasonable” nature of the corporate
posture and support the claim that companies have been doing everything possible
to address the pollution issue. CAFO corporations were not only responsible
members of society who were capable of acknowledging problems, they were also
equally responsible in the selection of solutions. The technical solutions that they


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

proposed were, in effect, adequate to solve the problem.
CAFO corporation’s responsible image is reinforced by their claims that they
have been cooperating to the fullest extent with Texas regulatory agencies and local
authorities and communities. Ignoring the content of Federal regulations which
pointed to the opposite, corporate positions identified Texas regulations to be
among the stricter in the nation which required more sophisticated record keeping
and better designed facilities. These were conditions which required additional
investments and higher production costs. CAFO corporations stressed that these
conditions have already been satisfied by the industry. Additionally, “CAFO TNCs
have been invited to Texas” one industry representative stated, pointing to local
public officials and community leaders’ efforts to attract CAFOs in the area. The
invitation was accepted and this, it was claimed, was one of the primary reasons for
the CAFO’s presence in the Panhandle region.
CAFO corporations’ presentation to the public represents the third constitutive
item of their image. The episode of the Ochiltree County CAFO tour is emblematic
of attempts to create public support by opening CAFO facilities to the inspection
of elected public officials and interested citizens and presenting empirical evidence
backing corporate claims.
During the tour, political figures endorsed CAFO operations. They addressed
visitors and praised CAFOs for their economic and social contributions. The
number of new jobs created and the increases in property value constituted some of
the central items of their presentations. They dismissed charged of socioeconomic
degradation by decoupling housing shortages, surging crime rates, school
overcrowding, and other related problems from the existence of CAFOs. These,
politicians maintained, are “more social problems than pork problems.” They also
dismissed pro-environmental groups’ contentions of air pollution as exaggerated,
legitimizing in this way the truthfulness of corporate claims about the adoption of
reasonable environmental positions.
The tour was characterized primarily by the presentation of empirical evidence
supporting corporate postures. At a closer scrutiny, however, we find that there was
an extremely selective presentation of “empirical evidence.” The accusation that the
facilities are environmentally unsound was countered by allowing visitors to view
them but only from a “safe” distance. No animals were visible nor were the often
questioned waste lagoons. Indeed, a lagoon was made available to inspection, but it
was under construction. This is an effective strategy to legitimize the use of waste
lagoons. By showing under construction lagoons, evidence of environmental problems
could never be detected because they emerge only when lagoons malfunction after
they became operational. However, the assumed environmental features of the lagoon
were illustrated to the visitors. Accordingly, the visitors were presented with an
explanation of the functioning of the lagoon in which its post-operational undesirable
consequences could not be verified while its potential – and therefore unchallengeable
– ability to address the environmental problems of animal waste was emphasized. A
similar tactic was employed for the illustration of the functioning of a feedlot mill
which was also under construction. In essence, the environmental soundness of CAFO
facilities was demonstrated by using a tactic in which claims of these structures’
positive features could not be contrasted with their actual characteristics.

Bonanno and Constance


The fourth component of this corporate image refers to attacks to the credibility
of anti-corporate activists. The latter constitutes the fifth component of the corporate
image. In this instance, CAFO TNCs constructed a view of opponents’ actions
which evaluate them as exaggerated and unreasonable ones. These were the
outcomes of the work of activists who are stigmatized through the use of belittling
terms such as people involved in “agricultural terrorism” and “corporate sabotage.”
Indeed, the corporate position claimed their outrageous behavior was not only
dangerous to the well-being of local communities but something from which CAFO
operators should be protected. For instance, dwelling on a perceived scientific
position, a pro-corporate expert urged the Texas state law makers to introduce
legislation which would punish anti-corporate activism. In this view, CAFOs should
be protected from damaging radical activism which hampers the growth of these
positive socioeconomic contributions.
The Control of Environment Regulatory Processes and State Agencies
A second group of corporate strategies consists of their control of environment
regulation processes and state environmental agencies. Threatened by anti-corporate
activism, corporations worked to weaken the content of environmental legislation
and to diminish the sanctioning power of state agencies. Following the often
described path in which corporate actors control the polity, (Block 1977; Domhoff
1979; Miliband 1969; Poulantzas 1978), CAFO corporations were able to mobilize
support from key members of the state political apparatus. Most notably, they
enlisted the support of one influential State Senator6 who was known for his strong
ties to the agricultural sector and for the financial support that he received from it.
The request of CAFO corporations to the Senator and his associates was explicit:
to make the establishment and existence of CAFOs less problematic primarily
through reducing the ability of state agencies to cite them for environmental
violations. The plan of action centered on two items. The first consisted of the
establishment of a discourse in which TNRCC’s policy was defined as overbearing
and ultimately counterproductive to the well-being of Texas agriculture. The
adoption of this posture provided most of the justification for a pro-corporate
reform of the legislation regulating CAFOs. The second item referred to the depoliticization of the issue. The elimination of public hearings, the restriction of
complains to technical merit, and the shifting of the dispute from the environmental
arena to the property arena characterized this action.
The Senator’s evaluation of TNRCC’s policy was made explicit through a memo
to the Amarillo TNRCC air quality manager. In that memo, the Senator admonished
the air quality manager that TNRCC’s actions against CAFOs were
incomprehensible and the outcome of “overly enthusiastic” behavior. A more
explicit illustration of this posture came in the text of a subsequent letter to
TNRCC. In that text, TNRCC’s actions in defense of existing environmental
legislation were defined burdensome and unfavorable to Texas agriculture. More
specifically, it was stated that continuation of anti-CAFO citations could negatively
6. Despite the fact that the Senator played a significant and prominent role in this case, it
would be erroneous to equate political actions with the individual. These were the outcomes
of the interaction of broader political forces in a context which was favorable to corporate
positions. References to the Senator in our analysis have largely heuristic purposes.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

impact the local economy as this situation could motivate companies to eventually
move their operations to other states. In this case, the often used corporate strategy
of “capital hyper-mobility” (Harvey 1990) was implicitly but clearly recalled to
deter TNRCC from enforcing pro-environmental rules. The Senator further justified
his point by maintaining that he received numerous complaints against TNRCC.
Indeed, though the Senator was pursuing a pro-corporate conduct, he constructed
a position in which his actions were viewed as consistent with popular desires. As
the events of the case indicated, though, the popular support claimed by the Senator
was contrasted by the actions of local TNRCC agents and those of other local
residents who protested CAFOs.
The depoliticization of the CAFO issue is emblematic of the ability of TNCs to
manipulate the polity. The elimination of public hearings deprived local residents
of the capacity to question corporate policies and practices and voice dissent.
Indeed, it eliminated one of the most feared forms of anti-corporate action available
to local rural residents. However, it could be argued that the most important
corporate achievement was the strengthening of a political climate in which
democracy appeared weak and its practice conditioned by the interests of a
restricted elite. In this context, the fundamental democratic principle of public
participation in decision making processes was reduced to a function which could
be eliminated with ease.
The control of the polity and its use to depoliticize the issue is further represented
by TNRCC’s reclassification of environmental pollution as a property issue and the
confinement of complaints to the technical merit area. “We don’t do property value”
claimed a TNRCC official, justifying in this manner the lack of intervention of this
agency in cases of environmental pollution. The justification included the claim that
this was a national event. The restriction of complaints from substantive objections
concerning air, water or land pollution to matters of technical merit signified that
objections to CAFOs could be raised only if established protocols for their approval
and construction were violated. More importantly, it signified that the objections of
anti-corporate activists were placed outside the TNRCC sphere of jurisdiction and,
therefore, could not be addressed employing this instrument. Despite opposition
from local cadres, CAFO corporations were able to neutralize the use of TNRCC
as a venue for anti-corporate resistance.
Finally, it should be noted that pro-corporate forces’ control over TNRCC
transcended the regulatory sphere to enter that of the establishment of a broader
pro-corporate discourse. This situation is exemplified by the acceptance of the
corporate vision of the role of TNRCC by the agency’s mid-upper level cadres. The
positions of TNRCC officials such as the air program director for TNRCC’s Field
Operation Division, but also Amarillo air quality manager’s resignation, are cases
in point. Though acknowledging the sense of frustration resulting from the changed
conditions of operation of TNRCC and the newly created limits of the agency’s
scope of actions, some TNRCC officers did not contest the new mission of the
agency and approved the reshaped and reduced meaning of protection of the
environment associated with it.
Economic Powers
The third strategy employed by CAFO TNCs consists of the use of their economic

Bonanno and Constance


clout to condition the actions of communities and groups. The events of the case
point to two related instances. The first refers to hyper-mobility. CAFO
corporations present their presence in the area in terms of the creation of new jobs
and the overall enhancement of the economic conditions. Because competition from
other geographical areas exists, corporate designs to invest locally should be
regarded as beneficial and benevolent. The second instance refers to the
exploitation of local socioeconomic contradictions to limit dissent. In this case,
TNCs provide the solutions to unattended community problems in return for the
abdication of possible anti-corporate behaviors.
As far as the first instance is concerned, CAFO corporations and their supporters
presented mega-hog farms as extremely beneficial in a situation characterized by
local economic stagnation. This growth, it was also argued, promised to be
extended into the future as demand for lean standardized meat has increased
steadily in recent years. Additionally, direct investments in the agro-food sector
positively affected other sectors, such as retail, housing and manufacturing, which
also displayed growth in the area. The benevolent dimension of corporate actions
is justified by the argument that the CAFO presence in the Panhandle was a
corporate decision favoring the area over numerous and equally deserving rural
locations domestically and abroad. Additionally, the CAFOs’ presence in the
Panhandle was not simply a TNC-based initiative as their relocation has been
courted by regional leaders. In this case, a number of alternative options could have
been pursued. Because political leaders such as the Governor of Texas, the Texas
Agricultural Commissioner, and members of the state of Oklahoma supported the
industry’s local presence and actively recruited CAFOs , the present course of
actions was taken. In essence, the corporate message is one in which local
communities greatly benefitted from the corporate commercial presence and one in
which these benefits would vanish if it were not for the willingness of TNCs to
remain in the area.
This posture, however, contrasts with past corporate behavior. Seaboard Corp.,
for example, relocated to the Panhandle region after intense exploitation of natural
and human resources generated intolerable levels of environmental pollution and
social contradictions in Albert Lea, Minnesota. In that area, Seaboard benefitted not
only from extensive economic support from local interests, but also from Federal
agencies. The city of Albert Lea donated $3 million and $3.4 million to build the
mega-hog facility and create the wastewater treatment plant respectively.
Additionally, the state of Minnesota contributed $5.1 million while the Federal
Government donated a hefty $25.5 million grant. Jobs were created, but at
significantly lower wages than previous meatpacking jobs in the same plant under
a previous owner (Karmatz et al. 1998). When local workers refused to accept the
precarious labor conditions and pay, Seaboard imported much cheaper and less
vocal Latino workers, a practice common in the industry (e.g., Fink 1998; Gouveia
1994; Stull et al. 1995). When the situation in Albert Lea became too uncomfortable
for Seaboard, it moved to the Panhandle while its president continued to reassure
local residents of his company’s intention to remain in Minnesota (Karmatz et al.
The events which occurred in Cimarron County, Oklahoma provide a clear
example of the corporate exploitation of local contradictions to silence opposition.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

In this case, the community problem was Cimarron County’s inability to adequately
operate its schools. Seaboard intervened with a donation to the public school district
combined with other commercial concessions which were described as “good faith
efforts” to restore the community well being. In return, the company requested the
community’s commitment not to oppose corporate plans. Also in this instance, the
appearance did not match past experience. Indeed, if the case of nearby Guymon
can be employed as an indication of the social consequences of this type of
presence, Cimarron County can look forward to an increase in the overall crime rate
in excess of 60 percent, an escalation of assaults and rapes of more than 90 percent,
and auto theft of 200 percent (Karmatz et al. 1998). More importantly, through a
relatively small donation, Seaboard was able to force community residents to
renounce some of their basic rights such as free speech and freedom of dissent, an
inexpensive yet very significant accomplishment in a country like the United States
in which democracy and freedom are considered among the most important values.
Classical sociologists and many of their contemporary followers stressed the
connection between socioeconomic growth and the strengthening of democracy. For
instance, Weber (1978) and Durkheim (1984) – albeit in significantly different ways
– pointed out the positive contributions that the advent of the industrial revolution
and the establishment of capitalist social relations generated for society. Warning
about the dangers of the system, they maintained that the capitalist expansion of the
economy lifted society away from repressive feudal social relations, dramatically
improved living conditions, and allowed the existence of individual rights which
became constitutive elements for the existence and exercise of democracy. Even
Marx (1997) and Marxist thinkers placed an emancipatory connotation to their
analyses of the expansion of the forces of production. In the Marxist tradition, the
growth of capitalism produced unsustainable and unequal social relations.
Simultaneously, however, it also improved the economic, political and social
conditions of subordinate groups as bourgeois democracy provided the context for
emancipatory struggles of oppressed classes.
The events of this case study speak directly to this longstanding sociological
tenet. The expansion of CAFOs is a move designed to enhance capital accumulation
and market control on the part of TNCs. Corporations employed a variety of
sophisticated strategies to respond to local resistance and enhance their image of
pro-environment and pro-socioeconomic growth agents. These strategies were able
to counter protest emerging from overt degradation of local living conditions and
economic expansion based on low wages and unstable jobs. More importantly,
TNCs’ promises of economic growth came with the request that communities forfeit
their rights to participate in democratic processes. The elimination of public
hearings for the establishment of CAFOs, the limitation of complaints to the
technical sphere, and the strategy of buying consensus through economic donations
are episodes which point to a situation in which the expansion of economic forces
demands a narrowing of democratic spaces. Departing from views which support
a much deregulated role for TNCs, this situation is telling of the consequences that
unchecked TNC’s actions can have for society.
If the scenario is correct and if the issue of coupling economic growth with

Bonanno and Constance


democracy is relevant, development plans should be formulated in ways that
transcend these past experiences. It seems clear that faced with a situation in which
hyper-mobility is accompanied by TNCs’ ability to affect the polity and legitimate
their actions, individual communities as well as society should move away from
strategies which assume competition among localities for the attraction of direct
investments. This developmental path tends to isolate communities and make them
vulnerable to the negative effects of corporate designs. One alternative way to
conceptualize resistance rests in the development of broader alliances spanning
across communities and regions which expands the boundaries of opposition to
match TNCs’ scope. While these options are available, the extent of local resistance
points to the difficulties that residents encounter in altering established patterns of
economic development. This is a situation which generates concerns about the
future of rural communities and democracy and, as such, it is one which deserves
further scrutiny.

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Alessandro Bonanno is Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at SamHouston
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as numerous book chapters and articles on this subject.

Bruce M. Curtis
University of Auckland
his article has in its title a question about reforming agriculture in New Zealand:
The WTO way or farmer control? This formulation contrasts a neoliberal
agenda for agriculture championed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and
particular interests within New Zealand, with the agendas of farmer-run institutions,
most notably the producer boards. Here ‘farmer control’ is used as a shorthand
formulation for the nexus of institutional and fiscal arrangements by which
producers (farmers and growers) have been able to regulate the networks connecting
farm gates and foreign consumers. In this respect the export orientation of New
Zealand agriculture is very significant. The main elements of farmer control have
been the producer boards, each of which has had control over specific export
products: the Apple and Pear Marketing Board, the Dairy Board, the Kiwifruit
Marketing Board, the Meat Board and the Wool Board.


There can be no doubt that the producer boards and the farmer control they
engender have been under attack for many years. The election of the fourth Labour
Government in 1984 and its implementation of deregulation and neoliberal policies,
is a convenient marker for the beginnings of this assault. This condemnation of
farmer control has been pitched in terms of what Pusey (1993) calls ‘economic
rationalism’. With New Zealand’s entry into the WTO, international pressures have
been added to local criticisms of producer boards. The combination of the two may
well be decisive in annihilating the boards and any vestiges of farmer control.
Pusey (1993) rightly notes a tendency among economists for arguing from first
principles. Similarly Hirsch, Michael and Friedman (1990) deride the proclivity of
economists for ‘modelling’. More richly, Callon (1998) talks of economic rationales
as the exemplar of social construction or ‘framing’. Framing is understood to
involve the social construction of relationships through the very process of adducing
those interactions. In an earlier work, Callon and Law (1989) identify how such
attempts at framing result in the deployment of resources (which they call
‘investments of form’) which constitute the necessary efforts in the construction of
* I wish to thank the organizers and participants of the Seventh Conference of the Agri-Food
Research Network, University of Sydney, 15–17 July 1999 for their feedback relating to an
earlier version of this paper. I also wish to thank Jane Dixon, Tracey McIntosh and Cate
Wilson for their invaluable assistance. Correspondence to: Dr Bruce Curtis, Department of
Sociology, Faculty of Arts, The University of Auckland, Private bag 92019, Auckland, New
Zealand; e-mail: b.curtis@auckland.ac.nz.
International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, Vol. 9, No. 1. © 2001 Research
Committee on the Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC40), International Sociological Association.



International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

new networks of relationships. It is the contention of this article that the economic
rationalism that marks the critique of producer boards must be understood as an
example of framing. Hence the critique of the producer boards is assessed in terms
of the operation of a ‘politics of markets’ (Fligstein 1996).
In such a politics the WTO must figure as very significant indeed. The resources
and investments of form it brings to bear ensure that any struggle it has with
producer boards in New Zealand is likely to be one-sided. However, this is not to
say that the WTO is irresistible. As the recent edited collection from Lee and Willis
(1998) shows, globalisation and the putative liberalisation of international trade
remains a process that is networked, negotiated and implemented in different
geographic scales. Consequently there remain possibilities for agriculture and for
farmers other than the corporate ‘rule of law’ favoured by the WTO (World Trade
Organisation 1998).
The WTO is the only international agency overseeing the rules of international trade.
Its purpose is to help trade flow smoothly, in a system based on rules, to settle trade
disputes between governments, and to organize trade negotiations (World Trade
Organisation 1999c).

The Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organisation entered into force on
1 January 1995. New Zealand was one of 120 original signatories to this agreement,
and on signing it became a member of the WTO. At the time there was broad
support in New Zealand for joining the WTO and for its revolutionary agenda of
trade liberalisation. Those opposed were (and remain) a decided minority in New
Zealand (Small 1996). For the majority, the calculation of costs and benefits from
membership in the WTO and the policy of trade liberalisation was clear and
favourable. This, it can be argued, was largely because New Zealand agricultural
exports are unsubsidised and its domestic markets are unprotected. In this respect
it is crucial to remember that the Labour Government of 1984–1990 removed
subsidies to farmers. New Zealand farmers, unlike their foreign counterparts, now
operate without much in the way of direct or indirect support from the state
(Nottage 1997; Sandrey and Reynolds 1990).
The removal of subsidies was fiercely contested at the time, but in their wake an
accord has emerged about generalised benefits should other countries follow New
Zealand’s lead. In New Zealand the potential gains from trade liberalisation in
agriculture – or trade liberalisation in general – are considered to be enormous.
Here it should be remembered that the recent imposition of quotas on lamb by the
U.S. became front-page news in New Zealand (for example, The Dominion 1999;
New Zealand Herald 1999). Indeed such is the enthusiasm for advancing trade
liberalisation in other countries that political adversaries have spoken with one
voice about the WTO. Along these lines, Lockwood Smith, the former Minister of
Agriculture and International Trade in the National Government (1990–1999):
In 1995, New Zealand joined more than 120 of the world’s major trading nations in
a new organisation dedicated to freer, fairer international trade… Just as refrigerated
shipping opened up the world meat trade for New Zealand, and aerial topdressing



unleashed the productive potential of our hill country farms, the WTO will mark a
major shift in the way New Zealand does business with other nations (Smith 1997).

A former chairman of the Dairy Board matches this enthusiasm for the rule of the
John Storey today expressed delight at the WTO’s ruling regarding Canadian
discounted milk. ‘We are delighted with the outcome of the WTO panel’s
consideration of this complex matter… This confirms what we have always contended.
The attempt to get around the WTO rules controlling the use of such subsidies has,
therefore, been prevented… Mr Storey said the case was a ‘graphic illustration’ of the
importance of WTO processes to New Zealand. It has been possible to have raised and
considered objectively, an issue of major importance to our international trading
interests and have it resolved in a way which is legally binding on the parties
concerned’(Dairy Board 1999b).

In short the WTO has garnered broad support in New Zealand. Claims by Mike
Moore, director general of the WTO and former Deputy Prime Minister in the
Labour Government, that ‘the answer to poverty is more trade and business, not
less’ (Wheat 2000:89–90) are widely endorsed. Most significant in terms of this
endorsement is the degree of unanimity from both critics and supporters of producer
boards – those farmer-run institutions that control much of the export oriented
agriculture of New Zealand. Nevertheless, this endorsement of WTO-led
liberalisation in other countries belies real divisions in New Zealand domestic
policy. A shared desire for trade liberalisation and expectations about the WTO acts
to obscure rather than to resolve important issues in New Zealand. Specifically, the
WTO simultaneously provides a dynamic for the extension of neoliberal reforms
in domestic agriculture (albeit export-oriented agriculture) and reworks possibilities
for resistance to such an extension. In the playing out of this contest, what is central
is the fate of the producer boards and the forms of ‘farmer control’ they have
enabled (Curtis 1999a, 1999b; Hussey 1992).
At the same time struggles between neoliberal reformers and the supporters of
producer boards can no longer be understood as bounded by or within New Zealand
policy networks. As a member of the World Trade Organisation, New Zealand is
subject to new forms of rulemaking (McRae 1998). This rulemaking is already
affecting, and will increasingly impact on, the producer boards. McMichael (1998,
1999) suggests that the version of market liberalisation pursued by the WTO will
be critical in shaping local agricultures and the (mis)fortunes of farmers. Associated
with this claim is the notion that the WTO is a fraud perpetrated by the United
States and European Union on consumers and farmers in the Third World. Of
course, locating New Zealand and New Zealand agriculture in this type of scenario
is highly problematic. Further, farmers and their producer boards are enthusiastic
supporters of trade liberalisation and the WTO in terms of the impact they have on
other countries. What emerges from these contingencies is a range of possible
scenarios, the most likely of which is that the proponents of market liberalisation
will use the strictures of the WTO to revisit and promote what they consider to be
the ‘unfinished business’ of reform in New Zealand (Douglas 1993).


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

It is important to note that neoliberal reform of the type championed by the WTO,
is regarded for the most part as an accomplished fact in New Zealand. Successive
Labour- and National-led Governments have transformed the economy and the role
of the state. While there are a number of strands to this appraisal of the new ‘New
Zealand experiment’ (Kelsey 1995) these come together in any accounting of the
historic victory of economic rationalism over bureaucracy (Easton 1994a, 1999;
Gregory 1999; Pusey 1993; Schneider 1998). In this context Pusey (1993)
summarizes economic rationalism as the canon of market rule: ‘markets and prices
are the only reliable means of setting a value on anything, and… markets and
money can always, at least in principle, deliver better outcomes than states and
bureaucracies’ (Pusey 1993:14). In this respect, the process of reform is understood
by policymakers and critics as deregulation and the unleashing of market forces (for
example, Kelsey 1995; Rudd and Roper 1997).
Putting aside the rhetoric of reform for the moment, it seems clear that
agriculture is somewhat at odds with the broad thrust of neoliberal reform to date,
insofar as there have been decided limits to the deregulation of agriculture (Cloke
1989, 1996; Perry 1992). However, this exceptionalism is overlooked in most
accounts of neoliberalism and the reforms associated with it. It is found, however,
in the extent to which agriculture has been only belatedly subjected to ‘structural
reforms’ in the New Zealand economy (Easton 1994b). In this respect the
proponents of neoliberal reform and the ‘market juggernaut’ (Dennis 1995) they
front, has encountered real resistance, the most significant manifestation of which
is found in the retention of producer boards. Noting this, Scrimgeour and Pasour
(1996) have bemoaned the fact that:
There has been little substantive reform in international marketing of New Zealand’s
agricultural products. Today, marketing boards and export authorities heavily
influence marketing decisions for some 80% of New Zealand’s agricultural and
horticultural exports (in terms of value). Boards with statutory monopolies exert
control over about 30% of all exports. …impetus for change is slowed by actions of
the boards that use grower funds to convince growers that the boards are efficient and
essential for farmer success.

Nevertheless, the reformers have had their victories, even in agriculture. Reform
as deregulation has thus far secured: (1) the removal of very extensive direct and
indirect production subsidies to farmers; (2) the termination of generous tax breaks
to farmers and to their cooperatives; (3) the move by the Reserve Bank to charge
commercial rates on producer board reserve accounts; (4) the elimination of the
most obvious examples of rent-seeking by farmers (Scrimgeour and Pasour 1996);
(5) the introduction of the Commodity Levies Act (New Zealand Parliament 1990)
which made it possible for the creation of new or alternative producer bodies; (6)
and the introduction of the Dairy Board Amendment Act (New Zealand Parliament
1996) and the Apple and Pear Industry Restructuring Act (New Zealand Parliament
1999), which set in train a review of the structures and shareholding of two of the
most important producer boards (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 1999).
The greatest challenge to the producer boards is to be seen in changes to their



constitution and governance structures (Weir 1992). This aspect of the reformist
agenda echoes that around the corporatisation and privatisation of state-owned
enterprises achieved by the neoliberal state in the 1980s and 1990s. It centres on the
creation of tradable shares in publicly owned entities. By these mechanisms, many
central government ministries and local governments assets were converted into
companies and sold to corporate interests (for example, Government Print, Housing
New Zealand, New Zealand Rail, Telecom, and the public transport boards, power
boards and water boards owned by various city councils) (Duncan and Bollard
The first example of what can be called a nascent corporatisation in agriculture
is a product of the Apple and Pear Industry Restructuring Act (1999). This Act has
resulted in the conversion of the Apple and Pear Marketing Board into a corporate
entity (ENZA Limited), with shareholding vested in individual growers. Individual
shareholding in the board was allocated on the basis of historic levels of production.
Shares can only be traded between growers and there is a 20 percent cap on
shareholding. However, such shareholding creates the potential for the
reconstitution of ownership beyond the initial holders (that is, growers) and into the
hands of corporates. Within four months of the restructuring of the Apple and Pear
Marketing Board, this possibility had become a reality:
ENZA said it was expecting an offer from a third party that would top the combined
bid for a controlling 40 per cent stake by Sir Ron Brierley’s Guinness Peat Group
(GPG) and investment bank FR Partners…Surrendering control to corporate
boardrooms was the fear of all other primary industry groups as they struggled under
the previous [National] Government’s instructions to split marketing from the
ownership of production. The kiwifruit industry, and the dairying industry – which is
in the throes of revamping its structure – are noting the lesson. One observer picked
that ‘the evolution’ would spread to the kiwifruit industry, while another said the dairy
industry had had a clarion call (Stevenson 2000).

Changes in ownership of the Dairy Board have been somewhat challenged with
the allocation of shares to processing companies rather than to individual farmers.
This reflects the fact that since 1936, dairy farmers have been compulsory members
of their local dairy cooperatives which, in turn, elected representatives to the Dairy
Board (Hill 1972, Morris 1993). While the vesting of shares to companies
precipitated the abandonment of an electoral process based on wards (electorates)
determined by the Dairy Board, in favour of wards constituted by dairy
cooperatives, there is no possibility for the trading of shares between individuals.
The scenario facing the apple and pear industry is still prohibited in the dairy
industry. Further the influence of farmers on policymakers in the dairy industry
remains undiminished.1
The legislative changes to date are insufficient to simply eliminate the producer
boards. The Commodity Levies Act (New Zealand Parliament 1990) may make it
1. Perhaps the clearest example of the continuing influence of farmers is found in the forced
resignation of the chairman of Dairy Board, as result of his losing the election for the NZ
Dairy Group’s Te Awamutu ward (Dairy Board 1999a).


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

legally possible for producers to establish new forms of association, but this process
is both extremely circuitous and relies on the initial support of producers.
However, as the Apple and Pear Industry Restructuring Act (New Zealand
Parliament 1999) has shown, the boards can – with a one-off approval of a majority
of producers – be converted into corporate entities with tradable assets. Certainly
there is now a sustained pressure on individual producers to sell their shareholdings
or to create the situation in which this transfer is possible.
To repeat, the pressures for the reform of agriculture in New Zealand are intense.
The ‘blitzkrieg’ approach favoured by reformers in the 1980s and 1990s (Easton
1994a, 1994b, 1999) has become a policy debate centred on the constitution and
governance structures of producer boards. This in turn problematizes the powers of
the boards, especially the single selling (monopoly) rules that have been enforced
by the Apple and Pear Marketing Board, Dairy Board and Kiwifruit Marketing
Board. These monopoly arrangements by which only the producers boards are able
to engage in export have long raised the ire of critics.2
The assault on the producer boards is most actively pursued by several departments
of state, notably the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Treasury, and by
the New Zealand Business Roundtable. Their efforts have centred on discrediting
– with a view to dismantling – the producer boards and, to a lesser extent, farmers’
cooperatives. The proponents of reform have variously portrayed the producer
boards as examples of rent seeking, and as inadequate carriers of market signals
which stifle innovation and investment, and cause significant ‘dead weight’ losses
(Bates 1998; Crocombe 1991; Garway Investments 1988; Hussey 1992; Jacobsen,
Scobie and Duncan 1995; Scrimgeour and Thurman 1997). While each of these
(and other) commissioned reports has adopted a distinct focus, the body of work
portrays the producer boards as irredeemably inefficient and irrational.
A perception of inefficiency and irrationality on the part of the producer boards,
is unsurprising coming from economists (and all the report writers are economists)
whose paradigm is one of economic rationalism. Such accounts are systematically
blind to the politics of markets (Fligstein 1996). In other words, the critique of
producer boards must be understood as anchored in concrete interests. This aspect
of self-interest is generally overlooked by both the critics (for example, Thomson
1999) and the champions of producer boards (Moran, Blunden, and Bradly 1996).3
2 ‘The really emotional issue at present is the prospect of the ‘single-seller’ producer boards
losing their monopoly selling powers. Apple growers have been particularly vocal about this,
but it is almost an article of faith among dairy farmers and probably still has majority support
from kiwifruit growers. They firmly believe that one export agency, set up by legislation, can
gain better returns for farmers than numerous unregulated marketers. Although superficially
attractive, this idea is wrong, and it is doing farmers and the country a good deal of damage’
(Thomson 1999:10).
3. ‘The sustained attack on the producer marketing Producer Boards is founded on ideology,
with the argument invariably beginning with theory and ending with the case for abolishing



At times the proponents of reform give the game away. In doing so, the attack on
the producer boards is revealed as motivated not so much by a disinterested concern
with the inequities of rent seeking, etc., but by the interests of actors who are in
someway excluded from particular networks (Curtis 1999c). Thus, in the forward
to Farmer Control of Processing and Marketing: Does It Serve the Interests of
Farmers? Roger Kerr, Executive Director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable
It is possible that even after the removal of the statutory backing of producer boards,
unrealistic expectations and unwarranted fears will continue to exert an influence on
questions relating to farmer control. Any failure to make the best commercial decisions
will depress farmers’ incomes and constrain the economic opportunities available to
large numbers of other New Zealanders (Kerr cited in Bates 1998:v).

What Kerr signals is that the ‘economic’ well-being of particular industries or
sectors in agriculture may – and probably will – be at the expense of incumbent
actors. Among other things reform would allow new forms of entry and exit in
agriculture. If international and historical comparisons are any guide (for example,
Sanderson 1986), such heightened mobility of capital is likely to be to the detriment
of relatively immobile farmers. In this regard, the proposed, neoliberal, reform of
agriculture is largely about the problematics of old and new middlemen.
Stinchcombe (1961) has long since noted the suspicion of farmers toward
‘middlemen’ of all types.4 Indeed political mobilisations by New Zealand farmers
against middlemen originated the first of the producer boards. Hence, the Meat
Board and the Dairy Board were established in the context of a crisis (for farmers)
of agricultural prices in the early 1920s. This crisis was – in turn – stimulated by the
return to ‘free trade’ arrangements after the commandeer system used in World War
One (Roche 1992). Middlemen, in the form of processing and marketing firms,
were then able to exercise their refurbished ‘market power’ in order to drive down
prices so as to ruin and acquire the assets of their competitors and farmers (Curtis
1999a, 1999b; Roche 1992). As a result of mobilisations by farmers – in reaction
to this unfavourable politics of markets – the first of the producer boards were
constituted as farmer run ‘boards of control’ (New Zealand Parliament 1923:i)
Clearly, the circumstances and options facing producers and middlemen in the
early years of the twenty-first century are very different to those of the 1920s (Curtis
1999a, 1999b). For example, the threat to farmers of real subsumption by vertically
integrating middlemen has abated. Nowadays the modern middlemen – now more
commonly called agribusiness – tend to favour contracts in order to subordinate
farmers and horticulturalists (Curtis 1998; Watts 1994). What remains constant is
the perceived threat to producers from what economists mistakenly call free trade,
the Producer Boards’ (Moran et al. 1996:172).
4. This view found an echo in the New Zealand context in the comments by the Commission
of Enquiry into the Meat Industry (1959:9), which stated that, ‘Broadly speaking, however,
the producer sees in a complicated field of processing and marketing of his raw material
many possible opportunities by… companies to exploit him. This is, of course, right, but is
not necessarily proof that he is so exploited’.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

insofar as it unfetters the middlemen. Consequently, it is important to distinguish
the costs and benefits of trade liberalisation for farmers. Where liberalisation allows
them greater access to consumers (in New Zealand these are foreign consumers)
farmers are supportive. Where liberalisation allows middlemen greater influence (in
part, to come between producers and consumers) then farmers are wary.
The playing out of such alternative scenarios is a political process centred on
institutional arrangements. Thus, the producer boards may be said to make
interventions into markets or, more properly, the politics of markets, to limit or
channel free trade (Curtis 1999b). This is done to strengthen the position of farmers
vis-à-vis middlemen or agribusiness companies. In the New Zealand context, the
key to these interventions is found in the politics of ‘averaging’ (Hussey 1992;
Moran et al. 1996). Here ‘averaging’ may be understood as a form of aggregation
made possible by the producer boards to otherwise disaggregated actors
(producers). The rationale for such averaging is of course to secure farming and, in
particular, family-labour farming (Friedmann 1978).
The producer boards enforce forms of averaging in terms of returns, costs and
risks. There are several examples of this, with single selling merely the most
contested. Single selling, or the monopoly control of exports by producer boards,
is significant because it obviously impacts on the incomes of a range of middlemen,
by disbarring them from marketing arrangements. Other examples of averaging are
pursued by the other boards and have much the same effect. These include: (1) the
imposition of uniform grading and quality standards on export produce; (2) the
compulsory negotiation of freight rates and timetabling of shipping; (3) the
centralisation of research and development; and (4) the introduction of branding
initiatives. In this sense, when economists criticise producer boards for a lack of
market transparency, what they are pointing to are the intended rather than
unintended consequences of farmer control (Fleming 1999).
WTO member states no longer have a choice over whether or not they will be involved
in trade litigation (McRae 1998:222).

To date deregulation has eliminated all forms of fiscal support to farmers; what
remain are the rump institutional elements of farmer control. These elements, the
producer boards, are vital in constituting the politics of markets in the collective
interests of farmers. This collective interest is secured through the boards by a
politics of averaging. While producer boards have thus far weathered the storm of
neoliberal reform in New Zealand, the World Trade Organisation introduces a new
dynamic for reform. In short, the WTO constitutes yet another front in the assault
on producer boards. It does so because of the strictures it imposes on state trading
enterprises (STEs).5
5 ‘Article XVII of the GATT 1994 is the principal Article dealing with state trading
enterprises (referred to as ‘STEs’) and their operations. It sets out that such enterprises – in
their purchases or sales involving either imports or exports – are to act in accordance with
the general principles of non-discrimination, and that commercial considerations only are



From the perspective of the New Zealand state, producer boards cannot be said
to be truly state owned enterprises. Rather, the boards are constituted as
autonomous bodies and are specified statutory powers in terms of raising levies and
rulemaking. As a result, they can act compulsorily on producers and middlemen.
What they are not are assets of the state, which is why the main policy tools of the
neoliberal reformers – corporatisation and privatisation – are comparatively
attenuated in agriculture. However, the World Trade Organisation does classify the
Apple and Pear Marketing Board, the Dairy Board, the Kiwifruit Marketing Board,
the Meat Board and the Wool Board as STEs. Further, as a signatory of the
Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organisation, the New Zealand state is
bound by such rulings (McRae 1998).
The WTO’s rules pertaining to STEs are fourfold: (1) non-discrimination,
commonly referred to as ‘most favoured nation’ (MFN) treatment; (2) no
quantitative restrictions; (3) preservation of the value of tariff concessions; and (4)
transparency (WTO 1999b). The focus of this WTO rulemaking is to maintain
access to markets and in this respect its goals are not inconsistent with those of the
producer boards and the farmers. Transparency is (or will be) the problematic issue.
Without transparency, ‘a significant area of potentially WTO-inconsistent practices
may be escaping WTO scrutiny and regulation’ (WTO 1999a). In order to enhance
transparency, all STEs are required as part of a process of notification, to detail
their annual activities to a specially constituted panel of the WTO. It is claimed that
this aspect of the ‘trade policy review mechanism’ (TPRM) benefits the (WTO)
member under review: ‘The TPRM has stimulated the internal evaluation of trade
policies in Members…The Review strengthens the hands of domestic agencies
promoting liberalisation, supports trade reforms and, thus, helps individual
Members to become better WTO citizens’ (WTO 1998 – italics added).
The point at issue is the extent to which the politics of averaging secured by the
producer boards are compatible with the goals of the WTO. It seems highly likely
that averaging and, in particular, single selling will be found to be in some way
discriminatory or non-commercial. As noted earlier, Roger Kerr, Executive Director
of the New Zealand Business Roundtable and other proponents of reform in New
Zealand, have already argued as much. Certainly the proponents of domestic reform
find in the WTO both a powerful ally and a rationale for liberalisation. Further, the
WTO casts the New Zealand state and neoliberal reformers in the role of Pontius
Pilate. Even without a ruling against the producer boards, reforms might be imposed
as if reformers were, in effect, ‘only following the orders’ of the WTO. A former
Minister of Agriculture gives some sense of this:
It is vital to New Zealand that WTO members accept the rules: that refusing to comply
is seen as a grave international offence. If WTO members get away with refusing to
comply, the system will break down and we will be back to pre-WTO days (Smith

to guide their decisions on imports and exports. It also instructs that Members are to notify
their state trading enterprises to the WTO annually’ (WTO 1999b).


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

The WTO presides over the most far-reaching attempt to level political, social and
environment protections in the name of efficiency and market freedom (McMichael

In New Zealand many claims and counter-claims have been made about the
producer boards and the outcomes they engender. To date the versions favoured by
reformers have failed fully to carry the day. Conversely, a body of work has been
produced which is supportive of the producer boards (Steel 1995, McKenna 1999).
This lack of agreement on the nature and role of the producer boards is symptomatic
of what Schon and Reid (1994:4) call an ‘intractable policy controversy’.
Intractable policy controversies are ‘immune to resolution by appeal to facts’
(Schon and Reid 1994). In such controversies, ‘economic agents can no longer be
kept at a distance from the investigations which by the same token, they help to
hamper’ (Callon 1998:263). However, beyond New Zealand’s boundaries the policy
debate appears significantly less intractable. As McMichael (1998) notes, the
agenda of WTO is both clear and global. Indeed, the vaunted rulemaking of the
WTO operates precisely to ascertain the ‘facts’ while appearing to be at arm’s
length from the protagonists (McRae 1998; WTO 1999d).
A fair degree of cynicism is warranted about the motivations and consequences
of the WTO. The promotion of trade liberalisation through the WTO is clearly
sponsored by big business and the economic powers (notably the U.S.). However,
this begs the question, when have such interests not dominated international trade?
Actually, what is more pressing is the extent to which the WTO regime closes off
possibilities for small states (and in the case of New Zealand, small producers) to
trade globally. Katzenstein (1985) has noted how some small states are highly
innovative in linking international trade and inclusive domestic policies. Mabbett
(1995) provides some confirmation for this in the New Zealand experience. What
she largely overlooks is the centrality of producer boards. In this respect, the
‘levelling’ attributed by McMichael (1998) and others (for example, Watkins 1996)
to the WTO would necessarily eradicate much of the historical basis of Katzensteinlike innovation by New Zealand. This raises again the issue of middlemen and the
extent to which they control the networks of trade. Historically, producer boards
secured control for farmers and in doing so cemented a particular development path
for New Zealand (Font 1990). Reform (i.e. the dismantling) of the producer boards
would propel New Zealand down a very different path, one in which non-farming
interests have control of agriculture.
At the same time, McMichael’s (1999) argument for the WTO as the carrier of
‘globalisation’ in the form of the obliteration of the local is unsustainable:
The challenge of a global perspective such as this is its credibility. The world is far
more complex and messy than the theoretically-driven characterisation that I have laid
out here. Some argue that a global view imposes a singular, or categorical, logic on a
geographically and culturally diverse world (see for example Whatmore 1994). But
this is exactly what I am arguing (McMichael 1999:17).

It is important to remember that the process of globalisation is not pursued



globally, so much as simultaneously at different locales. New Zealand is one such
locale and in agriculture, at least, reform by fiat is still not in the offing. What
Easton (1999:3–9) calls the ‘permanent revolution’ of neoliberal reform, which
carries with it the obliteration of the institutional bases for alternative policies, is not
worked through in agriculture. In short, the producer boards retain institutional and
statutory reserves sufficient to ensure an evolutionary aspect to neoliberal reform
for the foreseeable future.
Tradable shares and corporatisation provide at least two scenarios by which the
producer boards can be dismantled, through: (1) their (re)constitution as state
owned enterprises and sale in toto; and (2) the individualisation of shareholding and
its diffusion beyond the farming sector. Yet corporatisation also offers farmers and
their producer boards real opportunities, which are being explored by all boards. In
this sense, corporatisation equates with the producer boards becoming more
company-like in their structure and operations (Meat New Zealand 1998:5–14).
How far this type of corporatisation can be pursued, while still advancing the
collective interests of farmers in the politics of averaging, is undetermined. One
prospect is that through corporatisation, producer boards will be transformed into
farmers’ cooperatives and as such, will be registered under the Companies Act of
1993 as limited companies. This type of transformation could disrupt attempts to
frame (and dismantle) the producer boards under the WTO rubric of state trading
enterprises (STEs). Therefore, it might allow both a version of deregulation and –
more importantly for farmers – the extension of a new form of farmer control.
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Small, D. 1996. The Cost of Free Trade: Aotearoa/New Zealand at Risk. Christchurch:
Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.
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___ 1999. SPS: Keynote Address. At
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A Review of the Arrangements used by the New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing
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22 July:E1.
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Bruce M. Curtis is Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Auckland.
His research interests include the restructuring of the agricultural sector, boards and
cooperatives as important organisational forms in New Zealand, industrial relations and
labour processes, and the reworking of community.

Stewart Lockie
Central Queensland University

Kristen Lyons
Griffith University

he last decade has seen arguably profound cultural changes in Australian
agriculture. Land degradation and issues of environmental sustainability have
risen to the fore despite the productivist agenda that has dominated agricultural
politics and policy since European invasion of Australia two centuries ago (Lockie
1998b); while rural women have become increasingly politicised around a range of
environmental, community and production issues despite their widespread rejection
of feminist identities (Alston 1996). Agricultural landscapes are constructed
increasingly as more than sites of production, and farm women as more than
‘farmers’ wives’ and ‘off-siders’. Indeed, over 30 percent of Australian farm
businesses have become involved in community Landcare groups associated with
the National Landcare Program. Former National Landcare Facilitator Andrew
Campbell (1994:1–2) asks us to ‘imagine a country in which one person out of
every four belongs to a conservation group, actively seeking ways of improving
their environment’ and the possibilities this might hold for a whole range of
environmental issues, before pointing out that ‘in rural Australia this is already
happening’. Importantly, together with the more loosely defined Women in
Agriculture movement, Landcare groups have become one of the core foci for
Australian farm women’s increased involvement in agricultural politics and
organisations. For many, the parallel timing of these developments is no
coincidence – the nurturing of land and community implied by a recasting of
agricultural landscapes as places in need of ‘care’ being seen as congruent with
women’s perceived embodiment of nurturing and caring characteristics – the
sustainability agenda thereby promoting women’s participation in public issues and
vice versa (Beilin 1997).


According to Patricia Allen (1993), sustainable agriculture needs to be based on
a platform of social justice. Failure to address inequalities such as the economic and
political marginalisation of women and minorities is almost certain, she argues, to
lead to conflict that will ultimately undermine the social conditions of production
and promote increased social and environmental exploitation. Social justice is thus
* All correspondence in relation to this article should be directed to Stewart Lockie, Centre
for Social Science Research, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton QLD 4702,
AUSTRALIA. Phone: +61-7-49306539. Fax: +61-7-49306402. Email: s.lockie@cqu.edu.au.
International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, Vol. 9, No. 1. © 2001 Research
Committee on the Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC40), International Sociological Association.



International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

a necessary precondition for a sustainable agriculture, but it is not necessarily a
sufficient condition (Allen and Sachs 1991). The obvious question here is the extent
to which promoting social justice for women through their increased involvement
in agricultural politics and organisations will actually lead to changes in farming
practice and, if so, in what ways? Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with
participants in community Landcare groups and the organic farming movement1, we
argue that at issue is not only the question of who is involved in particular social
practices surrounding agriculture, but also the conceptions of human–nature
relationships embedded within those practices. While it is true that the symbolic
gendering of many practices has legitimated women’s exclusion from participation
in them, we argue that even as women’s involvement in these practices becomes
more publicly recognised, it is still the case that: firstly, the symbolic
masculinisation of farming practices acts on both women and men as they construct
their relationships to nature via the agricultural labour process; and secondly, that
this masculinisation is only one factor influencing the construction of farming
practices and their role in mediating human–nature relationships. In order to make
this argument a little more transparent, we will turn first to a brief outline of the
theoretical approach that will guide this paper.
While there is insufficient room in this paper to deal with them in depth, we think
it unhelpful to pursue essentialist arguments regarding the ‘natural’ relationships
between women, men and nature. Rather, we concur with Agarwal (1992),
Harraway (1991) and Sachs (1996) that the very different experiences of women
and men in the labour process and other spheres of activity do entail different
interactions with nature. The necessarily partial knowledge that women and men
develop is, to use Harraway’s (1991) term, ‘situated’ in these different experiences
and interactions. But it is also important to remember that any categorical
distinction between the experiences and knowledges of women and men is
problematic; potentially overstating differences between women and men and
understating differences among them (Connell 1987, 1995). This is most obvious
in relation to the experiences of people of different ethnic, racial, class and national
backgrounds and the ways in which all these dimensions of difference and
commonality interact in the development of more-or-less unique situated or
indigenous knowledges (Sachs 1996). Less obvious are the effects of ‘external’
agencies such as governments, agri-science agencies and agribusiness.
There is a tendency within agrarian sociology to deal with farming cultures and
1. Both these research projects were undertaken as part of doctoral projects concerned
broadly with relationships between agriculture and environment. Lockie’s (1996) study was
conducted in the mixed farming zone of south west New South Wales, and involved
ethnographic interviews with 51 people, a household-based sample survey involving another
133, participant observation and discourse analysis. Lyons’ (forthcoming b) study involved
organic farmers from both Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) in over 70 ethnographic

Lockie and Lyons


indigenous knowledges as exclusively ‘localised’ phenomena (eg. van der Ploeg
1985, 1992), ignoring the extent to which the social relations in which
contemporary farming cultures and knowledges develop stretch in space and time
beyond the ‘local’ and through which ‘external’ agencies attempt to exert influence
over farmers ‘at a distance’ (Murdoch and Clark 1994). That environmental
knowledges are ‘situated’ in peoples’ unique experiences does not mean, therefore,
that these knowledges are bounded solely by the ‘locale’ in which most day-to-day
activity occurs. Thus, to the extent that farming practices are constructed in
masculinised terms, such masculinisation arises from the interactions of a complex
array of actors seeking to define farming practice and to shape environmental
knowledges in a variety of social contexts. By implication, seeking to understand
the relationships between the renegotiation of gender in the labour process and the
symbolic transformation of rural environments must entail a multi-focal
ethnographic approach (Marcus 1992) that moves between the understandings of
farm women and men and those agencies that seek to influence those
understandings, together with the discursive resources they have at their disposal
to do so.
The Australian Women in Agriculture movement – also known as the rural women’s
movement – is a loose-knit collective of women linked through a variety of movement
events and networks. This movement coalesced in the mid 1980s when the Victorian
State Government appointed women’s advisors in the Department of Agriculture who
subsequently established the Victorian Rural Women’s Network and promoted annual
‘Women on the Land’ gatherings (Alston 1996). This model has subsequently been
adopted in most other Australian States. According to Liepins (1998a), while Women
in Agriculture participants vary widely in age, the majority are Anglo-Australian
women from owner-operator farm units. Although there is evidence that the interests
of Indigenous women and issues of native title and reconciliation have been positively
represented within movement publications (see for example the Summer 1998–99
edition of The Country Web, Special Koori Edition), activism has focussed more on
farm-based issues than on wider rural community issues. According to Liepens
(1998a), network activities, such as gatherings, have played a key role in transforming
the subjectivities of farm women; particularly in generating self-identities as farmers
in their own right, rather than as farmers’ wives, and as confident and legitimate
political activists. Their activism has focussed on two primary issues: firstly, reversal
of the historically invisible contribution women make to farming and to rural
communities; and secondly, a broadening of the rural policy agenda beyond
commodity issues to include social and environmental considerations related to
agriculture (Alston 1996; Liepins 1995). This combination of networking and activism
has spawned: formalised movement organisations such as Australian Women in
Agriculture and the Foundation for Australian Agricultural Women; a series of
International Women in Agriculture Conferences beginning in Melbourne in 1994;
and recognition and support from Federal Government for the representation of rural


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

women’s interests in policy making (Alston 1996).
The National Landcare Program (NLP) was launched in 1989; its centerpiece is
the promotion and support of a nation-wide network of community Landcare groups
based on localised watersheds or neighbourhoods. The emphasis of these groups
was on addressing local environmental degradation in a cooperative and integrated
manner, with governmental support available to assist with group coordination, trial
and demonstration projects and, increasingly, problems of particular regional
significance. Groups have tended to focus on educational activities, farm and
catchment planning projects, tree planting, and demonstrations and trials of new
practices (Campbell 1994; Curtis and De Lacy 1997). The consistency of Landcare
with the otherwise often competing discourses of ecological sustainability,
community empowerment and economic rationalism has seen it achieve almost
universal political support and widespread community involvement (Lockie 1997a).
Women’s rates of involvement in Landcare are considerably higher than in other
farm-based organisations (Lockie 1997c). Furthermore, it appears that high
participation rates among women is a feature of the most active groups (Curtis and
De Lacy 1997), even though women tend to be more concentrated in support roles
than in positions of leadership (Beilin 1997; Curtis and De Lacy 1997) and that
involvement in Landcare seems to act as a springboard for many women into a
range of other farming-related organisations (Lockie 1997c). The other remarkable
feature of Landcare is the extent to which it has facilitated a transformation in the
way land degradation is understood from a problem that many farmers did not
recognise, and which many more denied publicly, to one that is discussed openly
and addressed cooperatively (Lockie 1998b).
According to some critics, however, Landcare is more oriented towards
supporting current agricultural systems by addressing some of their more obvious
environmental impacts than towards any fundamental reassessment of the high-input
model on which these systems are based (Lockie 1999a). Organic agriculture, by
contrast, represents an opposition to conventional methods of agriculture. Organic
farming systems avoid the application of synthetically compounded chemicals,
while utilising natural biological systems, including crop rotations and biological
pest control, in an attempt to maintain both a productive farming system as well as
ensuring the long term viability of farm families (NASAA 1998). Importantly, this
organic agriculture movement – comprising both producers and consumers – which
began to expand worldwide during the 1920s, has sought to resist incorporation
within dominant systems of food provision and, therefore, marks a distinct shift
from dominant food systems (Belasco 1993; James 1993). Researchers and growers
concerned with the environmental and health impacts of agriculture and food
production drove initial research into organic production systems. This was
exemplified in Australia by the work of people like P.A. Yeomans – who in the
1950s was critical of artificial fertilisers and focussed upon building up the quality
of the soil naturally (Barr and Cary 1992) – and Bill Mollison who began research

Lockie and Lyons


and practice with permaculture systems2. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s,
formalised organic consumer and grower organisations began to expand worldwide
(Campbell 1996) and, by the early 1980s, organic certification systems began to be
devised in Australia to regulate this growing industry (Lyons forthcoming a). To
date there are seven nationally recognised organic certification organisations – the
Bio-Dynamic Research Institute of Australia, the Biological Farmers of Australia,
the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Herb Growers of
Australia, Organic Food Chain, Tasmanian Organic Producers and Organic
Vignerons of Australia – as well as a number of smaller groups (Lovisolo 1997;
Lyons and Lawrence forthcoming). Alongside the establishment of these bodies,
interest is now beginning to be shown by food processing companies, including
Uncle Tobys (see Lyons 1999), Berrivale, Bunge, Sandhurst and Nugans (Monk
1998). These food-processing companies have facilitated significant changes within
the organic industry, including expanding distribution channels as well as the
variety of organic produce available. Importantly, many Australian organic products
now selling on international markets. In response, the Australian government has
recently devised a national organic standard, administered by the Organic Producers
Export Group in order to encourage international trade of organic products.
Women in Landcare
The importance of reconceptualising farm women as ‘farmers’ to their
empowerment within the agricultural labour process and in public organisations is
difficult to overstate. This is in no small way due to the importance placed by farm
men and women on the ‘practical’ application of situated knowledge developed
through the labour process. The importance of this belief in shaping participation
in public forums was illustrated by one farm woman whose husband thought that
much of women’s lack of involvement in leadership positions within Landcare
groups resulted not from exclusion, but from their own reticence to take on such
roles. Explaining her own view this women commented that:
I also feel that I don’t know enough about certain aspects as far as Landcare is
concerned, so I don’t feel comfortable, I suppose, coming up with certain ideas … if
I did I would have more of a prominent role, for instance, if I was in my husband’s
position I would, but since I don’t have the knowledge I don’t (Lockie 1997c:84).

Her husband’s ‘position’, of course, refers to his higher level of involvement in
what was understood as ‘productive’ labour. While there were women who thought
that men were simply too chauvinistic to accept women in leadership positions
conversely, others believed that the legitimate male role was to lead while women
provided motivation and support. Women generally saw men as more knowledgeable
and were less interested than men in joining Landcare groups for the purpose of
2. Permaculture is based upon a philosophy of permanent self sustaining and regenerating
agricultural systems, based upon household and community self-reliance. Permaculture
principles have been embraced by many people in urban communities, who are unhappy with
the scientific and technological dependence predominant throughout contemporary
agricultural practices. (Mollison 1990).


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

accessing information and education. The unique experiences and perspectives that
many women may have been able to contribute were thus just as often invisible. The
manner in which this is manifest at the farm level is taken up below.
On-farm Decision-making and Environmental Management
As indicated above, one of the primary areas of activism for Women in Agriculture
has been in raising the profile of women’s contribution to agriculture. According
to Alston (1990, 1995), women have been rendered invisible by a failure within
public discourse to acknowledge: firstly, the extent to which the so-called domestic
activities to which they have been culturally relegated contribute to the profitability
of the farm business by reproducing and maintaining its labour force at minimal
financial cost; and secondly, the extent to which they are actually involved in the
supposedly more productive activities associated with on-farm labour. This
contribution has been marginalised through the labelling of women as ‘off-siders’
and ‘helpers’ and the tasks they perform as peripheral or supportive – such as
driving into town for spare parts – leaving power to make decisions largely with
farm men. In support of this, Lockie (1996) found that according to the results of
a household sample survey which quantified the levels of involvement among all
family members in those farm activities understood as ‘productive’, women were
substantially less involved than men in all areas of farm labour except for book
keeping, and in all areas of farm decisionmaking except for tree planting. The more
mechanised and input-intensive the practice, the less that women were involved in
either performing it or making decisions about it. Similar results have been reported
by Grasby, Lockie and McAllister (2000) based on a national survey of the
Australian sugar industry.
This may, of course, be expected to change somewhat because of both farm
women’s activism and a decline in the ability of many farms to employ labour due
to declining terms of trade. Nevertheless, Lia Bryant’s (forthcoming) recent study
of young women engaged in agricultural education with a view to becoming farmers
reveals some interesting insights into the continued hegemony of masculinised
constructions of the labour process. Bryant found that while feminism and the
Women in Agriculture movement had opened the possibility to take on greater
managerial responsibility for farms without transgressing the bounds of acceptable
femininity, the understandings young women had of their own bodies still precluded
the possibility of taking responsibility for much traditional “men’s work”. These
women sought to define farming in terms of ‘business management’. This allowed
them to construct their own subjectivities and bodies in ways that avoided their
masculinisation – which they constructed in relation to the masculine body’s ability
to perform hard physical labour – and maintain their femininity – the feminine body
constructed as softer, weaker and sexually attractive to men. Bryant’s participants’
emphasised the importance they saw of ‘maintaining femininity’ by ‘not competing
with men’ and by not repeating ‘the mistakes of those women who begin to dress
and act like men and lose their femininity’. Importantly, these constructions were
not solely of the young women’s making, but were reinforced by: firstly, constant,
and often physical, sexual harassment from the men with whom they studied; and

Lockie and Lyons


secondly, disparagement from those same men of women’s abilities to engage in
and learn from the labour process – to develop situated knowledge of farming as
opposed to ‘text-book’ knowledge. Similarly, Liepen’s (1998b) analysis of rural
media found a recurring discourse associating masculinity with hard physical work
in a challenging environment; a discourse drawn on by the rural press and farm
leaders alike. The gendered construction of the human body is linked to
constructions of the labour process in a variety of contexts, and thence to the
construction of knowledges through that process.
The question still remains then as to how women’s unique experiences of the
agricultural labour process may influence their knowledge and their conceptions of
the natural environment. Problematically, a number of authors have sidestepped this
issue of the situatedness of knowledge and assumed that women intrinsically
establish more harmonious relationships with nature and community. Liepins
(1995:122), for example, quotes as ‘findings’ from the first International Women
in Agriculture Conference the argument that:
women think more laterally than men and have a stronger stewardship ethic. Women
as educators and nurturers care about the land and are not embarrassed to show this
… Women have great enthusiasm and staying power. They operate more intuitively
and in a cooperative way – essential traits for resolving the complex issues presented
in working towards developing sustainable agriculture.

For Liepins (1995:123), this is leading women to reconceptualise agriculture;
exploring the linkages between ‘the economic viability of farming, environmental
care, consumer responsibility, community sustenance and political justice’. The
importance of such thinking is echoed by Campbell (1994:127), who states that:
It is usually the women on the land who are the first to express concern about the longterm effects (on human health and the environment) of agricultural chemicals, or about
the loss of remnant vegetation and hence wildlife, or about water quality, landscape
values or the closure of schools, the ageing of rural populations and social
fragmentation … Furthermore, women are often more open and better able to
communicate about these issues, and they tend to have a wider network of confidantes.

Alston’s (1993, 1995) ethnographic study of farm women found considerable
levels of concern about agricultural chemicals and their effects, in particular, on the
farm men applying them and other members of their family, including unborn
children. Unfortunately these women also thought they had little choice but to
continue using these chemicals if they were to remain economically viable, with
several reporting largely unsuccessful attempts to either reduce or discontinue their
use. Despite this, Alston (1993) contends that increased participation among women
in decisionmaking would help to reduce chemical use.
There are two inter-related problems with this argument. Firstly, it adopts a
simplistic understanding of gender that assumes that women as a group are
categorically different to men as a group (similar conceptualisations are evident in
the quotes above from both Liepins and Campbell), meaning that differences among
women and similarities between women and men are ignored. Secondly, and
flowing from this, research with farm men in similar parts of rural Australia has
revealed almost identical concerns and beliefs (Lockie et al. 1995). The question


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

of why farmers have continued to intensify chemical – use despite the widespread
expression of concern is dealt with in more detail below, with the argument put that
pressures to intensify act on both men and women. The more immediate question
is whether women’s and men’s location in the labour process may have led to any
substantial difference in their responses to such pressures3. It is certainly of
importance that women at the forefront of Women in Agriculture believe this
movement to have played a key role in placing chemical-safety on the public
agenda. However, there is no evidence on a wide scale to suggest that this has led
to reductions in chemical-use or to changes in the constructions of nature and
environments implicit in such use.
Constructing Good Farming Practice and Managing Risk
According to writers such as O’Connor (1993) and Dryzek (1987), in the absence
of regulation there is a tendency within capitalist economies towards a declining
rate of profit and the externalisation of environmental and social costs of
production. Producers, in other words, faced by falling commodity prices and rising
input costs seek to increase production and efficiency in order to boost their own
market share and to reduce costs per unit of labour and land. Failure by individuals
to do so results in a loss of competitiveness and viability even though the overall
impact is to promote overproduction and further falls in commodity prices. Under
such circumstances, the incentive is for producers to ignore environmental and
social damage caused by this intensification in resource-use – particularly that
which is caused by off-site – despite the long-term damage to the productive
capacity of the resource base that may be caused. In very general terms, this is just
what has happened in Australian agriculture since the Korean War-fueled wool
boom of the 1950s (Lawrence 1987). Such outcomes are not inevitable, but are
mediated by a multitude of cultural and regulatory frameworks and the
constructions of human–nature relationships embedded within these. Of particular
relevance here are those constructions that pertain to the ‘right’ way to go about
farming, or about what it means to be a ‘good’ farmer. At the same time then that
there have been clear shifts evident through Landcare towards the association of
‘good’ farming with an open approach to dealing with land degradation – or to the
symptoms of unsustainable farming systems (Lockie 1998b) – there have also been
discernible shifts in the regulatory and market environment faced by Australian
farmers over the last decade or so that have encouraged the acceleration of
intensification of input and resource-use (Lockie 1999b). This is not to say that
farmers have simply been abandoned to the vagaries of the global marketplace, but
that while collective mechanisms for dealing with risk – such as statutory marketing
boards – have been progressively dismantled they have been replaced with a variety
of techniques that are promoted to farmers as means of calculating risk and
3. Location within the labour process need to be understood in a wide sense. For example,
Barbara Geno’s (forthcoming) study of attitudes towards financial management techniques
that ‘account’ for sustainability found that while women appeared more receptive to these
techniques than men, gender differences disappeared when corrections were made for
education, suggesting that the experience of higher education was actually the most
important factor influencing adoption of these techniques.

Lockie and Lyons


regulating their own behaviour. Such techniques include property planning, futures
marketing and contract farming (Higgins, Lockie and Lawrence forthcoming;
Lockie 1999b; Martin and Woodhill 1995).
While neoliberal policy constructs a picture of the ‘good’ farmer according to his
or her engagement with the abstract notion of ‘the marketplace’, farmers are
actually brought into relationships with economically powerful corporate actors
from the world of agribusiness. While this may lead to direct losses of control over
on-farm production processes (Rickson and Burch 1996), for broadacre agriculture
at least the implications of neoliberalism may be more profound in relation to the
technologies of knowledge on which farmers are increasingly dependent in order
to calculate and manage risks. When asked by Lockie (1996) to describe the major
changes he had seen during his own career in agriculture a District Agronomist with
NSW Agriculture responded:
Definitely the use of chemicals, and probably the philosophy that [farmers] are more
in control than they used to be, because we know more of the parameters that affect
what they do … there are more things that they can measure, and more things that they
have control and a choice in compared to what they used to have. So it should be more
predictable than it used to be, apart from the rainfall. All things being equal … there
are a lot more things that they can know about than when I started.

The point here, however, is that embedded within what ‘they can know’ are
specific constructions of the human–nature relationship and the way to manage that
relationship through agriculture (Lockie 1997b). The overwhelming bulk of
Australian agricultural research is directed either straight into increasing production,
or into supporting a high-input model of sustainability consistent with drives
towards intensification and the interests of agribusiness firms in selling farmers the
necessary inputs (Barr and Cary 1992). Applied technologies of knowledge, such
as property planning4, rely on the interpretation of data such as soil tests through
frameworks established as often as not through ‘input-requirement’ trials; ie.
through interpretive frameworks that take as their starting point the assumption that
production conditions can, and should, be controlled through the use of synthetic
chemicals and fertilisers. Organic alternatives, by contrast, have frequently been
ridiculed and discredited (Lyons and Lawrence 1999) due to the belief by
governments and state agencies that productivity cannot be maintained without the
judicious use of synthetic inputs (Barr and Cary 1992). Despite the unease that
many farmers feel towards high-input agriculture, ignoring or rejecting the
‘knowledge’ created by agri-science agencies is a risky strategy. For many
4. Lockie (1996, 1998b, 1999b) found that farmers in south west NSW who had undertaken
property planning applied more than three times as much lime (t=2.24, p=.030), and spent
twice as much per hectare on chemicals (t=2.47, p=.017), as farmers who had not undertaken
property planing. It also appeared that they spent about 50 percent more per hectare on
fertilisers, although this was not statistically significant (t=1.77, p=.082), reflecting the
relatively small sample size (n=63) and long history of fertiliser use in the area. In relation
to practices which had less direct production benefits, such as tree planting, there were no
significant differences between those farmers who had participated in property planning and
those who had not.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

producers, farming is risky enough due to the uncertainties of weather and market
conditions without adding to that risk by adopting a fundamentally different
approach to their farming to that of their neighbours and the agri-science agencies
that support and advise them (Lockie 1997b, 1999a). In a discussion of diversity,
or lack of it, among farmers in their area, one male farmer from south west NSW
stated that:
Farmer: We help each other as individual farmers as well. I think a lot of decisions are
made like that; a lot really [of] keeping up with the Joneses. But I suppose you’re kept
within certain boundaries of decision making by what people in the district and other
farmers are doing, rather than going off and doing something completely different.
Interviewer: Why, because it’s been tried, or you know it will work, or some sort of
social pressure to … fit in with what everyone else does?
Farmer: Well yes, part those. I mean you know farmers are careful in what they are
going to do, they do not like taking risks – unnecessary risks. You’re involved in a
risky business with the elements alone, without going and exacerbating it by doing
something to further increase that risk factor.

Reinforcing constructions of what ‘normal’ or ‘good’ farmers do on their farms
are a plethora of agricultural media and texts that present to farmers pictures of
‘themselves’. Lockie’s (forthcoming) review of the representation of farm-inputs
in rural print media found a normalising discourse in which high-input approaches
were taken as the norm and constantly associated with images and quotes from male
farmers about what they were doing on their own farm; that is, linking this
normalising discourse to the situated knowledge of practicing farmers. Further, with
high-input agriculture presented as the norm, alternative approaches, such as
organic agriculture, were reinterpreted through the same frame. Organic producers,
where mentioned, were thereby represented as clever marketers responding to
consumer perceptions regarding ‘clean’ and ‘green’ foods, rather than as opponents
to chemicalised farming systems. Agribusiness advertisers, on the other hand,
attempted to associate fertiliser-use with scientific precision, and chemical-use with
reliability and effectiveness – all attributes that help farmers to reduce risk through
control over the farm environment. This control was itself reinforced frequently
with forceful, violent slogans and images such as ‘Win the war against wild oats
with Avadex BW’; a militaristic metaphor accompanied by a drawing of a battleready soldier. Few advertisements made direct reference to farming as an
exclusively male domain, but the representation of chemical-based control in terms
of overtly masculinised attributes and behaviours (albeit socially constructed ones)
is consistent with a wider discourse of masculine agriculture. With print media
coverage of issues and information related to chemical-use and farming practice
accompanied overwhelmingly by photographs of male farmers pictured among
crops or livestock, farming is represented as an essentially male activity and
masculinity as the interpretive frame through which information and images about
farming may be rendered meaningful to audiences.
It therefore appears that there is some congruence between neoliberal agricultural
policy, the agri-science research agenda and farming culture. Such congruence is
not inevitable. It is pursued and reinforced through multiple arenas, texts and

Lockie and Lyons


practices. Although women’s experiences may lead them to develop alternative
situated knowledges to men through their marginalisation in the labour process, they
are still exposed to the same representations of farming practice and farmers
through rural media; the same technologies of knowledge developed by agri-science
agencies; and the same pressures towards risk minimisation. Changes in farm
practice are about much more then than the renegotiation of gender relations at the
farm or even community or industry level, but about the whole agri-science,
regulatory and cultural infrastructure that supports industrialised and masculinised
agriculture. In such a context, the gender dynamics of organic agriculture are clearly
of particular interest since organic farming is based to such a large degree on the
rejection of many of those technologies of knowledge that are currently driving
Before attempting to outline the extent of the challenge that organic agriculture
presents to masculinised and industrialised agriculture it is important to
acknowledge something of the diversity that exists within the organic industry. In
particular, the manner in which the industry profile has changed with the recent
entry of a number of relatively large-scale producers with close contractual
relationships with food processing firms (Lyons and Lawrence forthcoming). No
longer a small-scale alternative to industrialised food production, processing and
distribution methods – a ‘food counter-culture’ (Belasco 1993) – organic production
is fast becoming a key element in the strategies of a number of food processors and
retailers to supply high quality, safe, and premium-priced foods. In general terms,
these foods are targeted towards the creation and supply of high-value niche
markets, while more universal systems of Quality Assurance are becoming
increasingly widespread to ensure compliance with chemical application guidelines
and other safety and quality standards for foods destined for mass markets (Lockie
1998a). The primary motivation of these recent entrants to the organic industry
appears to be the price premium they receive for organic produce (Lyons and
Lawrence forthcoming; Burch, Lyons, and Lawrence forthcoming). Many of these
growers have been previously involved in conventional agriculture and have
recently converted only a portion of their land to organics in order to access markets
for high-value organic produce while avoiding the economic risk entailed in
converting all of their land to chemical-free production. For these farms, the
decision to convert at least some land to organic production has been primarily a
male one, although interviews with both women and men on these farms revealed
that women were very supportive of it, in part because it provided them with what
they perceived to be a ‘healthier’ environment in which to raise their children. In
relation to the labour process more generally on these larger farms there appeared
very little difference with the gender division of labour for conventional agriculture
discussed above, with men more involved in work involving farm machinery and
other outdoor activities, and in negotiations with field advisors and certification
officers, and women more involved in bookkeeping, childrearing and housework.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

While economic viability may still be important, the majority of organic growers
argue that their primary motivations for farming organically relate to health, the
environment and quality of life (Lyons and Lawrence forthcoming). It is this group
of growers – whose operations often are smaller in scale and supply either local or
generic marketplaces rather than marketing directly to food processing firms –
which challenge in many ways the traditional gendering of labour processes. This
is shown clearly in decisionmaking related to the decision to ‘go organic’ as well
as in the subsequent labour process. Interviews with both women and men on these
farms revealed that in many cases women made the decision to go organic, and were
more vocal in expressing the importance of practicing organic methods. Further,
while on those farms recently converted to organics due to the premium that may
be received for organic produce men were much more actively involved in decisionmaking related to farm management, on those farms where issues related to health,
the environment and lifestyle predominated this was not the case. On the majority
of these farms both men and women shared many roles traditionally ascribed to
men. In particular, issues related to decisionmaking and farm management were
more equally distributed. Interestingly, on some organic farms women alone
managed decisionmaking and were responsible for the majority or all of the work
related to the farm. Often, in these cases, men had undertaken off-farm work to
subsidise the income from the farm. Women on these farms were much more vocal
throughout interviews.
It is probably reasonable to expect that all recent converts to organic production
would have limited situated knowledge of how to produce food organically and would
thus be dependent on external sources of advice5. In considering what information
sources both women and men access for growing organically there again appears to
be a bifurcation between those longer-term growers interested in holistic issues, and
the larger-scale recent entrants to the industry. Importantly, many recent entrants
obtained most of their information – including detailed production specifications –
from the agribusiness firms with whom they had their production contracts, thus
establishing a completely vertically integrated system of production, processing and
distribution (Lyons and Lawrence 1999). Field days, newsletters and visits with
company agronomists all provided information to these organic growers. In nearly all
these cases, men indicated that they dealt primarily with agronomists and with any
details related to the contract or with the firm. Women on these farms occasionally
attended field days and regularly read newsletters. Leipens and Campbell (1997) also
found this in New Zealand. This pattern appeared to be common across all organic
growers, with men participating more actively in information gathering that involved
talking with other people (such as representatives from certification bodies,
agricultural consultants, etc.), while women were much more thorough in reading
through various material sources. It is evident, therefore, that even those members of
organic farm partnerships that demonstrated little evidence of traditionally gendered
5. This is not to suggest, of course, that situated knowledge of the effects of chemical and
fertiliser does not influence such a decision to convert, nor that such situated knowledge is
not gendered.

Lockie and Lyons


labour processes either maintained, or had difficulty challenging, the gendered
attribution of public and private roles in relation to information gathering activities.
There can be little doubt that women’s increasing visibility within the agricultural
labour process will serve as an important means of empowerment for them. In no
small part this is due to the recognition given to the situated knowledge they are
thus seen to develop and which is believed to be necessary to make decisions about
the farm and to participate in decisionmaking at Landcare group levels.
Nevertheless, is this enough to challenge the hegemony of masculinised farming
practice? So far the evidence seems to suggest not. The relative levels of
involvement of women and men is important, but so too are the increasingly
integrated relationships between the farm and the production of knowledge in agriscience agencies and the processing, distribution and retailing of foods in an ever
more concentrated agribusiness sector. The situated knowledge of farm men and
farm women cannot be understood independently of this wider context of social
relations in which they are enmeshed. This does not mean that farm women and men
have no choice or agency, but it does mean that there are substantial risks associated
with deviation from the dominant trajectory of input-use intensification. Where
farmers have taken the risk to ‘go organic’ it is certainly of great interest that
women have been so central to the decision to take that risk and to the subsequent
operation of the farm. This represents a very small proportion – some two percent
– of the farms in Australia. Further, the current growth in organic farming and food
products seems fuelled by the (often partial) conversion of larger farms linked
closely to agribusiness, oriented towards the supply of high-value markets, and
dominated by traditional divisions of labour. While the increasing availability of
organic foods is welcome for those consumers who can afford them, it remains to
be seen just how widely available they become; the influence their production has
on mainstream, or ‘conventional’, agriculture; and the extent to which their
production comes to represent more than compliance with minimum standards.
Unless these occur, the organic industry will remain little more than a potentially
lucrative niche market for some, and a small-scale counter-cultural pursuit for
others. As yet there is little, if any, evidence to suggest that the symbolic
transformation of Australian rural environments as environments in need of care has
been translated into any large-scale project to fundamentally reassess and redirect
agricultural production. Our hope is that despite this, the renegotiation of social
relationships necessitated by a growing Women in Agriculture movement, a
growing organics industry and continued widespread participation in Landcare will
raise the questions necessary to stimulate such a reassessment.
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Stewart Lockie is Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Director of the Centre for Social Science
Research at Central Queensland University, Australia. Current research activities focus on
the greening of food and agriculture, social impact assessment and coastal zone
management. Recent co-edited books include Critical Landcare (1997), Consuming Foods,
Sustaining Environments (2001) and Environment, Society and Natural Resource
Management (2001).
Kristen Lyons is Lecturer in Science, Technology and Society at GriffithUniversity,
Australia. Her current research interests include organic agriculture, gender, and science
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has recently published articles on her research into the Australian and New Zealand
organic agriculture industries in Rural Sociology and Culture and Agriculture.

Peter Leigh Taylor
Colorado State University
exican community forestry has become widely known as a resource
management regime capable of effectively governing access to common pool
resources and organizing owners toward sustainable use of the forest (Bray 1997;
Klooster 1997). Nevertheless, more than a decade of neoliberal economic
restructuring, including entry into the GATT in 1986 and the NAFTA in 1994 and
profound changes in rural land tenure arrangements, have transformed agrarian
production (Harvey 1996). In the forestry sector, a new legal framework turns
forestry technical services over to the market and authorizes internal economic
groups independent of the ejido or agrarian community assembly. These
neoliberalism-inspired reforms undermine peasants’ hard-won organizational
capacity to deal with their own resource problems.


This paper examines two cases of peasant-based forestry organizations, the
Union of Forestry Ejidos and Agrarian Communities “General Emiliano Zapata”
(UNECOFAEZ) in the north central pine and oak forests of Durango and the
Society of Ejido Forestry Producers (SPFEQR) in the south-eastern tropical forests
of Quintana Roo. Both the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR are well-known for
promoting high quality technical services, supporting peasant-controlled processing
and serving as influential interlocutors on behalf of their members. Both
organizations face crises created by internal and external structural pressures.
Nevertheless, restructuring is peopled by social actors; the organizations’
trajectories are shaped by complex interactions between structural pressures and
social agency. Community forestry organizations, therefore, are best understood as
historical processes rather than as static arrangements of incentives and procedures,
and as being embedded in levels of context ranging from local to global.
Garret Hardin’s famous 1968 article, “The Tragedy of the Commons” set off a
lengthy debate on collectively-held natural resources. Hardin (1968) posed a
* I would like to thank Carol Zabin, Dawn Robinson, anonymous reviewers, and many
ejidatario and non-ejidatario participants in Durango and Quintana Roo’s community
forestry experience for their contributions to the work represented by this paper. I have full
responsibility, however, for any errors of fact or interpretation. Please direct correspondence
to me at: Department of Sociology, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins CO 80523 USA;
e-mail: Pete.Taylor@colostate.edu.
International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, Vol. 9, No. 1. © 2001 Research
Committee on the Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC40), International Sociological Association.



International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

hypothetical scenario in which rational calculation led animal herders to destroy
their common pasture rather than cooperate to avoid overgrazing because the utility
of adding an extra animal was appropriated individually while the ecological burden
was distributed collectively. Privatization proponents (see Alchian and Demsetz
1973) drew on Hardin’s individualistic model to claim that rational individuals
cannot cooperate to achieve rational collective outcomes.
However, critics of tragedy arguments such as Wade (1987) pointed out that the
tragedy scenario assumes that participants can only choose once what behavior to
engage in and that they cannot learn from experience that collective management
of resources can work in their favor. Other critics have observed that Hardin’s
approach assumes that collectively-held resources necessarily involve open access.
On the contrary, researchers have identified many common pool resource regimes
operating among communities of beneficiaries, limiting non-owner access and
governing use among co-owners (Feeny, Berkes, McCay, and Acheson 1990).
One of the most influential critiques of Hardin’s Tragedy is the “institutional
choice” perspective pioneered by Elinor Ostrom (1990). According to Ostrom,
individuals may develop successful common pool resource regimes when they share
a common understanding of their situation and strategies for change, they value the
benefits from collective activity relative to its costs, and they constitute a relatively
well-defined and stable group (1990:90, 211; 1999:4–7). The institutional choice
perspective’s focus on internal design principles is highly useful for understanding
and predicting the individual’s investment in rural change (McCay and Jones 1997).
Nevertheless, common property scholars now suggest more fully engaging the
dimensions across which management regimes operate. McKean (1997) advocates
moving “outside” to complement the institutional choice perspective’s “inside”
focus on specifying the institutional arrangements of successful management. Others
draw on economic sociology’s notion of “embeddedness” to place property regimes
in historical contexts of external and internal social relations (McCay and Jentoft
1998). Fortmann and Roe (1993) argue that community boundaries are often
ambiguous or based on diverse class, religious, ethnic and other characteristics
which give members different, often contradictory, relations to forest benefits.
Klooster (1997) recommends that common property theory “sally forth out of the
institutional details of organization and excessively parsimonious models of rational
choice” to focus on external and internal social contexts of struggle within forest
communities (1997:310–311).
This study is based on qualitative research during seven visits to Mexico over a
three year period. Field research1 included observation and over eighty interviews
in forestry communities and organizations. Below, I move back and forth between
discussing the political economy in which Mexican community forestry is
embedded and the case studies of its changing social institutional framework.
Mexican community forestry is an exemplar of common pool resource regimes
1. Much of the Quintana Roo analysis draws on research presented in Taylor and Zabin



(Richards 1997). About 80 percent of its forests are owned collectively by ejidos
and agrarian communities.2 In 1992 organized communities were responsible for 40
percent of total timber production and 15 percent of industrial wood products.
Today, Mexican community forestry organizations are among the world’s vanguard
(Bray 1997). As “nested enterprises” (Ostrom 1999:7), such secondary level
forestry organizations have institutional characteristics similar to those of
communities pursuing sustainable common pool resource use.
This study approaches the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR as “embedded
processes.” Peasant-based organizations, once the linchpin of Mexican community
forestry, are now being undermined directly and indirectly by a new legal
framework. Unprecedented combinations of communally organized forestry and
smaller local associations are emerging. New actors with diverse interests exert
influence over forestry at different levels. Both the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR
are pushed by internal and external pressures to reevaluate the arrangements which
researchers find necessary for viable common pool resource management (Ostrom
1990). They are reformulating common resource objectives, reworking the way they
provide benefits necessary to keep member support, and even redefining the
boundaries of their respective “communities” of stakeholders.
Mexico’s fifty-five million hectares of temperate and tropical forest comprise about
25 percent of its territory. Durango has some 10 percent of the forested area, with
5.5 million hectares of mostly pine and oak forest (see Figure 1). Quintana Roo
contains about 6 percent of forests, with 3.7 million hectares of tropical forest
(SEMARNAP 1996). Mexico’s forests are the world’s fourth most important
genetic reserve (Téllez Kuenzler 1994:75–76) and provide carbon fixing, micro
climate regulation, and hydrological watershed protection services (Merino and
Alatorre 1997). Though the forestry sector contributes only about 0.4 percent of
GNP (Téllez Kuenzler 1994:24), forests are home to 17 million of Mexico’s poorest
indigenous and mestizo peasants (Merino Pérez 1997:141). These forest dwellers’
economic needs have an important impact on the health of the forest. Deforestation
occurs at a rate as high as 700–800,000 ha./year (Chapela 1997), with rural povertyinduced forest conversion to agriculture and animal-raising the major factors.
Despite being legal owners, Mexico’s peasants have struggled for genuine
control of their resources. Historically, Mexico’s forestry sector has been dominated
by concessionaire firms which have received exclusive exploitation rights to forests
in a given region (Bray 1997). In Durango, the parastatal PROFORMEX
(Productores Forestales Mexicanos) won concession to 2.5 million hectares of pine
and oak forest. In Quintana Roo, the parastatal MIQRO (Maderas Industriales de
2. Ejidos are communities formed by twenty or more ejidatarios who together work land
granted by the State. Comunidades agrarias have similar collective tenure characteristics,
but have roots in land claims dating as far back as the colonial period. Together, ejidos and
agrarian communities account for 48 percent of Mexico’s land surface (Cabarle, Chapela,
and Madrid, 1997:20).


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Figure 1. United States of Mexico, by state
Source: INEGI (1994: ix)

Quintana Roo) was conceded 550,000 hectares of tropical forest containing
precious species such as mahogany and Spanish cedar. Required to provide roads,
schools, clinics, and waged jobs, concessionaires established the basic infrastructure
of Mexican forestry. Their critics, nevertheless, observed that inefficiency,
corruption and poor silviculture encouraged them to mine the forests (Argüelles
Suárez and Armijo Canto 1995:3). Timber represented practically no income for the
peasant as the parastatals paid only a minimal stumpage fee (Galletti 1992).
During the early seventies, seven ejidos and agrarian communities in
northwestern Durango began opposing PROFORMEX. In Quintana Roo, the first
peasant protest against MIQRO began in the mid-sixties in two ejidos (Merino and
Alatorre 1997). Incipient peasant resistance throughout Mexico to the concession
system (see Zabin 1998) began to find support from federal governments seeking
collaboration with their agrarian policies (Galletti 1994; Fox and Gordillo 1991).
This collaboration drew on the peasant movement’s “change in terrain” (cambio de
terreno) from its historic demand for land to the appropriation of the production
process (Bartra 1991). In many sectors, organized peasants began obtaining capital
and equipment, forming technical teams and assuming control over production,
processing and commercialization (Bray 1997).
Just as the parastatal concessionaires’ failings were becoming less acceptable to
policymakers beginning a neoliberal turn, peasants were arguing that they could



organize forestry more fairly, efficiently, and in an ecologically sound fashion.
Officials and peasant forestry organizations negotiated to give peasants more
responsibility for their own technical support, extraction, processing and marketing.
In 1986, a new Forestry Law ended the concessions, removed technical services
from the parastatals’ direct control and allowed communities to arrange for their
own services and marketing (Merino Pérez 1997).
The year 1986 was the apex of Mexican community forestry and a turning point
for the worse as it marked both the new Forestry Law and Mexico’s entry into the
GATT. The North American Free Trade Agreement’s implementation in 1994
culminated over a decade of shift toward laissez-faire economic policies. Though
the forestry sector’s transformation cannot be entirely attributed to this new policy
environment, neoliberalism has had an important impact. To promote Mexico’s
integration into the global economy, Article 27 of the Constitution was modified in
1992. This and related legal reform not only ended more than 70 years of land
redistribution, but changed how collectively owned resources in Mexico’s rural
sector can be used. Ejido assemblies could vote to divide communal property into
individual parcels which could be purchased, sold, rented or used as collateral
(Harvey 1996). Most relevant to the peasant forestry organizations discussed here,
the reforms led to the reorganization of technical services and facilitated new local
organizational forms.
The UNECOFAEZ is widely viewed as one of Mexico’s most successful
community forestry organizations (Chapela 1994). The UNECOFAEZ in 1999
encompassed fifty-eight ejidos and agrarian communities distributed over nearly a
million hectares in northwest Durango. The Union lies at the center of a
decentralized matrix of organizations, including a plywood factory, machine tool
shop, five independent forestry technical service units, a plant nursery, a credit
union, an agrarian input store, seven road improvement committees, and a training
center. The Union also represents members’ interests before official agencies and
shapes state timber prices by publishing production costs.
The SPFEQR is another of Mexico’s most prominent community forestry
organizations (Bray 1997). In 1997 the Society represented ten ejidos with 110,000
hectares of commercial forest, representing the state’s richest precious timber
stands. The Society provides technical services through its Forestry Technical
Department and sponsors a saw-sharpening workshop and a Wildlife project. The
SPFEQR represents members’ interests externally and helps resolve social and
political issues within its ejidos. The SPFEQR has also become a go-between
(gestor) for externally-funded projects.
Though they are secondary level “nested organizations,” these two peasant-based
forestry organizations established structures which resemble those of successful
community-level common pool resource management regimes (Ostrom 1999). Both
organized relatively stable groups of participants with a common interest and helped
them define collective objectives. Both managed to respond credibly to members’
resource management needs. Both organizations served as political instruments,


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

albeit at a federation level, for the definition of viable “communities” of
stakeholders in sustainable forestry.
Nevertheless, the Union and the Society are not finished organizations with
essentially static arrangements for individuals’ participation in collective resource
management. Rather, they are best seen as “embedded processes” in which
changing external and internal conditions introduce opportunities for action as well
as impose limitations. Below, I compare how the two organizations face three sets
of organizational problems as the changing policy and legal framework of Mexican
forestry simultaneously weakens their capacity to do this organizational work. First,
their collective objectives have been subject to change. Second, both the
UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR have been pushed to restructure to continue
providing the benefits necessary to ensure their members’ support. Third, both have
become involved in redefining the communities of stakeholders involved in their
project of sustainable forest management. Both organizations’ responses to these
problems occur in the context of internal crises of legitimacy.
Ostrom writes that successful common pool resource regimes tend to rest on a
consensual understanding of the collective resource situation and what needs to be
done (1999:4; 1990:211). Both the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR began with a
similar problem: members’ forests were being mined, with little local benefit. Yet
while the objectives of peasant mobilization in both regions were initially similar,
in Durango, a grassroots political movement underwent a difficult transition to an
organization in which competing social and business objectives introduce growing
distance from its original peasant constituency. In Quintana Roo, a largely top-down
initial process gave rise to a more broadly-based organization.
The UNECOFAEZ: Change in Terrain, Change in Objectives
For the first 15 years of its existence, the Union was primarily a grassroots political
organization which defended communities’ right to develop their own forest
resources. Over the direct opposition of PROFORMEX and its allies, twenty ejidos
and agrarian communities legally founded the Union in 1976 and obtained official
permission to begin their own harvesting and milling. Though not all of the
members’ local economies relied heavily on forest-derived income, the Union
helped define a collective objective to obtain direct peasant control over forestry,
large or small.
Though the Union’s most important support lay in the countryside, it also drew
on support from allies in the federal government, including a Sub-secretary of
Forestry who personally promoted community forestry in Durango. It also had
support from some of PROFORMEX’s own foresters. In an interview, one longtime forester recalled that he and his colleagues had realized that “there was a
contradiction between PROFORMEX’s economic objectives and ours. It wanted
more volume. We looked for good management, environmental protection.”
Though the 1986 Forestry Law had ended the concessions, PROFORMEX
controlled forestry paperwork. The Union, now expanded to forty-four ejidos and



agrarian communities, organized a series of roadblocks in 1987 to demand peasant
control of the documentation. A tense standoff ended with minimal violence when
the Agricultural Secretary reluctantly handed over the documentation. By 1989,
PROFORMEX was effectively paralyzed.
In 1990, over the strong opposition of the state governor and local timber
industrialists, the Union won the right to lease and then purchase PROFORMEX’s
plywood factory on behalf of its members. In 1999, the plywood factory had forty
share-owning ejidos and agrarian communities and its manager and many of its
employees were recruited from Union members.
Although the Union helped create space for members to develop their own
resources and established a material base upon which to build, acquiring the
plywood factory implied an important shift in the collective problem addressed by
the Union. The Union embarked on a transition to an industrial producer which
focuses much of its energy on its productive activities. Chapela (1994) notes that
the Union’s interests as a timber buyer now potentially conflicted with members’
interests as sellers.
The SPFEQR: Focusing on Forestry Services
Like the UNECOFAEZ, the SPFEQR’s organizers defined their collective objective
as helping peasants gain control over their forests. Yet the Society was originally
neither a principally grassroots peasant organization nor an instrument of political
struggle, though it drew on resistance to MIQRO and the new spaces opened by the
peasant movement’s “change in terrain.” However, despite a relatively top-down
origin, the SPFEQR’s continuing focus on supporting ejido-level production kept
it close to its original service objective.
Argüelles and Armijo (1995) report that by the end of its concession, MIQRO
extracted 400,000 m3 of precious timber, mainly mahogany and cedar. MIQRO’s
harvests (combined with federal government-subsidized colonization programs)
resulted in the loss of half the original forest cover of the concession area.
Nevertheless, the end of MIQRO’s concession came less as the result of organized
grassroots resistance than from an unusual configuration of higher level political
By the early eighties, MIQRO enjoyed relatively less official support than
PROFORMEX in Durango. In addition to inefficiency, corruption and resource
mining similar to that in Durango, MIQRO failed to diversify production. It
harvested 99 percent of its authorized volumes of precious species and only 4
percent of authorized volumes of other species (Galletti 1992). These problems, the
growing neoliberal policy shift and mounting pressures from a production-oriented
peasant movement elsewhere in Mexico led to MIQRO’s concession not being
renewed when it expired in 1982. Instead, a community-based alternative, the
Forestry Pilot Plan (PPF), was created.
The PPF was made possible by an unusual coalition of the federal Forestry Subsecretariat, the state government, ejidatarios and the German Agency for Technical
Cooperation (GTZ). The PPF aimed to “replace the traditional police role of the


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

forestry department with one that stimulated and promoted development” (Galletti
1994:160). A forestry technical team was organized in 1983, subsidized by the
federal Agricultural Ministry but enjoying operational autonomy. The PPF
foresters’ promotion of local timber extraction was facilitated by a rise in the first
year of the price ejidatarios received from $800/m3 to $19,000 m3 (Argüelles
Suárez and Armijo Canto 1995:35). Ejidatarios participated in delimiting
Permanent Forest Areas in their own communities, an innovation which recognized
the seriousness of poverty-driven land use change and countered the notion that
forests were empty, unused lands. Eventually, over 500,000 hectares in more than
fifty ejidos would be reserved for forestry activities (Galletti, Rosales Salazar, and
Argüelles 1997:10).
The Forestry Pilot Plan did not at first include intermediate-level forestry
organizations but explicitly maintained the autonomy of each ejido (Galletti
1994:160). However, the ejidatarios needed a united marketing front relative to
MIQRO, still one of the region’s most important timber buyers. PPF participants
also feared that the program might not survive a change in state government. In
1986, the PPF’s ejidos established the SPFEQR in the south and the Organization
of Forestry Ejido Producers of the Maya Zone in the central region. As Argüelles
and Armijo remark, these secondary level ejido federations, or forestry civil
societies, provided a way to survive the usual six year nature of most projects in
Mexico. In 1987, the societies established their political credibility by blocking a
new state government’s attempt to again require ejidos to sell to MIQRO (Argüelles
Suárez and Armijo Canto 1995:44–46). Though strictly speaking the PPF today no
longer exists, its technical and organizational principles still coordinate forestry in
the SPFEQR’s ejidos.
By contrast with the UNECOFAEZ, the SPFEQR never developed its own
income generating production activity. Rather, it retained its objective of providing
technical support for ejido-organized forestry production. It assumed increasing
importance as a conduit for external assistance from national sources such as the
Agricultural Ministry, and international ones, such as the GTZ. Despite the topdown nature of its origin and its continuing dependence on external institutions, the
SPFEQR’s objectives have, therefore, remained relatively closer to its peasant
constituency than those of the UNECOFAEZ.
Ostrom writes of the importance of “low discount rates” for successful common
pool resource organizations – that is, benefits must justify participation costs
(1999:4; 1990:211). Peasant organizations such as the UNECOFAEZ and the
SPFEQR are often described as rural democratic and ecological movements. Fox
and Gordillo argue that the “change in terrain” toward production has led toward
more democratic, “horizontal” peasant organizations (1991:69, 70). Toledo sees
organizations such as the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR as part of “a new
ecological movement of indigenous and peasant peoples” (quoted in Bray 1997:7).
While such organizations may have significant democratic elements, Hellman



(1994) argues that the more successful peasant organizations are not those which
prioritize internal democracy, but those which provide concrete benefits to
members. Bray cautions that though community forestry organizations may
genuinely adopt an environmental discourse, they pursue sustainable exploitation
for its economic benefits (1997:8).
One of the most important of the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR’s benefits is
provision of forestry technical services. Foresters develop resource management
plans, negotiate harvest permits on the peasants’ behalf, mark trees for authorized
cutting and help combat forest disease and fire. Moreover, as technicians work
closely with peasants and carry information about the forestry organizations’
activities, they help generate solidarity between members and their organizations.
Technical services, then, represent crucial community-level organizing instruments.
Unfortunately, Mexico’s recent forestry laws undermine intermediate level peasant
forestry organizations’ capacity to deliver services directly to members.
The New Forestry Laws and the Reorganization of Technical Services
Soon after the 1986 Forestry Law was passed, private sector opponents began
pressuring to roll back peasant control over forestry (Wexler and Bray 1996). By
the early 1990s, neoliberal-leaning federal policymakers began “modernizing” the
sector. A new Forestry Law accompanied the economic liberalism-inspired reform
of Article 27 (Chapela 1997). It and a subsequent law eliminated “excessive” state
intervention, promoting private investment and creating free products and services
markets (Wexler and Bray 1996). They reduced harvest documentation to a permit
and a hammermark on authorized trees, eliminated the regional forestry service
providers and allowed communities to hire any certified forestry engineer (Cabarle,
et al. 1997). Critics point out that the technical services market promotes a quality
decline by encouraging cheaper bids offering only the provision of harvest permits
(Merino and Alatorre 1997).
UNECOFAEZ: Indirect Facilitation of Technical Services
Mexican community forestry organizations usually directly provide members with
technical services (see Merino and Alatorre 1997). Peasant control of services helps
prevent power abuses. Employee foresters usually provide their employers with
broader organizational support. The UNECOFAEZ, nevertheless, does not directly
provide technical services. When services were separated from PROFORMEX,
federal authorities organized them into independent Forestry Administration Units
(UAFs). The Union, nonetheless, coordinates closely with two UAFs based in
Santiago Papasquiaro. Besides their technical work, these UAFs assist the Union
with planning and institutional networking. As numerous interviewees put it, the
two UAFs also serve as the “eyes and ears of the Union” among members. Union
leaders lack the resources to visit widely-dispersed communities frequently. UAF
staff travel regularly to the most isolated villages, generating solidarity with the
Union by explaining its activities and answering questions. One technician
remarked that where UAFs coordinate less with the Union, ejidatarios “think the
Union isn’t necessary anymore and so don’t come to meetings and don’t pay their


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

quotas.” Another peasant interviewee remarked that “when the Union becomes
distanced, the power of the [timber] industrialists increases."
Post 1992 forestry laws placed the UAFs in chronic financial crisis as they now
compete with technicians who offer only permit paperwork. UAF competitiveness
is further undermined as declining volumes of large diameter timber obligate staff
to reduce authorized harvests. The Union supports these UAFs by helping persuade
members not to opt for lower-quality services and helps obtain external resources.
For example, the Union received in 1997 US$45,000 from the Ministry of the
Environment to support UAF technical programs. As one forestry staffer explained,
“The Union has the ability to request outside funds. We need good relations with
the Union. The government wouldn’t give it directly to us. They want to deal with
peasants.” With Union support, the UAFs have kept most of their clients, though
they have drastically cut costs, halving their staffs and curtailing fieldwork.
Thus, the complicating of the UAFs’ technical mission by the post 1992 forestry
laws weakens the Union’s direct relevance to members. To continue to provide
benefits necessary to keep members’ support, the Union has diversified into
regional development activities. With a new department of Project Management,
financed by government funds, the Union has extension agents supporting
agriculture, cattle-raising and other local development projects. Leaders explain that
they are “taking problems off the back of government” and helping address the
poverty underlying Durango’s deforestation, narcotic cropping and out-migration.
Yet diversification also responds to an organizational imperative to remain relevant
to a diverse and largely inactive membership.
SPFEQR: Direct Provision of Technical Services
By contrast, the SPFEQR provides technical services via employee foresters. This
technical team has supported sustainable harvesting while still retaining strong ejido
support. In 1997, most of the SPFEQR’s forestry staff were ejidatarios or sons of
ejidatarios and trained ejidatarios worked as auxiliary forest technicians.
Significantly, the Society’s technical staff has been lowering authorized harvests as
new inventories reveal lower actual mahogany populations than previously
estimated. For example, one ejido’s annual authorized harvest was recently reduced
from 1,500 m3 to 800 m3, with proportionate reductions in benefits (Argüelles
Suárez and Armijo Canto 1995:39). The ejidos’ acceptance of these reductions
underscores the Society’s local authority and credibility. As in Durango, the
SPFEQR’s technical services help generate solidarity between with its ejidos.
Foresters transmit information about the Society’s activities and help maintain
connections with members. Because technicians are Society employees, however,
the link ejidatarios make between their work and the SPFEQR is more direct than
Nevertheless, the SPFEQR’s technical services are in serious financial crisis.
Though subsidies were available until the late 1980s, the Society is now wholly
responsible for financing its technical department. Most of the cost is charged to
mahogany extraction; the charge per cubic meter for mahogany is almost four times
that for tropical woods, though the actual costs of services is similar (Taylor and



Zabin 2000). Economies of scale make service financing easier in ejidos with larger
Permanent Forest Areas and more mahogany. As in Durango, the Society’s
technical department now competes with foresters who bid low by offering only
harvest permits. Competitive pressures are intensifying as declining volumes of
precious timber lead staff to reduce authorized harvests. The SPFEQR has
drastically cut costs, including reducing its forestry staff. It recently lost one of its
two certified forestry engineers to the Ministry of Environment.
Outside advisors have urged the Society to diversify its activities to promote nontimber forest product development, including ecotourism. It could then help address
the poverty underlying clandestine felling and land use change, particularly in ejidos
with little precious timber. Diversification could attract external funds, stimulating
local support and relieving the SPFEQR’s acute organizational and financial crises.
Nevertheless, the Society does not seek to diversify. Its leaders seek external
support for forestry services and focus shrinking resources on more prosperous
ejidos where timber generates the most revenue and political visibility. One
ejidatario who had helped found the SPFEQR explained in a 1998 workshop that
non-timber activities would overwhelm the Society’s organizational capacity.
“Diversification would be our death” he insisted.
Ostrom writes that common pool resource regimes are more likely to succeed if
those with rights to benefit from the resources are a relatively small, stable group
with well-defined boundaries (1990:90; 1999:7, 8). In Mexican community forestry,
that “group” represents the people with rights to participate in managing and
benefiting from the forest. For intermediate level community forestry organizations
such as the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR, “community” is the stakeholders who
benefit from and participate legitimately in the organization’s activities. Rather than
constituting a stable group once and clearly defined, the UNECOFAEZ and
SPFEQR’s communities of stakeholders have been continually redefined as
participants renegotiate internal governance. This at times conflictual negotiation
over who is to control the resource-related activity and how, has been peopled by
titled ejidatarios and comuneros, new groups emerging within the ejidos and
agrarian communities, and an evolving set of external support agencies.
The UNECOFAEZ: Centralized Leadership
For most of its turbulent years of struggle, the UNECOFAEZ was led by two
individuals elected by the delegates assembly to two consecutive three year terms
each. In 1997, though a new president assumed office, decisionmaking remained
concentrated in the hands of a relatively stable administrative board, with limited
direct participation by ejidatarios and comuneros. Many distant communities
delegate their vote to the President, ensuring a legal assembly quorum but
weakening institutional controls over leaders’ discretionary power.
Nevertheless, internal governance became contested after the Union acquired the
plywood factory. One interviewee complained that “after they won the battle with


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

PROFORMEX, the conflicts began. People wanted to seize control of the Union for
their own personal benefit.” For their part, dissenters have argued against reelection, called for broader participation in the Union’s higher leadership and
advocated linking communities’ voting power to the size of their commercial timber
volumes. In 1992, an internal movement to prevent the incumbent president from
being re-elected failed after extensive assembly debate, when the incumbent
president won with 80 percent of the vote (UNECOFAEZ 1992).
Fernandez Villegas argues that with the peasant movement’s change in terrain,
the “half-caudillo agraristas, half compadres with a well-established clientele, who
based their power and influence on political mediation, have been displaced by a
new type of leader, more apt at economic management and administration, whose
influence and prestige rests on their management capacity” (1991:35). The stability
of the Union’s top leadership has almost certainly helped it form lasting networks
with policymakers. It has also helped the Union accumulate the experience
necessary to operate its income generating activities profitably. Interviewees in
Mexico City and in Durango admitted that power in the Union is relatively
concentrated, but characterized its elected leaders over the last fifteen years as
exceptionally honest and capable individuals. The Union aims to institutionalize
integrity and competence by giving new leaders experience in different activities
and finding administrative spaces for past leaders.
The SPFEQR: Strong Assembly
By contrast, the SPFEQR might be said to have more participatory internal
governance than the UNECOFAEZ as its general assembly of delegates exercises
closer and more frequent oversight over elected leaders. Indeed, the Society’s
frequent turnover of leadership inhibits the capacity to effectively develop policy,
administer projects and represent ejidos’ interests. The Society’s leadership is
elected from the assembly’s own ranks to one year terms and can be re-elected. In
practice, the president and usually the entire administrative committee, are replaced
annually, removing leaders just as they gain the experience to operate effectively.
According to interviewees, the frequent turnover stems from delegates’ fear that
elected leaders are susceptible to corruption. This suspicion and its results are
mirrored in the ejidos themselves, where elected authorities (comisariados) are
frequently replaced by the ejido assembly before their terms are ended. “Nobody
leaves looking good” one ex-comisariado complained. Second, except for election
procedures, the SPFEQR’s assembly lacks a formal means to evaluate performance
and if necessary impeach an incumbent leader. Ironically, a Society leader can be
removed if his home ejido withdraws his status as forestry delegate. This,
interviewees reported, has recently happened to two of the SPFEQR’s presidents.
Article 27 and Agrarian Law Reform and Work Groups
In addition to these electoral issues, a new problem of governance and the definition
of “community” was set in motion by the new Constitutional Article 27 and related
Agrarian Law. Before 1992, any activity employing collective resources had to be
open to all titled members and formally administered by the local assembly.



Reforms permit smaller groups of peasants to carry out for-profit activities using
their share of the collective resource (López Nogales and López Nogales 1999). In
Durango and Quintana Roo, forestry work groups have emerged as a new way of
organizing extraction and processing.3 During the fieldwork periods, work groups
ranging from ten to one hundred members each had formed in five communities in
the UNECOFAEZ and in three in the SPFEQR. They compel the Union and the
Society to rethink the composition of their communities of stakeholders and the
ways in which they arrange governance.
Though facilitated by the new neoliberal legal framework, work groups also
emerged from peasants’ long-standing frustration with inefficiency and corruption
in collectively organized forestry. With the new model, ejidatarios and comuneros
form smaller groups, each allotted shares of the community’s annual cut. Each
selects a chief to coordinate technical services, allocate tasks, supervise harvest and
negotiate sales. Profits accrue only to group participants. Interviewees asserted that
smaller groups encourage more efficient, transparent operations because the
comisariado no longer manages funds. Taking operational decisions out of assembly
hands both broadens participation and distributes benefits more fairly than the
collective system, in which some factions controlled forestry and blocked access to
coveted jobs. In one Quintana Roo ejido, for example, profit distributions per
member reportedly rose four-fold in the first year of group work.
Nevertheless, the groups pose several existing or potential disadvantages.
Production costs can increase as economies of scale are lost. Now that forest funds
no longer pass through the comisariado’s hands, group chiefs find themselves
assuming responsibility for members’ social welfare. Vital community expenditures
are often neglected. Existing collective facilities such as sawmills become more
difficult to maintain and capitalize when operated by multiple groups. The cost of
technical services rises, for the UAFs in Durango, and for the SPFEQR in Quintana
Roo, as technicians make multiple trips to a community and become involved in the
often conflictual allocation of timber volumes. Collecting technical and membership
fees becomes more difficult as groups market timber and pay quotas separately.
With the work groups, the social boundaries of the UNECOFAEZ and SPFEQR’s
communities of stakeholders are effectively being redrawn. Some participants spoke
of their groups as a nascent form of representative government. Others feared they
were participating in the political disintegration of the ejido and community.
Though still few in number, the groups significantly challenge the formal
governance structure of intermediate forestry organizations designed to serve and
be controlled by undivided ejidos and communities. At a minimum, groups require
that the Union and the Society deal with several local leaders rather than a single
elected authority. More significantly, one community with groups in the
UNECOFAEZ and another ejido with groups in the SPFEQR have demanded, thus
far unsuccessfully, separate assembly delegates for each group. Both organizations
3. Though peasants have long organized in small groups for some non-timber forest
production such as chicle (gum) extraction in Quintana Roo, interviewees in both field sites
were unanimous in characterizing timber extraction in groups as a post 1992 development.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

are reluctant to agree as the change would drastically alter existing distributions of
power in favor of ejidos and communities with groups and encourage the formation
of groups for political rather than technical motives. Moreover, Union leaders and
some peasant interviewees concurred that a community’s internal division makes
it more difficult to attract outside project funds. Another danger, some critics insist,
is that the groups may encourage the parcelization of forests.4
Neither the UNECOFAEZ nor the SPFEQR directly oppose the work groups.
The Union view them as a matter internal to member ejidos and communities. The
SPFEQR’s policy currently is to engage the groups to reinforce their generally
positive goals of efficiency and professional management while minimizing their
disadvantages. Nevertheless, significant tensions are emerging as both organizations
struggle to incorporate this new form of participation. The phenomenon underscores
that community forestry confronts a new set of pressures distinct from those of
earlier years when it mainly sought to win a radical expansion of participation in
forestry. Declining volumes of wide diameter pine in Durango and precious species
in Quintana Roo, plus the inefficiency problems of much collectively-organized
activities, mean that the economic benefits of community forestry no longer fulfil
participants’ expectations. Significantly, the peasants are not waiting for external
solutions, but actively seek new answers to their forestry problems.
The Role of Outside Agencies: Donors and Stakeholders?
Internal conflicts over internal governance and the redefinition of the communities
to which the UNECOFAEZ and SPFEQR are accountable are also shaped by their
ties with external support institutions. According to Bartra, such external
relationships potentially compromise the autonomy of peasant-controlled
organizations. Understanding “autonomy” to mean “political indefinition,” he
argues that when peasant organizations are dependent on national agencies, they
become more subordinate to gain access to development funds (1991). Though
outside government, donor and NGO institutions lack a formal role in the
UNECOFAEZ and SPFEQR’s internal governance, by granting technical and
financial support they gain influence in management and, thereby, represent part of
the organizations’ communities of stakeholders (see Ostrom 1999:preface).
The UNECOFAEZ has received little international support but has relied heavily
on federal funds. The Union has received assistance from federal sources such as
the Ministry of Environment, the National Reforestation Program, the Secretariat
of Development and Solidarity, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Bank of Mexico,
and others. According to NGO interviewees in Mexico City, the UNECOFAEZ is
widely identified with the ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). Because
the federal agencies supporting the Union are PRI-controlled, this perception of
partisanship is unsurprising. Though the PRI still controls Durango’s governorship,
4. Though formally dividing the forest is illegal, one large agrarian community in Durango
has divided into eleven subcommunities called “annexes.” By internal agreement, the forest
plots of each annex are claimed by individual families who receive most of the profits from
the “collective” resource.



the PAN (National Action Party) won the municipality of Durango in 1994 and in
1998 gained control of Santiago Papasquiaro municipality. Given the evidence of
movement in Mexico toward a multiparty system, the Union may find that its
identification with a single party becomes a liability both in Durango and in the
nation’s capital.
These party considerations aside, the Union’s external ties influence its trajectory
and introduce new constituencies. For example, the Bank of Mexico, Nacional
Financiera and the Agricultural Ministry assisted the Union in establishing a Credit
Union in 1993. Instead of exclusively serving peasants, the Credit Union’s
beneficiaries include urban businesspeople. The road committees organized by the
Union with federal and state funds include participation by private landowners and
local timber industrialists as well as peasants. The National Program of
Reforestation and the Ministry of Development and Solidarity helped the Union
establish its nursery, whose services are available to the public. The UNECOFAEZ
agricultural and animal husbandry extension project is funded via the latter Ministry
and targets not the Union’s traditional peasant foresters but farmers and housewives.
These activities, then, represent not only outside agency involvement in key Union
services but the broadening of the community the Union serves and the range of
stakeholders to which it is accountable.
External assistance to the SPFEQR, by contrast, has emphasized timber-related
activities. The SPFEQR has received support from Mexican government agencies
and NGOs such as the Environmental Ministry, the Ministry of Development and
Solidarity, Ecosur, and the University of Quintana Roo. The Ministry of
Development and Solidarity, for example, has financially supported forest
inventories and the Society’s involvement in timber marketing.
Unlike the UNECOFAEZ, the SPFEQR has also received significant assistance
from international agencies concerned with tropical forest conservation. The GTZ
long provided crucial financial and technical support to the PPF forestry societies,
including the SPFEQR, by financing inventories, forestry training, and alternative
timber species development. Today, ex-GTZ advisors still influence the Society’s
activities because of their experience and institutional memory. The British
Department for International Development has supported extraction infrastructure
and advised the SPFEQR on organizational matters. The MacArthur Foundation
funds a wildlife monitoring project in the Society, through which it supports an ecotourism project in one of the ejidos. Because of Quintana Roo’s tropical forests, the
SPFEQR operates in more of a fishbowl than does the UNECOFAEZ, attracting
significant international attention. By contrast with the Union, most of the external
assistance channeled through the Society has consistently benefited titled, mostly
male forestry peasants in its four most timber-rich ejidos rather than creating new

5. Armijo and Robertos (1998) point to still-overlooked stakeholders in Quintana Roo’s
managed forests, who include young people, women and non-ejidatario residents who also
use the forest and contribute to pressures on it.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Nevertheless, in both the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR, controversy over how
the organization is to be controlled and by whom remains largely in the peasant
hands. Governance issues are frequently revisited, especially with the appearance
of the work groups. Despite the influence of external institutions, the UNECOFAEZ
shapes its own trajectory through autonomous choices of projects to pursue. Though
the SPFEQR operates in the bright light of external interest in tropical conservation,
it has resisted pressures to diversify and, for better or for worse, concentrated on its
traditional strength – supporting precious species timber exploitation. In both
organizations, but especially in the UNECOFAEZ, the “communities” of
stakeholders who require accountability have been renegotiated over time. They
include today not only peasants involved in traditional forestry activities, but
beneficiaries of the organizations’ non-timber projects, the new economic
associations emerging within member ejidos and agrarian communities, and the
external agencies that provide funds and technical assistance.
Both the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR face crises of legitimacy brought on by
their internal restructuring, the shifting boundaries of the communities they serve,
and external pressures from changing policy and legal frameworks. The Union’s
transformation into a production organization with business-oriented objectives has
encouraged growing distance from its member base. Though the plywood factory
is legally owned by shareholding ejidos and communities, one interviewee remarked
that the Union “concerns itself mainly with the plywood factory.” Another claimed
that the Union has become “a timber buyer like any other.” One comisariado
complained, “[the Union] doesn’t do anything for us…,” though he then added,
“except we do have the radio [a Union-sponsored network].” When asked about
some members’ concern about the factory, one senior leader replied “those who are
too far away don’t understand the business. They’re not willing to take the risk [of
When it was a grassroots political organization, the Union’s task was simpler:
uniting ejidos and communities around the objective of gaining control over forestry
production. Today, the Union’s major emphasis is on its business, and communities’
material interests in its activities vary widely. Some ejidos and communities have
substantial forest resources and experience but forestry is economically irrelevant
for many member communities. Most rely heavily on agriculture and animal raising
or are quite impoverished; their Union ties are consequently weak. The
UNECOFAEZ has no direct role in delivering forestry technical services to bind its
members to it and few members have appreciable direct contact with the Union’s
plywood factory. Its roles in lobbying, keeping road committees operating,
maintaining the radio network and influencing timber prices, are not readily visible
to most peasants.
The Union’s reluctance to grant work groups separate delegates has caused a rift
with one of its largest agrarian communities, which has eleven annexes. One Union
leader explained: “if the annexes legally convert to independent agrarian
communities, we will be happy to have each as separate members with their own



delegates. Until then, we can only deal officially with the legal agrarian
community.” From the perspective of one comunero from that community: “the
Union fears that with forty-four delegates, we could take over the organization.”
While this controversy remains unresolved, Union relations with other ejidos and
communities in the same area have also become strained.
The SPFEQR also faces a crisis of legitimacy. Its internal financial problems and
external structural pressures undermine its capacity to deliver concrete benefits. The
disarray of the Society’s technical services is serious, as they are vital not only to
forest conservation but to the survival of the organization itself. Zabin (1998) notes
that the privatization of forestry technical services appears to be triggering the
disintegration of secondary regional organizations of ejidos throughout Mexico.
The Society’s four resource-rich ejidos have long complained that they subsidize
services to the poorer ejidos. In 1996, nearly 80 percent of the Society’s revenue
came from these four communities (Taylor and 2000). In reality, the SPFEQR’s
technical team devoted most of its attention to its timber-rich ejidos. Nevertheless,
the Society’s leaders have feared that these members might emulate one Mayan
ejido which left its forestry society, the OEPFZM, in 1995 to hire its own technical
services. Their fears were realized in 1998 when the SPFEQR’s most prosperous
ejido left the Society and contracted its own services from a private firm established
by members of the PPF’s original technical team. Ejidatarios from less financially
well-off ejidos express discontent, too: one complained recently that the SPFEQR
“does not approach the ejido, perhaps because it is considered small and simple”
(Armijo Canto and Albrecht Arellano 1998:68).
There are also signs that the SPFEQR’s credibility with key external support
agencies has been weakened. Interviewees in several of these institutions criticized
the Society for not firmly opposing the forestry work groups. They feared that the
groups represent the breakdown of PPF principles, signal the political disintegration
of the ejido, and lead to the eventual physical division of the forest.6 They have
suggested that the forestry civil societies no longer possess the distance to
effectively advocate their conservation agenda. Significantly, at the 1997 Forestry
Agenda Forum, a plan to institute municipality-based technical services in the Maya
Zone was originally supported by some public agencies though quickly denounced
by the forestry societies (Galletti, et al. 1997). In a 1998 workshop on the role of
forestry support agencies, one government representative proposed that the
responsibility for delivering technical services be removed from the forestry
Neoliberal policy reform contributes to these crises of legitimacy by helping
popularize the notion that it is the collective tenancy of the forest itself which has
permitted “disproportionate, anonymous depredation” (Cabarle et al. 1997:28). A
World Bank Sector Review states that ill-defined ejido and agrarian community
boundaries create tenure insecurity, forest management is rarely a community
6. This fear is not far-fetched, despite legal barriers to division. In Durango, in at last one of
the agrarian community annexes referred to above, the forest has been mapped and fenced
into “individual” plots by internal (albeit extra-legal) arrangement.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

priority, technical support for sustainable systems is lacking, and mutual distrust
between private industries and communities discourages joint venture investment
(1995:xi, xii). Constitutional reforms have created a “legal framework for a
redeployment of institutional power that seeks to bypass existing rural organizations
by dealing directly with the individual (usually male) ejidatario” (Harvey
1996:152). Indeed, as an influential policymaker put it, “one of the principal
objectives of the new forestry policy is to establish conditions so that the economic
agents involved in the activity will be the principal custodians of the forest
resources” (Téllez Kuenzler 1994:268). Wexler and Bray (1996) suggest that this
statement indirectly advocates “private stewardship of forests” (1996:238).
Common pool resource management regimes can be fruitfully approached as
historically embedded processes rather than as static legal and organizational
arrangements. This approach makes possible a more textured assessment of the
external structural pressures and social agency shaping local organization. In
Mexico, neoliberal reform has direct and indirect influences on how collective
forest resources are managed by reorganizing technical services and facilitating
more individualistic forms of local organization. Nevertheless, these external
pressures’ impact is mediated at the local level by human actors who grapple with
their own political, social and technical issues. Mexican community forestry
organizations are historical processes in which collective objectives, management
arrangements and the social boundaries of cooperation are periodically
The variety of possible agentic responses to structural pressures helps account
for why two community forestry organizations began with similar problems of
parastatal control of local timber resources yet developed into quite different
organizations. The UNECOFAEZ modified its collective objective as it moved
from a political movement to a production organization with a strong focus on
business profitability. The SPFEQR has maintained a primary focus on supporting
members’ timber activities. Unable to directly provide technical services, the Union
developed a diversified array of services which are, however, less effective in
generating local participation. The Society’s technical services allow it to exercise
a direct role in local level forestry but its financing crisis threatens its ability to
deliver the benefits that maintain its social base. Both organizations have struggled
with issues of who is to govern the organization and how; the Union has developed
relatively stable yet centralized control while the Society’s assembly intervenes
frequently to replace its leadership. These governance questions are complicated by
shifts over time in the stakeholder communities to whom both organizations are
Both the Union and the Society risk ceasing in future to be peasant organizations
effectively controlled by peasants. The Union’s very success with a growing range
of productive activities is a source of pressure away from the service orientation
necessary to keep its social roots. The Society’s fall back to emphasis on its most
prosperous members and within those ejidos, smaller groups increasingly assuming



political and social functions beyond their original forestry mandate, are likely to
weaken the effective control a more broadly representative assembly of delegates
can exercise. The loss of their social bases could make these organizations
vulnerable to outside threats, from their traditional enemies to changing policy
One question the crises of legitimacy raises is whether the historical moment of
intermediate level peasant-based forestry organizations has passed. What would be
lost in Durango and Quintana Roo if the peasant-based forestry unions and societies
were to disappear? Experience in Mexico and elsewhere suggests that neither topdown, repressive state enforcement nor privatization can promote forest
conservation where trees and large numbers of poor people exist side by side
(Fortmann and Bruce 1988). Community forestry emerged from the insight that
forests can be best protected by first, encouraging forest dwellers to view trees as
renewable resources and second, genuinely involving them in managing those
resources (Bruce and Fortmann 1991:481). While neoliberal forestry reform has
ostensibly aimed to improve competitiveness (Téllez Kuenzler 1994:268), it is
likely to prove counter-productive economically, socially and environmentally if it
undermines peasants’ capacity to participate effectively in managing their forests.
Neither the UNECOFAEZ nor the SPFEQR are likely to disappear in the short
run. Both the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR still enjoy significant credibility and
support among their members. The UNECOFAEZ can meet international
competition, its plywood factory is a revenue generator and it exercises significant
influence in official policy circles. Interviewees expressed pride in their Union’s
achievements, even as they criticized it for its growing distance. Most associated
ejidos and communities have followed the Union’s advice to continue paying for
comprehensive technical services from the UAFs rather than opting for cheaper,
limited services. Though the SPFEQR’s crisis appears to be the most severe and
immediate, it still enjoys strong grassroots support. The Society answers a strongly
felt need for technical assistance and for peasant political representation in Quintana
Roo. The Society remains at the center of current debates over the future of the
state’s forestry policy. Despite its top-down origin, it has become a more
participatory and broad-based organization.
Without their peasant members’ active commitment, the UNECOFAEZ and the
SPFEQR would have long ago become merely paper organizations, like others in
Mexico (see Hellman 1994). However imperfect, these two organizations are still
run by peasants and remain committed to creating and consolidating the conditions
necessary for community-managed forests. Forestry communities have been
controlling their own resources and production for less than twenty years, with less
support than that given to other branches of agrarian production (Merino Pérez,
1997:73). Even so, the UNECOFAEZ and the SPFEQR have served as effective
advocates for their peasant members and for an ecologically sustainable forestry.
They have promoted effective technical assistance and facilitated a real transfer of
skills and knowledge to several generations of community leaders and technical
staff. They have been of key importance in bridging and coordinating the interests


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

of peasants and outside agencies. They represent, in sum, a significant augmenting
of the local governance capacity essential for sustainable common pool resource
Their experiences with forestry are also relevant to broader issues of agrarian
production because timber, agriculture and animal-raising activities have long been
closely related in Mexico. This relationship has often been associated with
deforestation as policies promoting colonization, federal subsidies of agriculture
and animal raising (Galleti 1994), geographical isolation and forestry’s inefficiency
problems (Merino and Alatorre 1997) create incentives toward land use change
from timber to food production. Nevertheless, forestry, agriculture and other
agrarian production activities do not necessarily involve zero sum resource
management relationships. As one Durango Union leader put it: “People here have
always been farmers and done a little cattle raising as well as forestry. For
subsistence. They never stopped being one for the other.” The overall economic
strategies of many peasant families and communities include forestry, agriculture,
animal raising and wage labor. An important question is whether those diverse
economic strategies represent sustainable activities which allow peasants to remain
in the community or unsustainable production which eventually propels peasants
outward as permanent migrants. Both the Union and the Society have begun to
realize that they need to consider timber in a broader context of the rural
development of Durango and Quintana Roo, respectively. Viable timber production
and viable food production will together result in less pressure toward land use
change and in more opportunities for rural families to meet their needs in their own
Despite strong outside interest in Mexico’s forests, today the peasant producer
carries nearly all the cost of forest conservation. External support of peasant
forestry is customarily derided as “subsidy,” unquestionably anathema in the
neoliberal globalizing world in which community forestry operates. Yet Mexico’s
forests are not privately owned and appropriated resources, but represent important
means for community livelihood, a constitutionally protected national heritage, and
a source of vital ecological services to Mexico, the region, and the globe. In other
words, the “community” with a stake in Mexico’s forests includes public and
private actors at state, national and international levels. Assistance to forest owners’
efforts to be responsible stewards might best be seen not as “subsidies” but as coinvestments in a common sustainable future. Such co-investment is needed to assist
with the physical and technical infrastructure necessary for a healthy forestry sector,
including financial, technical and other organizational support for peasant-based
forest management. Despite their weaknesses, the peasant forestry organizations are
one organizational means by which peasants exercise real control over their
resources. The history of the parastatal era, marked by social injustice and
environmental devastation, suggests that when local people are denied effective
participation, they, and with them the forest itself, suffer. Mexico and the other
stakeholders in its forests may find that the sustainability of local people’s
commitment to their communities and their environment is too valuable to entrust
wholly to the global market.



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Peter Leigh Taylor is an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University. His
research interests include common pool resource management and peasant natural resource
organizations in Mexico.

William H. Friedland*
University of California, Santa Cruz
his paper urges the elaboration of commodity systems methodology based on
inductive methods in empirical research. Expanding an earlier suggested
methodology (Friedland 1984), three new methodological arenas are identified: the
scale of commodities, sectoral organization and the state, and commodity culture.
Before turning to these three arenas, the paper examines the current state of
commodity and commodity systems studies, theories, and methodologies.


While agricultural commodities and commodities systems have become, in recent
years, an increasing foci of study by sociologists, this has not always been the case.
If one examines the two “pioneer” books that helped to crystallize the sociology of
agriculture, Rodefeld, Flora, Voth, Fujimoto, and Converse (1978) and Buttel and
Newby (1980), a reader would be hard put to find either commodities or commodity
systems as a preoccupation of the contributors to the two volumes. Similarly,
Newby’s assessments of rural sociology (1978; 1980; 1983), while noting the rise
of the sociology of agriculture and beginning to summarize material on
commodities, contain no mention of commodity systems. This area of study had not
yet appeared upon the scene.
The analysis of commodity systems 1as part of the sociology of agriculture is now
an accepted part of the field. Agricultural economists have long focused on the
economics of particular commodities but have been less interested in studying
commodity systems, let alone social, political, or cultural aspects of commodities.
A notable exception is Goldberg (1968) but most commodity chain studies by
economists are usually devoid of human beings.2

* I am grateful for the comments and suggestions of two anonymous reviewers. Please direct
all correspondence to the author at College Eight, University of California, Santa Cruz CA
95064, USA; e-mail: friedla@cats.ucsc.edu.
1. The nomenclature in this field has not yet settled down. Three terms can generally be
found that encompass what has been designated as _commodity systems_ analysis. The
PEWS (Political Economy of the World-System) Group refers to commodity chains
(Hopkins and Wallerstein 1986; Gereffi and Korzeniewicz 1994). The French, who initiated
studies in this arena prior to others, refer to “filieres” which can be translated as “channels”
(Bertrand, Laurent, and Laclerc 1984; Lauret 1983). I can detect no clear conceptual
differences between these three terms and, in this paper, will use all three interchangeably.
A fourth term, “systems of provision,” is also probably equivalent; see below and Fine 1994.
2. See, for example, CGPRT Centre (1988).
International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, Vol. 9, No. 1. © 2001 Research
Committee on the Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC40), International Sociological Association.




In contrast, rural sociologists had, for the most part, abandoned research on
agricultural matters (Friedland 1982) and, as a consequence, devoted little or no
attention to agricultural commodities and their production. This changed once the
sociology of agriculture became an accepted part of rural sociology during the
Buttel, Larson, and Gillespie (1990), summing up The Sociology of Agriculture,
recognized commodity systems analysis as a significant segment of the “new”
sociology of agriculture. A decade later, Buttel (2000:9) sees commodity studies as
“one of the major emphases of 1990s agrarian studies.”
A survey of the literature indicates that, while there has been a significant volume
of empirical research over the past two decades, more has been on specific aspects
of commodities rather than on commodity systems. Commodity analyses often
utilize some approaches taken from commodity chain studies but rarely attempt to
take on the totality of a commodity. There is good reason for this; even simple
commodity filieres are very complex and their analysis can involve considerable
time and space. As Dixon (2000:14) puts it, “a single commodity could consume
a life-time’s research ….”
One way to understand the difference between a commodity study vs. a
commodity systems analysis would be to compare processing tomato harvest
mechanization and lettuce harvesting. A cluster of tomato studies (Friedland and
Barton 1975; Thompson and Scheuring 1978; de Janvry, Leveen, and Runsten
1980) are essentially commodity studies focused on one particular aspect of the
commodity, mechanized harvesting and its social consequences. Similarly, one
study of lettuce harvesting (Thomas 1985) examines the effects of citizenship and
gender on the labor process. An earlier lettuce study (Friedland, Barton, and
Thomas 1981), in contrast, considered lettuce as a distinctive system, projecting the
social consequences of potential mechanical harvesting. To make the projections,
the authors examined the network of social relationships in the lettuce industry and
relationships of production to nonagricultural aspects of life.
Yet another way of considering the distinction is to examine how several
different researchers have focused on particular aspects of commodities, sometimes
being system analytic, but in other cases focusing on a particular aspect of a
commodity. Wells (1996), for example, centres her strawberry commodity analysis
on labor but also deals with ethnicity, grower types, worker-grower relations, and
patterns of paternalism. Other aspects of the strawberry commodity system are not
dealt with, especially strawberry distribution and marketing. Morgan’s (1980) study
of the grain complex overlooks labor and contains barely any mention of growers;
instead Morgan concentrates on the “merchants of grain,” the global trading
companies that dominate the world grain trade. On the other hand, by focusing
attention on the state, the transition from fordism to postfordism and environmental
issues in their tuna study, Bonanno and Constance (1996) make their study more of
a commodity system analysis than a commodity study. The same can be said for
Stanford’s (1994) examination of Mexico’s cantaloupe export sector.
There is no intention to make invidious distinctions between commodity studies


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

versus commodity systems analyses. The latter takes far more time. Further,
analysis of commodity systems will often depend upon clusters of commodity
studies. It is important to encourage the systematic comparative analysis of
commodities, something that the Political Economy of the World-System (PEWS)
group undertook in their 1992 conference (Gereffi and Korzeniewicz 1994).
If commodity and commodity systems analyses are now an established part of the
sociology of agriculture, less attention has been given to methodology. Working in
a very different tradition of agricultural administration, McGinity (1979) argued for
the use of a systems approach to manage agroindustrial development, setting out
seven stages: farm supply, farming, consolidation, processing, wholesaling,
retailing, and consumption. Friedland (1984) set out the first sociological attempt
at methodology. Hopkins and Wallerstein (1986), possibly anticipating the
emergence of actor network theory, see commodities as networks of labor and
production crossing multiple frontiers and resulting in a finished commodity. Busch
(1990), addressing the French filiere approach, sets out a methodology centred on
the role of science and technology and, by emphasizing the actor, began the
application of actor network theory to agricultural matters. Among other things,
Busch suggests eleven rules to guide commodity systems analyses: there is nothing
natural about nature; there is nothing natural about society either; production neither
starts nor stops at the farm gate; commodity chains have values embedded in them;
the weakest link in the chain will stop commodity production; science, technology,
and bureaucratic decisions can create and recreate commodity chains; commodity
chains have histories; commodity chains have geographies; the power relations in
commodity chains change when an actor in the chain attempts to modify it; and
finally, commodity chains do not exist (they are conceptual creations).
Two recent researchers – Dixon (1999a; 1999b; 2000) and Wright (1999) –
agree that the omission of consumption in Friedland’s original methodology leaves
an important gap. This leads each independently to emphasize consumption and
culture in studying discrete commodities. Dixon calls for inclusion of two additional
dimensions: regulatory politics and state-producer relations, and product design, as
well as setting out five components of consumption: tertiary production practices,
the means of access, delivery dimensions, the eating environment, and the
experience of consumption. More will be said about Dixon and Wright below.
A peculiarity of commodity and commodity systems studies has been that they
often begin with either an empirical or a social problem. It is the problematic that
drives the research more often than theoretical preoccupations. The various tomato
and lettuce studies, for example, developed out of agricultural mechanization and
its social consequences, an issue which preoccupied agricultural engineers and
social scientists during the 1960s and which led to a suit against the University of
California for its enthusiastic support for mechanization research (Friedland 1991).
Many studies have their impetus from technological change and its consequences.
Some studies have focused on labor or the environment or the state, or another
particularized aspect, in some cases, based on theoretical concerns generated
elsewhere in the social science literature. Methodologies tend to be drawn



eclectically from a variety of sources. In other words, methodology has been built
more on empirical concerns – how should one study strawberries or cotton or
kiwifruit? – rather than from theoretical preconceptions. Methodology has been
inductively developed rather than, as is sometimes the case, with research focused
on theoretical issues where methodologies tend to be deductive.
The advantage of a priori or deductive approaches is that they stand on their own.
This is an advantage when compared to empirically derived approaches, which
usually require expansion or elaboration based on new empirical findings. In this
respect, there is a need for an expansion of the methodological framework set out
in the 1980s based on studies of iceberg lettuce and processing tomatoes.
Friedland’s (1984) paper set out five basic foci for research: production practices
or labor process; grower organization and organizations, how growers organize the
labor process and organize themselves with respect to other actors; labor, the
character of the labor market, labor supply, and the ways in which workers organize
themselves with respect to production; science production and application, how
scientists are mobilized and conduct their research and how this affects commodity
production; and marketing and distribution, how commodities are handled once they
pass beyond the farm gate.
Before turning to the three new methodological arenas, a review of research
relevant to filiere analysis will be undertaken.
This section examines research developments bearing directly or indirectly on the
evolution of commodity and commodity chain analyses. Directly concerned are
studies by Dixon and Wright and globalization studies. Less direct are two other
developments: Ben Fine’s “systems of provision” and Actor Network Theory.
Growing interest in commodity studies and commodity chain analysis has, in all
likelihood, been a consequence of two major developments: the industrialization of
agriculture and the globalization process. The past two decades have witnessed a
growing literature on various aspects of commodities although there has not been
much of a focus on methodology.
The cluster of studies that is most impressive is that utilizing specific
commodities to analyse a particular problematic. For example, globalization has
been a central problematic in a number of studies from apples to shrimp, sugar, and
tomatoes. Antipodean researchers in Australia and New Zealand – most often
geographers and sociologists – as a result of being proximate to export-oriented
agriculture, have been particularly enthusiastic in this respect. As well, several
studies have used commodity chain analysis, either explicitly or implicitly, to
examine commodities historically. Notable in this respect is Mintz’s (1985) study
of sugar and Roche’s (1999) examination of the frozen meat trade.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Research by Dixon (1999a; 1999b; 2000) and Wright (1999), respectively on the
chicken filiere in Australia and burley tobacco in Kentucky, while utilizing
Friedland’s (1984) methodological suggestions, found significant omissions and
suggested elaborations and augmentations.
Wright demonstrates how the entry of new actors – nonconsumers – into the
tobacco filiere has involved the state in contradictory representations. The state has
had historic relationships with tobacco to encourage accumulation as well as to
provide an important source of state revenue. Having served the accumulation
function historically, the state has responded to anti-tobacco forces thereby fulfilling
a contradictory legitimation function. Wright and Dixon have demonstrated the
importance of following the filiere from producer to consumer. Dixon, in particular,
shows the importance of intermediaries between production and consumption and
their effects on consumption. Both argue for following the commodity through to
its final denouement when the commodity is “destroyed” in consumption.
Wright (1999:13) raises interesting issues around commodity culture – or, as she
prefers to call it, the “culture of commodity production.” The peculiar status of
tobacco should perhaps be noted at the outset: tobacco is an agricultural commodity
but agriculture is often defined as the production of food and fibre – of which
tobacco is neither.3
Wright demonstrates the powerful economic and cultural components among the
producers of burley tobacco. Burley “tobacco remains the ‘golden leaf’ in Kentucky
because no other legal crop approximates its economic value [whose] production
and processing approximates nearly six percent of the state’s entire economy” (p.
300). Further, “…tobacco was the commodity that shielded many small farms from
the national farm crisis of the 1980s” (p. 295). Thus, the material base of the
commodity is economically and socially important. In addition, there are the
producers’ cultural commitments: “it is firmly etched into local communities and
marks a long-standing legacy” (p. 300).
Change has been produced in the tobacco system less by consumers than nonconsumers who consider tobacco an addictive carcinogen, a threat to consumers but
also to nonsmokers. While one might quibble with Wright about the influence of
nonconsumers on consumption, there is no gainsaying their effects on the tobacco
Dixon (1999a; 1999b; 2000) pursues the limitations of Friedland’s methodology
even further (as well as beyond the paper delivered in 1997 from which the present
paper has been derived).4

3. Nor, of course, are other similar agricultural products such as coca leaf or opium poppies.
4. Dixon (2000) has an expanded and empirically detailed version in her dissertation, which
is summarized in more accessible sources (1999a, 1999b). It is to be hoped that both
researchers will make their empirical findings available in book form in the near future.



Calling for an elaboration of Friedland’s original five areas, she includes two new
components of production: product design and regulatory politics. Besides calling
generally for attention to consumption, she specifies five distinct arenas of research:
tertiary production practices, means of access, manner of delivery, the eating
environment, and the eating experience (Dixon 2000:Table 3.2, p. 67).
Dixon’s problematic is: where does power lie in the Australian chicken complex?
Dixon conducted interviews and perused literature through the length of the filiere,
from growers to processors, commodity organizations, supermarkets and other retail
outlets including fast food chicken stores, and on to nutritionists, researchers and
others who influence chicken consumption (and other foods), and regulators and
politicians. This is, without doubt, the most comprehensive commodity chain
analysis I have seen, probably made feasible because Australian chickens are an
“enclosed” commodity, almost entirely isolated from global food circuits and
because of the comparatively small size of Australia’s population.
Rejecting “the authority of the consumer” approach of Keat, Whitely, and
Abercrombie (1994), Dixon shows that effective power and control are neither at
the beginning of the filiere with growers or processors or at its end, with consumers.
Power is located in between, with supermarket retailers and, to a more limited
extent, with fast food producers but taking into account nutritionists, market
researchers, and specialists in cultural symbol manipulation.
Dixon concludes her research by making a dual argument for a possible ‘third
regime of reflexive accumulation’, adding to Friedmann and McMichael’s (1989)
two-food regime argument. She also promulgates the need for incorporating a
cultural economy perspective to parallel Marx’s three circuits of capital
(production, realization, and reproduction) with three circuits of culture
(commercial, social, and emotional) (2000:Table 10.3, p. 253).
Space does not permit an extended discussion or critique of Dixon’s theoretical
and methodological suggestions. Suffice it to say that her empirical data have
generated an important contribution to commodity systems analysis.
The argument to include consumption in commodity systems analysis is compelling
but there are significant problems inherent in its inclusion. One major argument for
a consumption focus has been made by Ben Fine (1994) and his associates. A later
work (Fine, Heasman, and Wright 1996) demonstrates the difficulties that can be
In his 1994 paper that generated a storm of criticism, Fine broke with the main
approach in British consumption studies of the 1980s. That approach considered any
and all forms of consumption to be the focus of analysis. A good example of this can
be found in the special issue of Sociology, the journal of the British Sociological
Association, on the sociology of consumption (Vol. 24, No. 1, February 1990). This
issue contained analyses of consumption of tourism (Urry 1990), medical care
(Busfield 1990), housing (Savage, Watt, and Arber 1990), control of money and
household spending (Pahl 1990), and food (Beardsworth and Keil 1990).


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

This approach, which considers all forms of consumption, Fine regards as
“horizontal” and specifically rejects (Fine et al. 1996:62) in favour of “vertical
systems of provisions” (SoPs) (seemingly the equivalent of what we have been
referring to as commodity systems). Whether Fine would argue for vertical SoPs in
all commodities is unclear but he makes the case for vertical analysis of food
because of its “organic” character, i.e., because of its biological character, food is
subject to spoilage. Fine sees food production linked to consumption through
vertically integrated chains of activities beginning with inputs to agriculture and
including processing, transportation, distribution, marketing, and consumption.
While he includes agriculture in the food SoP, he rejects the idea of a political
economy of agriculture “decisively” because “…agriculture and rural restructuring
[are]… heavily determined by factors further, possibly much further, along the food
chain, whether these be in banking, processing, retailing or even consumer concerns
over health and the environment (Fine 1994:520).
While anyone knowledgeable about agriculture would agree that sectors other
than agriculture are important, the cavalier dismissal of a political economy of
agriculture is hardly sustainable especially since Fine uses research based on
agriculture to provide material for his analysis of SoPs.
Fine et al. (1996) explore three SoPs: sugar, meat, and dairy. The first problem
surfaces with the meat system: “Is it appropriate to differentiate between the
separate meats as SoPs – the poultry, beef, pork and sheep systems – or do these
constitute a single SoP…?” (p. 202). To answer this dilemma – where there are
differences in the agricultural processes between the four commodity forms – Fine
and his colleagues initially consider vegetarianism and conclude that “meat is
heterogeneous.” “Paradoxically, then, while criticizing the existing literature for
homogenizing meat at the level of consumption,” Fine et al. treat meat as “a single
SOP, encompassing a variety of meats and meat products” (p. 202).
When we turn to the chapter on the meat system, we learn only fragments about
its agricultural components let alone anything about its inputs. Fine delineates two
distinct meat SoPs in Britain “separated by the Second World War” (p. 202).
Focusing on agriculture, we learn that, in the first SoP, beef was Britain’s “core
meat.” In the current meat SoP, we are informed that poultry has been industrialized
but not what this means at the point of production. The authors turn immediately to
consumption providing no information about other segments of the meat SoP. Later,
brief mention is made about “a tendency toward specialization (most obviously in
chicken and pig ‘farming’…” (208) but we learn nothing about what this
specialization is, how many “specialists” there are, occupations, or stratification.
Although the chapters on sugar and dairy vary somewhat from the meat chapter,
a similar truncation of agriculture is maintained. Thus, the insistence by Fine that
there is a need to encompass the totality of SoPs turns out, empirically, to be an
There is no question that researchers are free to define research problems in any
way they choose. Making claims for inclusiveness without empirical delivery,
however, leaves grounds for concern. This suggests a second critique of Fine’s SoP



approach. The social relationships embodied in any commodity are complex,
especially if we are dealing with commodities that are in broad production and
consumption. There are undoubtedly simple commodity systems in the United
Kingdom but meat, sugar, and dairy are hardly simple. Fine and his colleagues
provide useful information about some aspects of their commodities but any claim
for comprehensiveness or inclusiveness is overwrought. It can also be argued that,
while events within agriculture are substantially determined by forces outside it, this
hardly means that a political economy of agriculture (initial production) is unworthy
of consideration. Precisely because agriculture represents the initial stage of being
“organic,” agriculture has its own rhythms, dynamics, and problems and its political
economy can contribute to the analysis of the political economy of food. Self-praise
in describing this research as “landmark” and constituting “a bold claim” (p. 3)
hardly seem justified.
Changes in the distribution and marketing of some agricultural commodities as they
have become globalized suggested another look at filiere methodology. It is true,
of course, that some agricultural commodities have been in wide spatial circulation
historically. Sugar, for example, spread spatially with the development of
mercantilism and colonialism (Mintz 1985). But colonial production was geared
primarily for metropolitan markets of the colonial powers and not for global
distribution: British islands in the Caribbean fed sugar to Britain; French production
in the Caribbean and Africa was intended for France; Cuban production was linked
to U.S.
Hopkins and Wallerstein (1986), utilizing historical periodization, indicate the
utility of historical analysis of commodity chains, anticipating “turning points” (p.
230) of economic expansion and contraction when change might be taking place in
the chains.
To the extent that there was distribution of agricultural commodities until
recently beyond metro nations, it was either limited (high quality and expensive for
very wealthy people) or bulk commodities such as grains (for example, wheat
produced in Russia and eastern Europe and exported to France and Britain; wheat
from Argentina, Australia, California and later the midwest U.S. and Canada
exported to Europe and elsewhere).
During the 1980s a new global process developed in foods: the globalization of
fresh fruits and vegetables grown in a variety of locations (Mexico and Central
America, South America, New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, and South
Africa) for markets primarily in the northern hemisphere (Cook 1990; Friedland
1994). This phenomenon is primarily south-to-north with production from the
southern hemisphere feeding markets in the northern hemisphere although, in the
last few years, some reversal in movement has begun.5
5. Korzieniewicz, Goldfrank, and Korzeniewicz (1995) challenge the south-to-north
argument by showing the trade in fresh fruits and vegetables and wine still occurs primarily
between northern core nations. Undoubtedly accurate, this approach does not give adequate


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Chilean table grapes began the first mass development of this new market
extension. Where table grapes were unavailable in North America and western
Europe between November and May, Chilean production marked the elaboration
of a global production/distribution system; table grapes became available yearround.
Expansion of growing seasons has been going on for a long time. After the
Second World War, California grapes became available to U.S. and Canadian
markets in late June. With the development of early varieties and plantings in the
desert valleys of California, the table grape season began at least a month earlier.
Better storage capability and late varieties extended the table grape season into
December. Beyond December, there were, until the early 1980s, relatively few table
grapes available except for specialty grapes grown for high-cost markets. Chilean
production “massified” grapes to a commodity available year-round.
Globalization spread during the 1980s with the elaboration of nontraditional
export agriculture in locations such as Costa Rica producing broccoli for the U.S.,
Kenya and Zimbabwe producing mange tout (snow peas) for Great Britain, New
Zealand producing kiwifruit for Europe and North America, to mention only a few.
And the banana system, which had originally tied colonies to metro areas underwent
a transformation as banana companies such as Chiquita, Dole, Del Monte, Fyffe,
Pomona, and others shipped bananas to locations beyond their original metro
These developments have encouraged considerable research on agricultural
commodities and their long-distance movement. Globalization, and the increased
scale of commodity distribution, has also increased the extensiveness of food safety
problems. As commodity systems have extended beyond the local or regional or
national levels, when a food scare such Mad Cow disease, e-coli contamination, or
hoof-and-mouth disease occurs, what was once considered to be a local problem
now becomes global in character. This process is amplified by the extensiveness of
media coverage which brings news of food safety problems to larger and larger
By the late 1980s, what had emerged was a very different system of
production/distribution and, hence, very different sets of social relations. These
changes restructured production/distribution systems, suggesting additional arenas
of research in commodity systems. Here I turn to new theoretical developments that
some scholars have argued could enhance commodity chain studies: actor network
theory (ANT).
Actor network theory (henceforth ANT) has generated a substantial literature in
recent years. I will utilize one summary (Law 1992) to consider the potential utility
of ANT to commodity systems analysis. Essentially, actor network theory (ANT)
is a theoretical approach to the specification of institutions with one major
recognition to the counter-seasonality of the south-to-north fresh fruit and vegetable trade.



augmentation, the inclusion of nonhuman things. Law (1992:381) states that “the
social is nothing other than patterned networks of heterogeneous materials
…[including] machines, animals, texts, money, architectures – any material you
care to mention” (emphasis in the original).
When undertaking the analysis of a filiere, researchers will find that even simple
ones involve an enormity of things: humans, organizations, the state, the biological
character of the “thing.” Certainly all of these elements are bound up in commodity
chain analysis. The question a researcher must ask is: how much importance should
one give to this element or that factor?
ANT researchers have used the approach for the analysis of scientific networks.
Does this mean that ANT will provide stimuli to commodity researchers that will
open areas they might not have thought of? Certainly any commodity in modern
society is enmeshed in a network of entities to get produced; but what particular
benefit does the theoretical approach yield to justify any claims to its application to
filiere analysis?
In attempting to assess the potential value of ANT approaches, an examination
was made of one such application to the study of rapeseed/canola, a seed of limited
utility until a scientific network was mobilized to remove certain negative qualities
which then converted rapeseed into a major globalized commodity (Juska and
Busch 1994; Busch and Tanaka 1996; Busch and Juska 1997; and Tanaka, Juska,
and Busch 1999).
Busch and Juska (1997) are particularly helpful in setting out an actor network
methodology (ANM) which I would distinguish from ANT itself. Busch and Juska
(1997) develop two distinct network analyses. The first (p. 697) sets out four
institutional networks: military, pharmacology/nutrition, agriculture, and chemistry
which include formal organizations, laboratory animals, pharmacological and
chemical “things” and processes, and the rapeseed plant itself. The second network
(p. 700) is based on five institutions (Agriculture Canada, the University of
Manitoba, the University of Alberta, Svalof AB of Sweden, and the University of
Guelph) but is composed of individual scientists who did the research necessary to
make rapeseed into edible canola. Busch and Juska provide a useful exercise which
examines the individuals and institutions that took an agricultural product of limited
utility and converted it into a widely used commodity. At the same time, several
things become clear as limitations of ANM.
First, ANM works best at the micro level. At the macro level, Busch and Juska’s
“first network” is more amorphous than at the micro level, their “second network.”
Second, ANM works best when a system is undergoing change. When a system is
“stable,” the network is taken for granted and reconstruction of its creation can be
difficult. Third, ANM works best when a change is successful; when an attempt at
change fails, it is not always possible to determine which people, organizations,
institutions, or “things” failed to be enlisted. Finally, ANM cries out for visual
summarization, i.e., making charts and diagrams that show principle institutions and
individual actors, a significant aide in conveying complex analyses to readers.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food
In summary, ANT appears to be more useful as methodology than as theory.

But ANT and its methodological application raise a second issue because of its
inclusion of entities beyond human beings, in particular with respect to agricultural
commodities, the question of ‘nature’. Agriculture, as has been noted by many
scholars, involves the interaction of nature and human beings. I will not attempt to
subsume the extensive literature on this matter; suffice it to note that a claim has
been made that the political economy approach has depriviliged nature in its
emphasis on humans, institutions, economy, and society. FitzSimmons and
Goodman (1998), for example, call for “nature” to be brought “back in” to social
theory by contesting its abstraction from “society” (p. 194). This is unexceptional
advice. Anyone who studies commodities such as tomatoes, lettuce, cherries,
grapevines and their various commodity forms, or citrus, must take account of the
fundamental biological characteristics (“nature”) of the commodity. Some
agricultural products are vulnerable to spoilage whereas others are storable for
considerable periods. Cherries are determinate (all become ripe at the same time)
whereas tomatoes, in their “natural” state (not manipulated by human beings) tend
to be indeterminate (ripen sequentially). Anyone contemplating mechanized
harvesting must first overcome the “natural” indeterminacy of the tomato vine.
Similarly, each of the three main commodity forms of the grapevine – fresh table
grapes, raisins, and wine – has very different biological characteristics. Human
beings manipulating natural biological systems must take “nature” seriously – as
must the social scientists who undertake to study agricultural
production/consumption systems.
Nature doesn’t have to be “brought in” if a commodity study is done properly.
While all of the things human beings manipulate have “natural” elements, in
agriculture this is particularly the case. This is not to argue that ANT or “nature
back in” theorists are incorrect; rather that theoretical parsimony argues that one
does not use more theory than one needs to explain or examine a particular
empirical phenomenon.
We turn now to a consideration of three arenas that augment Friedland’s original
methodological suggestions.
As research began on globalization of fresh fruits and vegetables (FFV), one new
dimension, scale, became significant for filiere analysis. Scale (Wilson and Wilson
1968:25–30) refers to a geographic or spatial dimension and to social relationships
and their intensivity. In traditional societies, for example, range or physical
spatiality is usually limited while social relationships are direct, primary, intensive,
with high salience for actors. In complex modern societies, scale is much more
extended, indirect, and involves much greater numbers, but the salience of
relationships is attenuated.6
Applying scale to agricultural commodities reveals the differences which can be
6. This is, of course, the classical societal dichotomy set up by the founders of sociology.



seen by comparing several commodities. Bananas, a tropical fruit, are produced in
a great many locations but are distributed in two very different ways: many bananas
are produced for local distribution and consumption but others are involved in longdistance global circulation, from Caribbean, African, southeast Asian, Central and
South American production locations to North America, western Europe, and Japan
(often via U.S.-based transnational corporations). In contrast, apples are a temperate
zone commodity mainly in local or regional distribution. Because they grow widely
in both northern and southern hemispheres and storage techniques are well
developed, there is some counter-seasonal movement of apples from the southern
hemisphere to the north but it is relatively limited compared to bananas. New
Zealand and South Africa are the two primary locations for this movement; New
Zealand has been particularly successful in this trade because of its “new” varieties
that have not traditionally circulated in the northern hemisphere (McKenna, Roche,
and LeHeron 1999; McKenna 2000). Washington State is also a specialist in
supplying apples outside the U.S. to markets in Japan and elsewhere in Asia but,
like South Africa, has lagged in introducing new varieties (Sonnenfeld, Schotzko,
and Jussaume 1998).
Other commodities provide different examples. Potatoes are hardly in any global
movement, being produced nationally for national markets with some trade across
national boundaries to adjacent national markets. Some Canadian potatoes can be
found in the U.S. and vice versa or British and Dutch potatoes may be exported to
France or Germany – or vice versa, but, on the whole, the movement of potatoes is
circumscribed. In contrast, after many decades of pure localism, kiwifruit globalized
during the 1980s from New Zealand but rapidly relocalized with production in Italy,
Spain, the United States, France, and elsewhere.
Because bananas move internationally over long distances and are perishable,
they require close (“just-in-time”) integration of growing, harvest, ground
transportation, shipping, and “ripening” near the point of retail sale. Social
relationships in the banana commodity system are spatially more extensive than
with apples because of the necessity to coordinate many different dispersed
activities. Social relationships may be more intensive in apples but are more limited
in range than bananas. In movement through space, some agricultural commodities,
impose qualitatively different levels of social organization and social relations than
other commodities which are more limited in circulation.
There is an historic dimension to this phenomenon. As previously noted, it was
not until the 1980s that table grapes became “massified” on an annual basis. In the
U.S., citrus became a massified commodity a century ago when technological
developments in storage and transportation and a national distribution and
marketing system was organized. By the end of the second world war, fresh oranges
were an established “national commodity” in the U.S. This was also the period in
which orange juice became converted into a quotidian commodity as the technology
of concentrating juice and transporting it in frozen state was resolved.
Each commodity system, in other words, develops a distinctive history as
distribution, marketing, and scale change, a process characterized by uneven


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

development. In the eastern U.S., for example, consumption of iceberg lettuce on
an annual basis began much earlier than tomatoes. By the end of the second world
war both commodities were in year-round distribution. Other commodities were
available during short seasons; cherries and stone fruit, for example. Many
commodities have now moved into year-round availability through the extension of
growing seasons, the development of new varieties, or new production locations.
Others, such as cherries, have seen some extension of their seasons but are still
largely limited temporally.7
As production seasons are extended or production locations develop in different
hemispheres, marketing requires the establishment of reliable and predictable
financial and social relationships.
A commodity, in other words, if it is to be analysed, should be studied
historically and its spatial and social relations dimensions must be examined.
One consequence of differentials in scale is the variability in the organization of
commodity communities. Community has two meanings, spatial and functional;
while community often refers to people living in a common space, especially one
with political dimensions, it also refers to groups of people sharing a common
function or interest such as the “financial community,” “academic community,” the
“global” or “human community.”
One way to examine commodity “communities” is to consider communities
constructed around commodity systems that share a common plant. The grapevine,
for example, contributes to three interrelated but distinct commodity chains: table
grapes, raisins, and wine.
In table grapes, the community of growers is dispersed over some distance
(approximately 300–400 miles). It consists of growers and grower-shippers;
workers in preparatory activities, harvesting, and packing; buyers (mainly
supermarkets but also buyers at great distances such as Asia); and regulatory
bureaucrats. Growers and grower-shippers constitute a coherent and organized
grouping even though they are involved in competitive economic relations. Workers
are organized to a degree as a community since the packing of table grapes and
some parts of the growing process (girdling) require considerable skills. Workers
became more of a community when they were organized by Cesar Chavez in the
1960s who made their social relationships vis-a-vis growers more coherent. Buyers
constitute a vaguer community since they usually purchase many different fruits and
vegetables and deal with many growers and shippers. Buyers’ major point of
reference, or “primary community” are the supermarket chains (or other
organizations) for which they purchase grapes. In contrast, regulatory bureaucrats
are a very tight community; their numbers are small and they are in continuous
contact with one another protecting and elaborating the organizational system that
7. In Europe, cherry production in Norway comes relatively late in Europe’s summer
permitting export of cherries well after the harvest of cherries further south has been
completed (Eurofruit Magazine, 9/93:35–39).



maintains relationships between growers, workers (especially when workers are
organizing), transportation, and other entities in the filiere.
Raisin grapes display a very different picture. Because raisins are not perishable
like table grapes and because all raisins in the U.S. (constituting 40 percent of world
production) are produced in a small geographical space in California’s San Joaquin
Valley within a 50 mile radius of the city of Fresno, spatial contiguity makes for a
relatively tight grower community which has been divided historically along ethnic
lines (although this has faded considerably in the past several decades). Raisin
grape workers are a much vaguer community than table grape workers since raisin
harvesting requires very large numbers of workers for brief intensive periods.
Because raisin harvesters are both local and long distance, the basis for worker
solidarity is attenuated. Since raisins are used in a great variety of ways, the market
relationships beyond production are dispersed and it is difficult to talk about a
“community” of raisin buyers. As with those involved with table grapes, regulatory
bureaucrats are tiny in number and are in continuous and intensive relationships
with one another and with growers.
Wine shows the greatest amount of spatial and social dispersion. California is by
far the main wine producer but wine is currently made commercially in over 45 of
the 50 U.S. states. If we limit ourselves to California to simplify the analysis, we
can see different communities among wine grape growers and wine makers. Despite
several campaigns by an organization of winegrape growers to create a joint effort
with winemakers to expand the consumption of wine, the differential interests of
these two groups have precluded such organization.
Because some regions in California make premium and ultra-premium wines
while others make only ‘ordinaries’, community among winemakers is limited.
Wine producers such as Gallo in the San Joaquin Valley see little community of
interest with tiny ultra premium boutiques in the Napa Valley. The Napans, in
contrast, are able to cooperate and create a Napa winemakers’ community for some
purposes (promotion of Napa wines) while competing in marketing (Conaway 1990;
Lapsley 1996). Wine grape workers also have differential interests from winery
workers precluding common activities. Field workers work in fields seasonally
whereas winery workers usually live in urban circumstances working under factory
conditions. Field workers are presently not organized (for the most part) into a
union whereas winery workers are.
The wine market is highly differentiated. The various marketers included wine
specialists, supermarkets, liquor stores, state alcohol authorities, direct sales to
consumers from wineries, etc., and preclude coherence as a community. The
regulatory apparatus is complex and dispersed because the legislation that
eliminated Prohibition provided that, in addition to the federal government, each
state could set regulations with respect to alcohol consumption. Finally, wine
industry organizational bureaucrats are divided by the various functions of their
organizations so that this community is more tenuous than found in table grapes or


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Sectoral organization refers to the political economic location of a commodity.
Every commodity, agricultural or nonagricultural, exists in some economic sector
which differentially involves the state. This methodological issue represents an
attempt to “bring the state back in” to filiere analysis.
The state has usually been present in empirical analyses of commodities but its
role has been more implicit than explicit. However, the state should never be taken
for granted, especially since its intervention and involvement in regulation and
support are ubiquitous in modern capitalist economies. State intervention in
commodity production, and its consequences, has long been present. In Great
Britain, for example, the export of grain was forbidden as early as the fourteenth
century to keep prices low. The battle in English politics over the corn laws of the
1800s involved the state first favouring agricultural landowners and subsequently
industrialists (Barnes 1930).
In the United States, tariffs represented an early example of state involvement in
agricultural production. Later forms of state support to agriculture came through
legislation such as the Homestead (1862), Morrill (1862), Hatch (1887), and SmithLever Acts (1914). However, it was not until the 1930s, during the administration
of Franklin D. Roosevelt, that systematic and continuous involvement of the state
began with the elaboration of support to basic commodities, the installation of
marketing order legislation at the federal and state levels, and the elaboration of
federally-supported irrigation programs.
In considering sectoral location of specific commodities, it is useful to utilize the
economic sectors set out by O'Connor (1973): competitive, monopoly, and state. In
agriculture, while most commodity systems ostensibly belong in the competitive
sector, a closer examination of specific commodities raises questions as to how to
accurately characterize different segments of each.
If we consider grain, for example, a commonsensical consideration would
position grain as consisting of several competitive commodity systems; corn and
wheat alone involve tens of thousands of agricultural producers. At the level of
production, wheat and corn should be characterized as competitive. However, as
Morgan (1980) makes clear, at the level of distribution, five transnational
corporations dominate the global trade in grain, placing distribution in the
monopoly sector.
If we consider the three commodity forms of the grapevine, table, raisin, and
wine, the complexities of economic sectors are again revealed. Table grapes are
very much in the competitive sector although state-subsidized irrigation, science,
and a marketing order play a significant role in the organization of the commodity.
Raisins, like grapes, are produced by some 4,000 growers which would indicate
belonging in the competitive sector. Yet raisins are organized by the growers in two
organizations (Sun Maid, the Raisin Bargaining Association) and two marketing
orders (one of which became extinct recently) so that the commodity operates
essentially as a monopoly. This is because one marketing order, the Raisin



Administrative Committee, regulates flow to market thereby establishing order
where, otherwise, raisin prices would be chaotic.
Wine poses similar complications. At the level of production and retail, wine is
undoubtedly competitive. Historically, however, there have been periods in which
wine functioned as a monopoly. Currently, wine production is oligopolistic with a
handful of companies producing the overwhelming percentage of wine. This has not
yet created a monopoly situation although at one period prior to Prohibition, wine
marketing was dominated by a single company, and, between 1939 and 1974,
because of the wine marketing order, a private California trade organization – the
Wine Institute – monopolized two segments of the industry: the direction of
scientific production and the shape of legislation affecting wine.
Sectoral organization creates considerable dilemmas for some commodities.
Tobacco is a good case in point. This is a commodity in which one sector of the
state provides a powerful regulatory apparatus while another sector of the state
raises questions about the social value of tobacco. Burley tobacco’s producers are
many, small, and family-based while its processors are firmly in the monopoly
sector (Wright 1999). Empirical reality confounds the neat placement of an entire
commodity into a single sector.
It will undoubtedly be noted that, in the preceding discussion, no empirical
examples of agriculture in the state sector were set out. This is because, in the
American experience, no agricultural commodity exists solely in the state sector.
Yet, the degree of state involvement in an agricultural commodity – and how it
became involved, whether it remains involved, and its character – is an important
element in the analysis of a commodity filiere.
As one example of how state involvement affects a commodity system, one might
consider the ban on the importation of rice which the Japanese state maintained
until recently even though domestic rice was far more costly than imported rice.
This ban was only in part a function of concern by state bureaucrats about food
security (that is, maintaining a certain level of local production so that a basic staple
would not be overwhelmingly dependent on foreigners). Equally as important were
the thousands of small-scale rice growers who constituted a backbone of support to
the ruling Liberal Democratic party.
State involvement in commodity systems can be extremely variable. In the U.S.,
some basic commodities (wheat, corn, soybeans, tobacco, sugar, etc.) have
benefited for decades through state involvement in the form of direct subsidies,
price supports, or restrictions on acreage. Other commodities have received very
different forms of support. It is always amusing to hear California growers complain
about government support to Midwest commodities while being oblivious to their
own forms of state support of subsidized water and science and the maintenance of
legal structures that facilitate commodity organization. Indeed, it was not until
federal and state marketing order legislation was adopted during the 1930s that
powerful commodity organization emerged. This form of organization in milk,
cotton, vegetables, and fruit was structurally dependent on the adoption of
marketing order legislation.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Marketing orders in the U.S. can be established if 65 percent of growers or those
with 50 percent of acreage (or vice versa) in a specific commodity agree by ballot
to establish or continue a marketing order. Growers who want to establish a
marketing order must therefore create organizations and organize other growers so
that they will vote to accept the order. Marketing orders, it should be remembered,
allocate limited powers of the state to organized groups of agricultural producers.
This structural form of state involvement is often “invisible” to growers,
nevertheless it represents a significant element of state involvement in a filiere.
Not every agricultural commodity – or nonagricultural, for that matter – generates
an elaborated culture. Some commodities such as wine, tobacco, olive oil, for
example, develop elaborate commodity passions and give rise to unusual aspects
of commodity life. Other commodities might be characterized as ordinary,
quotidian, or indeed, perhaps being even “uncultured.” In all likelihood, producers
of every modern commodity generate some cultural elements; even broccoli,
ostensible a quotidian vegetable, drew a reaction from its producers when thenPresident Bush admitted that he disliked the vegetable.
In addition, a distinction should be made between producers of a commodity and
its consumers and, in some circumstances, in agents in the filiere between producer
and consumer. Producer culture may involve not only beliefs about the processes
of production but also symbolic meanings. For consumers, although there may be
differential interest or curiosity about production processes, the symbolic apparatus
may partially overlap that held by producers but may also have distinctive elements.
Mothers/housewives, as a result of their belief system, may be concerned to feed
broccoli to their husbands and children because it is “healthy.”
This view may be shared by broccoli growers who also may have cultural beliefs
about the optimal conditions under which the vegetable can be produced. Broccoli
harvesters may be totally disinterested in any of this but might think broccoli is a
fine crop because they don’t have to stoop to harvest it. And the truck drivers who
convey the vegetable from its source in the Salinas Valley to consumption in
Philadelphia may be completely indifferent to the vegetable they are toting 3,000
miles. At the same time, while broccoli may “sell” itself when displayed on a
supermarket shelf, an automobile will generate a lot of culture for those responsible
for selling it as well as those that produce and consume it. Each commodity, in other
words, has varying degrees of culture and the elucidation of that culture is part of
the problem of conducting filiere analysis.
The comparative cultures of some commodities reveals the empirical differences.
Wine is an example of a highly cultured commodity; it has a long historical record
in many different cultures and societies. Wine’s culture is related not only to the
wine itself but to the symbolism of grapes in art, architecture, and literature. While
wine publications – trade journals, consumer magazines, winemaker publications,
coffee table books, how-to books, wine tourism guides, and wine computer
programs – can be found in profusion, similar publications are sparse for other



commodity forms derived from the grapevine; table grapes and raisins get scarce
cultural recognition. Other agricultural commodities like broccoli, Brussels sprouts,
or celery, generate relatively little or no cultural interest.
Wine culture is exceptionally rich. Not only can one find a complex of producer
and a plethora of consumer organizations, but also a rich panoply of cultural forms.
Considering only the ways in which grapes and their vinous form have appeared in
art alone would require encyclopaedic research, and if all the architectural stones
chiselled into the shape of grape bunches were collected, it would provide a volume
equal to that found in art.
Of the various commodities that have been have researched, wine and tobacco
can be said to have developed extensive cultural apparatuses. Grapes are widely
found in artistic expressions but I would argue that such grapes clusters are used
symbolically to represent, like the cornucopia, the abundance of nature; moreover,
grape bunches have great symbolic association with wine.8
In contrast, raisin grapes generate little culture. Tomatoes stimulate a small
amount of cultural interest – witness the posters showing various tomato forms and
the occasional bar of soap smelling of tomato essence and shaped like a tomato and
various other tomato forms in art. But iceberg lettuce generates no interest
culturally; it “gets no respect.”
In cultural manifestations we can see a hierarchy of commodity statuses. It is
useful to understand the degree to which commodities generate cultural apparatuses.
It was originally suggested that the analysis of commodity systems involved five
major areas of consideration: labor process, grower organization, labor, science,
and marketing and distribution. The present paper calls for an augmentation of these
five to include scale, sectoral organization and state involvement, and culture.
Empirical examples have been provided as to the potential utility of these new
That post-factum empirical research has suggested additional areas for
consideration in the methodology of commodity chain analysis, also suggests the
possibility that additional empirical research will open yet other areas for inclusion.
Let me anticipate at least two in addition to the suggestions discussed earlier of
Wright and Dixon: the financial organization of a commodity9 and the length of
commodity systems.
Commodity financial organization has been avoided not because it is unimportant
8. While photographs carrying the symbolism of wine invariably show someone holding a
wine glass, it would look peculiar if someone were to be holding a bunch of grapes.
Similarly, in artistic renderings, the bunch of grapes is found far more frequently than the
glass of wine.
9. Henderson (1999) makes the circulation of capital in agriculture a central element of his
analysis of California. He deals with capital circulation in agriculture generally rather than
focusing on any specific commodity chain.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

but because of the difficulties of conducting empirical research. It should be
obvious that there are differential financial considerations in different commodities;
although all involve financial matters, annual crops require lower levels of
investment than trees and vines. A grower can plant tomato or lettuce acreage with
much lower investments than grapes or olives since growers of the latter two must
wait three and seven years respectively before returns can be realized. Similarly,
wine production requires greater capitalization than table grapes or raisins since
heavier capital requirements (machinery, storehouses, wine casks, etc.) are
necessary and, except in unusual circumstances (for example, beaujolais nouveau
and other “nouveau” wines), red wines must be aged thereby tying up capital for
long periods of time.
This kind of financial analysis in commodities is possible. What is more difficult
is obtaining data on costs in the various segments of production, distribution, and
marketing. Some agricultural economists have done relevant analyses. What cannot
be found, however, is what the Bank of America or Wells Fargo or other banks have
invested in specific commodities and how these investments are broken down either
by specific commodity forms or by area/region.
A second area of concern has already begun to emerge: the length and shape of
commodity systems. Several critical papers relating to commodity and food systems
analyses have suggested the need for amplification of the five areas Friedland
originally set out.
Three topics, in particular, will probably need fleshing out in the future. One is the
actual process of consumption and how this relates to the production, distribution, and
marketing arrangements of the commodity, something in which the contributions of
Dixon and Wright will prove useful. Secondly, as FitzSimmons and Goodman (1998),
and Goodman (1999) and others have pointed out, most food studies take nature for
granted as a “black box” having some relationship to commodity filieres but paying
little attention to how commodities interact with nature.
The third is the internal dynamics of the commodity system: in the complex of
actors and activities in any commodity chain, who does what and where are the loci
of control (the problem that preoccupied Dixon). A recent report on how Costco, the
“big-box” retailer, is now handling inventory control, a critical element in retailing,
is suggestive. Nelson and Zimmerman (2000) point out that Costco has passed the
responsibility of resupply of diapers, a paper product, to their supplier, KimberleyClark. Because Costco – and other “big-box” retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, and
J.C. Penney – can track sales of particular products as they are sold, that information
can be passed on to suppliers immediately so that shortages in supply can be
anticipated. The head of supply chain activity for Proctor & Gamble is quoted as
saying: “A shopper buys a roll of Bounty paper towel, and that would trigger someone
cutting a tree in Georgia. That’s the holy grail.” The retailers have, through this
process, relieved themselves of yet another responsibility in their drive to cut costs.
While this suggests that control has passed from the retailer to the manufacturersupplier, this is likely far from the case. Future filiere analyses will, in all probability,
yield new areas for the further elaboration of commodity systems methodology.



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vegetable commodity systems.

Alessandro Bonanno and Douglas H. Constance
Corporate Strategies in the Global Era: The Case of Mega-Hog
Farms in the Texas Panhandle Region
Employing the case of the expansion of mega-hog operations in Texas Panhandle region, this
paper illustrates relevant strategies that agro-food transnational corporations (TNCs) employ
to maximize capital accumulation and address locally-based resistance. Salient literature on
socioeconomic trends in the global era underscores that through hyper-mobility and by
pitting localities against each other, TNCs take advantage of communities’ desires to attract
external investments to stimulate local growth. This literature also points out that the growth
of TNCs creates limits for the maintenance of democracy. The events of the case indicate
that agro-food TNCs moved to the Texas Panhandle region to capitalize on favorable sociopolitical conditions. However, anti-corporate local resistance developed on the grounds that
newly created mega-hog operations contaminated the environment and exacerbated social
problems in the area. TNCs responded by adopting postures which transcended hypermobility strategies and involved actions at the legitimative, political and economic levels.
At the legitimative level, TNCs presented an image which stressed conformity to existing
environmental regulations, narrowed the definition of environmentally sound agricultural
activities and delegitimized opposition. At the political level, TNCs were able to control
local environmental agencies and depoliticize environment evaluation procedures.
Economically, growth, the creation of new jobs, but also large monetary donations to
communities, were all employed to solicit acceptance of corporate postures. The paper
concludes with some brief reflections on the impact that the development of TNCs has on
Estrategias corporativas en la era global: el caso de las mega
granjas de cerdos en la región Panhandle de Texas
Este artículo ejemplifica, a través del estudio del incremento de las operaciones de granjas
de cerdos en la región Panhandle de Texas, las estrategias que utilizan las corporaciones
transnacionales agroalimentarias (TNCs) para maximizar la acumulación de capital y para
enfrentar a la resistencia local. Literatura importante sobre las tendencias socioeconómicas
en la era global enfatiza que las TNCs se aprovechan, a través de la hiper-movilidad y de
generar enfrentamientos entre localidades, del deseo de las comunidades por atraer inversión
externa y por estimular el crecimiento local. Esta literatura señala también que el crecimiento
de las TNCs genera límites para la conservación de la democracia. Los eventos en el estudio
de caso señalan que las TNCs agroalimentarias se cambiaron a la región Panhandle de Texas
para aprovechar las condiciones sociopolíticas favorables. Sin embargo, surgió resistencia
local contra las granjas de cerdos bajo el argumento de que éstas contaminan el medio
ambiente y exacerban los problemas sociales del área. Las TNCs respondieron a estas críticas
adoptando posturas que trascendían las estrategias de hiper-movilidad y que involucraban
acciones a los niveles legal, político y económico. Al nivel legal, las TNCs presentaron una
imagen que enfatizaba su apego a las regulaciones ambientales existentes, estrecharon la
definición de actividades agrícolas sensibles al ambiente y deslegitimizaron a la oposición.
Al nivel político, las TNCs fueron capaces de controlar las agencias ambientales locales y
de despolitizar los procedimientos de evaluación ambiental. Económicamente, las TNCs
emplearon el crecimiento, la creación de nuevos empleos, así como donaciones monetarias
a las comunidades, para solicitar la aceptación de las posiciones de las corporaciones. El
artículo concluye con algunas reflexiones breves sobre el impacto que tiene el desarrollo de
las TNCs sobre la democracia.


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food


Bruce M. Curtis
Reforming New Zealand Agriculture: The WTO Way or Farmer Control?
The article contrasts a neoliberal agenda for agriculture championed by the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) and interests within New Zealand, with those of farmer-run institutions,
most notably the producer boards. The resources the WTO brings to bear ensure that any
struggle it has with producer boards in New Zealand is likely to be one-sided. However this
is not to say that the WTO is irresistible. Globalisation and the putative liberalisation of
international trade remains a process that is networked, negotiated and implemented in
different geographic scales. Consequently there remain possibilities for agriculture and for
farmers other than the corporate ‘rule of law’ favoured by the WTO.
Reformando la agricultura de Nueva Zelanda: ¿por la via OMC
o por el control del agricultor?
Este artículo contrasta una agenda neo-liberal para la agricultura promovida por la
Organización Mundial del Comercio (OMC) y los intereses dentro de Nueva Zelanda con
los intereses de las instituciones encabezadas por agricultores, principalmente con los
comités de productores. Los recursos que la OMC provee generan que cualquier conflicto
que ésta tenga con los comités de productores de Nueva Zelanda estén, muy probablemente,
inclinados hacia la OMC. No obstante, esto no quiere decir que la OMC sea invencible. La
globalización y la liberalización putativa del comercio internacional continúa siendo un
proceso que está conectado, negociado e implementado en diversas escalas geográficas. En
consecuencia, todavía existen otras posibilidades para la agricultura y para los agricultores
además del “estado de derecho” corporativo favorecido por la OMC.

Stewart Lockie and Kristen Lyons
Renegotiating Gender and the Symbolic Transformation
of Australian Rural Environments
A notable feature of contemporary approaches to ameliorating rural environmental
degradation (such as Australia’s National Landcare Program) is the involvement of women
to a degree not witnessed in other mainstream farming issues and organisations. At the same
time, rural women’s networks are calling for greater recognition of the contribution women
make to agriculture and rural communities – to recognise women as ‘farmers’ in their own
right – and for a broadening of the agri-political agenda to give greater recognition to non‘production’ issues such as social services, workplace health and safety and environmental
care. Given the traditional construction of agricultural labour processes in highly
masculinised and phallocentric terms, this raises a number of questions regarding the degree
to which rural environments are undergoing a sort of symbolic transformation. More
specifically, we might question the degree to which these developments provide evidence
that human relationships with rural environments – as embodied in the labour process and
other day-to-day activities – are being reconceptualised and restructured. To explore this
question, we explore data from a variety of sources including ethnographic research
conducted with community Landcare groups and organic farmers, and textual analysis of the
popular rural press. We conclude that while the renegotiation of gender relations in the
labour process is in itself culturally and socially profound, a range of other sociocultural
processes may stand in the way of fundamental transformation of the relationships with rural
environments implied in those labour processes.
Renegociando el género y la transformación simbólica
de los ambientes rurales en Australia
Una característica importante de los enfoques contemporáneos para disminuir la degradación


International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

de los ambientes rurales (como el Programa Nacional para el Cuidado de la Tierra en
Australia –Australia’s National Landcare Program) es la participación de las mujeres a un
grado no observado en otros asuntos y organizaciones agrícolas dominantes. Al mismo
tiempo, las redes de mujeres rurales están tratando de aumentar el reconocimiento a la
contribución que las mujeres hacen a la agricultura y a las comunidades rurales –para que
se reconozca a las mujeres como “agricultoras” por sí solas- y están abogando por una
expansión de la agenda agro-política que dé un mayor reconocimiento a los aspectos “no
productivos”, tales como los servicios sociales, la salud y la seguridad en el lugar de trabajo,
y el cuidado ambiental. Dada la construcción tradicional de los procesos laborales agrícolas
en términos altamente masculinizados y falocéntricos, esto genera diversas preguntas sobre
el grado al que los ambientes rurales están pasando por una transformación simbólica. Más
específicamente, uno se puede preguntar el grado al que estos desarrollos proveen evidencia
de que las relaciones de los humanos con los ambientes rurales – personificados en los
procesos laborales y otras actividades diarias- están siendo reconceptualizadas y
reestructuradas. Para resolver esta pregunta, exploramos datos de diversas fuentes,
incluyendo un estudio etnográfico conducido entre grupos comunales de Landcare y
agricultores orgánicos, y análisis de texto de la prensa rural popular. Concluimos que
mientras que la renegociación de las relaciones de género en el proceso laboral es en sí
profundo cultural y socialmente, otros procesos socioculturales diversos pueden dificultar
la transformación fundamental de las relaciones con los ambientes rurales que están
implícitos en esos procesos laborales.

Peter Leigh Taylor
Community Forestry as Embedded Process:
Two Cases from Durango and Quintana Roo, Mexico
Recent neoliberal economic restructuring and related legal reform undermine the peasantbased organizations underlying Mexican community forestry. Technical services have been
relegated to markets and new economic groups within communities authorized to use forest
resources. Researchers have found that individuals may develop successful management
regimes when they agree on resource problems and change strategies, they value benefits of
cooperation relative to costs, and they constitute a relatively well-defined and stable group.
But examination of two peasant-based, intermediate level forestry organizations in Durango
and Quintana Roo reveals that internal and external pressures lead the organizations to
reformulate objectives, rework how they “deliver the goods” to members, and redefine the
boundaries of stakeholder “communities.” Peasant-based organizations remain key actors
in the pursuit of sustainable forestry and merit support in adapting to new conditions.
Common pool resource research might fruitfully view such organizations as historical
processes embedded in structural contexts ranging from local to global.
Silvicultura comunitaria como un proceso enclavado:
Dos casos de Durango y Quintana Roo, México
La reciente reestructuración económica de carácter neoliberal y la reforma legal relacionada
debilitan las organizaciones campesinas que subyacen la silvicultura comunitaria mexicana.
Los servicios técnicos han sido relegados a los mercados y a nuevos grupos económicos en
las comunidades autorizadas para explotar recursos forestales. Los investigadores han
encontrado que los individuos pueden desarrollar regímenes administrativos exitosos cuando
ellos coinciden en cuáles son los problemas de recursos y las estrategias de cambio, valoran
los beneficios de la cooperación por sobre los costos, y constituyen un grupo relativamente
bien definido y estable. Sin embargo, la exploración de dos organizaciones campesinas de
nivel intermedio en Durango y Quintana Roo revela que las presiones internas y externas

International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food


llevan a las organizaciones a reformular sus objetivos, a replantear cómo “distribuyen los
bienes” a los miembros, y a redefinir las fronteras de las “comunidades” involucradas. Las
organizaciones campesinas continúan siendo actores centrales en la búsqueda de una
silvicultura sostenible y merecen apoyo para adaptarse a condiciones nuevas. La
investigación sobre la forma en que los recursos se comparten puede ser fructífera para
entender tales organizaciones como un proceso histórico enclavado en contextos
estructurales que varían de lo local a lo global.

William H. Friedland
Reprise on Commodity Systems Methodology
Set out over a decade ago, a methodology of commodity systems analysis described five
basic foci of research: production practices, grower organization and organizations, labor,
science production and application, and marketing and distribution networks. Recent
empirical research on several commodity systems in California and on the globalization of
fresh fruits and vegetables has indicated the need for an elaboration of the original
methodology. A review is made of existing literature relevant to commodity studies and
commodity systems analyses as well as assessing several related systems of provision and
actor network theory as potential contributors to commodity and commodity systems
analysis. Three additional research foci are proposed: scale, sectoral organization and the
relationship of the state to the commodity, and commodity culture. Scale refers both to the
spatial character of the commodity and the forms of social interaction of actors within the
commodity system and also includes the character of the community or communities –
spatial and functional – that are part of the commodity system. Sectoral organization deals
with whether and how the commodity is organized in or around the competitive, monopoly,
or state sectors and how the commodity is regulated or the degree to which the state
regulates, intervenes, or supports commodity development. Commodity culture refers to
cultural forms found either among commodity producers or consumers, a variable
phenomenon with strong cultural elements found in some commodities and absent in others.
Empirical cases explore the utility of these augmenting research foci.
Una re-evaluación de la metodología de los sistemas de mercancías
Una metodología de análisis de los sistemas de mercancías diseñada hace más de una década
describía cinco áreas de investigación básicas: prácticas de producción, organización y
organizaciones de los productores, prácticas laborales, producción y aplicación científica, y
redes de comercio y distribución. Estudios empíricos recientes sobre diversos sistemas de
mercancías en California, y sobre la globalización de frutas y vegetales frescos señalan la
necesidad de replantear la metodología original. Este artículo hace una revisión de la literatura
sobre los estudios de mercancías y de sistemas de mercancías existente, y evalúa la contribución
potencial de varios sistemas de provisión y teorías de redes. Se proponen tres áreas de
investigación adicionales: escala, organización sectoral y la relación del Estado con la
mercancía, y la cultura de la mercancía. La escala se refiere al carácter espacial de las
mercancías y a las formas de interacción social de los actores dentro del sistema de mercancías,
así como el carácter de la comunidad o comunidades –espaciales y funcionales- que son parte
del sistema de mercancías. La organización sectorial tiene que ver con sí, y cómo, se organiza
la mercancía en o alrededor del sector competitivo, del monopolio o del Estado, y con cómo
se regula la mercancía, o el grado al que el Estado regula, interviene o apoya el desarrollo de
la mercancía. La cultura de la mercancía se refiere a las formas culturales encontradas entre los
productores o consumidores de mercancías. La cultura de la mercancía es un fenómeno
variable, con elementos culturales fuertes encontrados en ciertas mercancías y ausente en otras.
La utilidad de estas nuevas áreas de investigación se explora con varios casos empíricos.

RC40 has a new electronic mailing list to
further communication among research
committee members and other colleagues who
are interested in the sociology of agriculture
and food. This is a moderated list hosted by
the Ryerson Polytechnic University in
Toronto, Canada and only members are
allowed to send messages. We encourage
members to share news about forthcoming
conferences, recent publications on the
sociology of agriculture and food (both their
own and those of others), information
sources, and funding opportunities. To avoid
heavy e-mail traffic the moderator will collate
these messages and send periodic bulletins to
list subscribers. We intend this mailing list to
replace RC40’s twice-annual newsletter
(although printed bulletins will be mailed to
those members who lack access to e-mail).
Your commentaries and responses are most
To join the mailing list, send an e-mail
message to:
In the body of the message type:
subscribe isarc40

Readers of this journal are invited to join the Research Committee on the
Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC40) of the International Sociological
Association. Our active, collegial members are involved in a range of fascinating
research, some of which will be showcased in 2002 at the International Sociological
Association’s quadrennial congress in Brisbane, Australia. RC40 members are
routinely active at the annual meetings of the Rural Sociological Society (U.S.), the
European Society for Rural Sociology, the joint annual meetings of the Association
for the Study of Food and Society and the Agriculture, Food and Human Values
Society, and at related meetings and conferences worldwide.
Our world is changing profoundly, perhaps nowhere more rapidly than in
agriculture and food. There is a strengthening of alternative movements concerned
with such issues as agricultural and environmental sustainability, food quality and
safety, and new forms of social organization at both the micro and macro scales.
Issues of rurality and rural livelihoods remain very much in the foreground. There is
much research and action to be done, and RC40 has an important role to play. Our
operating principle is to be as international as possible, and to build a truly global
network of persons working in this area. We would like this network to function as
an information exchange, both (and all) ways. We are building the network through
nodes of Regional Representatives whose tasks include conveying information about
RC40 to other scholars and recruiting them as members, disseminating information
about RC40 conferences, special journal issues and research, and transmitting
information to the executive committee about research and conferences underway in
their regions. We seek to expand our regional network and are looking for volunteers
to work in their regions to recruit new members, inform us about new developments,
conferences and events. If you want to volunteer, or if you have a contact in a region
where you think we should be represented, then please contact Philip McMichael,
RC40 President.


RC40 Executive Committee (1998-2002)

Philip McMichael
Mustafa Koc
Monica Bendini
Douglas Constance
David Myhre
Laura Raynolds
Past President: William Friedland
Past Secretary: Raymond A. Jussaume Jr.


RC40 Regional Representatives

North Africa: Alia Gana
South Asia: Kalyan Sankar Mandal
East Asia: Yoshi Taniguchi
Australia/New Zealand: Geoffrey Lawrence
Iberian Europe: Manuel Moreira
Northern Europe: Reidar Almås
Southern Europe: Mara Miele
United Kingdom: Behrooz Morvaridi
Latin America (Spanish): Luis Llambí
Brazil: Salete Cavalcanti


The Research Committee on Food and Agriculture
(RC40) is a world wide organization of social
scientists who are interested in the study of
contemporary food and agricultural systems. RC40
publishes the International Journal of Sociology of
Agriculture and Food. RC40 exists under the
auspices of the International Sociological
Association. For information about RC40 activities
and membership, and subscriptions to this journal,
point your web browser to the RC40 web site:
or contact the RC40 Secretary:
Mustafa Koc
Department of Sociology
Ryerson Polytechnic University
350 Victoria Street
Toronto, Ontario M5B 2K3
Fax: (416) 979 5273
E-mail: mkoc@acs.ryerson.ca


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