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20 novembre 2014 4 20 /11 /novembre /2014 13:15

Voici l'exposé présentant "Les Indomptables" au Colloque International "Les petites paysanneries dans un contexte mondial incertain" donné ce mercredi 19 novembre 2014 à l'Université Paris Ouest X Nanterre-La Défense.

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

L’agriculture actuelle rencontre des problèmes majeurs que l’on pourrait qualifier de « modernes » car ils émergent des discours, technologies et institutions produits et promus à travers le projet de modernisation. Les deux problèmes principaux sont :

  • L’étranglement économique des fermes : le revenu agricole est sous pression, entre d’une part l’augmentation croissante des prix des intrants et d’autre part la stagnation et la volatilité des prix des produits agricoles.
  • Les codes des nouvelles technologies et régulations réduisent le développement des fermes à
    • « agrandir » = prendre contrôle des ressources des collègues pour survivre
    • « innover » = adopter les ensembles technologiques développés par les agro-industries sur base de leur science (brevetée)
"Les Indomptables" à Paris

Voici quelques illustrations & tendances qui reflètent cette crise dans notre région : spécialisation des fermes, chômage, viellissement de la population agricole, déclin continu du nombre de fermes.

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

En voyant cela, j’ai alors voulu mieux comprendre ce qui se passe aujourd’hui dans les fermes, celle de mes parents et celles de collègues, observer comment les agriculteurs répondent à leur disparition programmée, étudier leur inventivité en les suivant dans leurs activités quotidiennes.

Cette carte situe la zone d’étude. Ces 9 fermes sont connectées par des liens familiaux et/ou économiques (commerce de produits locaux).

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

J’ai décidé de réaliser de l’observation participante dans ces fermes comprises comme des espaces sociaux dans lesquels les pratiques relatives à la production prennent place et qui ont des relations particulières avec d’autres espaces (ex. administration publique, agro-industries en amont et en aval).

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

J’ai pu observer que ces agriculteurs changent spontanément leurs pratiques et établissent de nouvelles relations avec d’autres espaces (restaurants, écoles, groupes de consommateurs, organisations environnementales, etc.) = ils produisent des nouveautés.

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

Une cinquantaine de « nouveautés » a été inventoriée.

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

La plupart de ces nouveautés s’inscrivent dans une lutte pour l’autonomie de la ferme, c’est-à-dire la distanciation de la ferme par rapport aux industries et aux marchés globalisés. Ces nouveautés impliquent d’autres matérialités, d’autres relations & réseaux, mais aussi d’autres connaissances & vérités : l’horizon de pertinence change à l’échelle de la ferme, d’autres paramètres deviennent pertinents (ex. vie du sol, bien-être des animaux, couleur du lait).

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

Ces nouveautés se réalisent en lien les unes avec les autres, et ce différemment dans les différentes fermes.

"Les Indomptables" à Paris
"Les Indomptables" à Paris

Nous pouvons donc définir les nouveautés comme suit : ce sont des pratiques sociales qui sont neuves dans leur propre contexte. Elles sont neuves parce qu’elles font partie d’un projet des acteurs sociaux, ici un projet de ferme. Ce projet est un récit construit par la famille agricole qui positionne les différents acteurs, les ressources et leurs pratiques. De plus, ce récit relie passé, présent et futur de sorte que les « nouveautés » font sens à travers la définition d’un « futur meilleur » des agriculteurs, leur définition du « progrès ».

Cette étude met en question l’idée que l’on a habituellement de l’innovation en agriculture, une conception centrée sur la modernisation, la diffusion des connaissances & technologies du centre vers la périphérie, basée sur une définition centralisée et linéaire du progrès et de la trajectoire de développement à suivre.

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

Ici, on comprend que chaque ferme est un espace unique de production de nouveautés, agro-écologiquement et socialement situé. Cette repaysannisation de l’agriculture se réalise à travers les multiples projets de ferme et l’inventivité de nombreux agriculteurs, et ce, en dehors des cadres institutionnels et des centres établis. Ces nombreuses nouveautés émergent et se développent à partir des fermes et en lien  avec de nouveaux partenaires.

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

Pour conclure, les agriculteurs ont des idées et créent activement un espace propice à leur réalisation en dépit des règlements et restrictions en vigueur, au risque d’être parfois dans l’illégalité. Les agriculteurs sont aussi

  • en quête de connaissances
    • car le changement de pratique implique un processus d’apprentissage
    • car ils développent parfois eux-mêmes des systèmes de production que la Science n’a pas encore explorés
  • et en quête de nouveaux partenaires.

Les fermes sont les espaces qu’il est pertinent d’étudier pour comprendre ce processus de changement souterrain. Il faut donc organiser, voire institutionnaliser l’écoute et l’accompagnement de ces agriculteurs, de leurs idées et de leurs nouveautés.

Ces « Indomptables » changent la société en changeant leurs fermes dans la direction qu’ils souhaitent. Ils sont engagés dans une forme de résistance que l’on pourrait qualifier "du troisième ordre" : ni sabotage ni barricade, cette résistance créatrice et productrice se manifeste à travers le changement de l’organisation de la ferme et du processus de production.

"Les Indomptables" à Paris

Cet exposé a aussi été donné le samedi 29 novembre 2014 à Namur à l'occasion du Conseil de la Saint-Eloi du Mouvement d'Action Paysanne (Via Campesina), ainsi que le mardi 2 décembre 2014 à l'équipe de recherche en Ecologie du Paysage et Systèmes de Production Végétales de l'Université Libre de Bruxelles.

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14 novembre 2014 5 14 /11 /novembre /2014 12:08

Extrait du mémoire "Les Indomptables: ethnographie de production de nouveautés dans l'agriculture wallonne", traduit en français. Version originale (open access).

Cette section est destinée à donner quelques éléments théoriques pour comprendre davantage la production de nouveautés, les manifestations actuelles et les propriétés émergeantes de l’espace paysan -comment les agriculteurs produisent de nouvelles connaissances, de nouvelles relations et de nouveaux paysages. Ces éléments sont de simples outils d’analyse des projets émergents alternatifs et associés à d’autres futurs désirés par-delà la modernisation (les marchés internationaux, les standards, les primes et les régulations). Ces idées proviennent des cours suivis pendant le Master, la lecture de l’œuvre de Jean-Pierre Darré et l’étude de terrain menée pour ce mémoire.

De l’aperçu historique (sections précédentes), les agriculteurs vivent l’espace de l’agriculture conventionnelle -que certains appelleraient régime- comme menaçant leur marge de manœuvre. Ils se sentent réduits à des acheteurs, « adopteurs », toujours guidés, contraints, enseignés. Je vais essayer d’expliquer ce qui se passe au niveau macro et micro (la ferme) à l’aide de quelques petits dessins. Les deux dessins à gauche illustrent les phénomènes « macro » ; les deux dessins à droite illustrent les phénomènes « micro ».

L’espace paysan: des "nouveautés" connectées

Sur le premier dessin, j’ai reproduit le fameux "étranglement économique" (economic squeeze): l’expansion et la concentration des agro-industries en amont et en aval de la ferme produisent des prix défavorables aux agriculteurs ; les prix des produits (Py) stagnent voire décroissent tandis que ceux des intrants (Px) croissent constamment. De plus, la globalisation des marchés des intrants et des produits accroit la fluctuation des prix -voir Annexes 2-4. Le second dessin montre la direction dans laquelle les agriculteurs se sentent menés, forcés. Pour survivre, “il faut innover” (c’est-à-dire adopter des systèmes technologiques de production dessinés par des experts) et “il faut s’agrandir”. Les forces du marché, les primes et régulations (cf. “la carotte et le bâton") mènent les “exploitations agricoles” vers un accroissement des technologies externes par objet de travail (intensité basée sur la technologie) et un accroissement d’objets de travail (ex. vache ou hectare) par unité de travail (croissance en échelle). Chacune de ces tendances entraine l’autre : gérer des fermes de grande échelle requiert davantage d’aide des technologies high-tech et investir dans tel équipement exige une capacité d’amortissement accrue.

Le troisième dessin illustre ce qui se passe au niveau de la ferme, par exemple dans une ferme spécialisée qui a adopté un système d’élevage bovin laitier haute-technologie. Les formes géométriques représentent des (ensembles de) pratiques de production. Les relations marchandes et prescriptives avec la PAC, les dispositifs de régulations environnementales, les agro-industries en amont et en aval tendent à réduire la marge de manœuvre des fermes et à façonner la ferme en fonction de leurs propres codes. L’exemple de la ferme mixte (quatrième dessin) donne une situation tout autre : l’agriculteur préserve une certaine indépendance en combinant deux types de productions sur une même ferme -ex. l’élevage laitier et la culture de blé. Les deux productions sont connectées par une relation non-marchande, interne à la ferme (le fumier des vaches fertilise les terres de cultures). La ferme est semi-spécialisée en termes d’équipements ; les effluents d’élevage sont épandus sur une plus grande surface (ce qui facilite le respect de normes environnementales) ; les achats de fertilisants sont réduits et le chiffre d’affaire de la ferme repose sur deux marchés distincts (celui du lait et celui du blé).

Avant d’aller plus loin dans l’analyse de production de nouveautés, je voudrais développer un peu plus sur l’étude des fermes familiales en tant qu’espaces (cf. cadres théoriques). Van der Ploeg (2013) fournit d’excellents outils d’analyse, à la suite de Chayanov. Je ne vais pas recopier ces concepts ici, je vous conseille vivement la lecture de son livre “Peasants and the Art of Farming” (les paysans et l’art de l’agriculture). En résumé, l’idée principale est de focaliser la compréhension de l’agriculture sur le niveau « micro » de la famille agricole, c’est-à-dire de commencer à étudier les balances internes (production, travail - consommation, bouches à nourrir ; utilité - effort, etc.) et les dynamiques de la ferme en profondeur pour comprendre ce qui se passe au  niveau agrégé. Ces auteurs veulent étudier l’agriculture à partir de la vie quotidienne des familles paysannes. L’art de l’agriculture est défini comme « la construction délibérée et stratégique d’une ferme » (van der Ploeg, 2013, pp. 69-70) qui consiste à maitriser, ajuster, et combiner créativement ses différentes balances internes. Ces mécanismes internes aux fermes peuvent aider à s’émanciper des marchés et expliques les propriétés particulières des fermes paysannes -par exemple comment elles peuvent « survivre sans l’oxygène du profit » (van der Ploeg, 2013, p. 16).

Ainsi, je voudrais me baser sur ces concepts et développer sur la production de connaissances et de nouveautés dans la ferme. Durant l’étude de terrain, j’ai observé que les fermes familiales ont des propriétés spécifiques qui font d’elles des nids construits et fertiles pour la production de nouveautés. Ces familles sont composées d’individus qui ont des statuts, des intérêts, des savoir-faire, des expériences et des façons de parler des choses différents (ex. le mari-la femme, l’enfant - le grand-parent). Ainsi, il y a confrontation de connaissances entre ce que les enfants apprennent à l’école, l’expérience des grands-parents, ce qu’on lit dans les journaux, et bien sûr les différents vécus que chacun a sur la ferme, par exemple à travers les « tours des champs » (aller marcher et observer les champs), les moments de traite, de soins aux animaux etc. Les membres de la famille ont différentes connaissances à propos des différents espaces extérieurs. J’ai pu aussi observer des les repas sont souvent des moments particuliers de discussion (voire débat) à propos de l’agriculture -comment « bien » faire, ce qui « devrait » être fait, mais aussi des jugements moraux à propos des pratiques des collègues (positifs comme négatifs). Les relations familiales contribuent ainsi à la reproduction du répertoire culturel qui parfois inclut la religion et les ancêtres. Les membres de la famille agricole partagent un bagage historique et une réalité économique ; certains membres sont économiquement dépendants d’autres. Ainsi s’exerce un contrôle moral et économique sur ce qui est « raisonnable » de faire et d’essayer ; ces familles ont toutes un processus de décision particulier. Comme la ferme repose (du moins en partie) sur le patrimoine familial, la créativité et l’inventivité des agriculteurs n’est pas limitée à être « rationnel », à suivre uniquement la logique du profit financier. De plus, les agriculteurs peuvent mobiliser de la main d’œuvre supplémentaire occasionnellement ou temporairement via les relations familiales (étendues). Ceci rend possible d’essayer quelque chose de nouveau même si un peu plus de travail est requis. Finalement, les fermes sont les lieux de la formulation, la définition de problèmes et ont chacune leur propre horizon de pertinence (ce qui est important, vrai, intéressant, pertinent vs. ce qui ne l’est pas). Toutefois, les agriculteurs savent que la liste des paramètres à prendre en compte n’est pas fixe mais en constante évolution. Ils disent que chaque ferme « fait son chemin », est constamment à la recherche de réponse aux problèmes particuliers qu’elle rencontre et définit. Tous ces éléments me poussent à considérer les fermes familiales comme des niches intéressantes, des espaces protégés pour la production de nouveautés. Il y a un potentiel de changement au sein de chaque ferme.

Le moment est venu de définir l’idée de « nouveauté ». Commençons par ce que ce n’est pas. Une nouveauté n’est pas une innovation développée dans un environnement expert (ailleurs qu’où elle est supposée fonctionner) qui promet un changement radical et que les agriculteurs doivent adopter. Toutefois, une nouveauté ne vise pas non plus intrinsèquement l’autarcie, à mettre fin à toute relation avec l’extérieur, ni à adopter les systèmes techniques du passé. Les nouveautés sont des pratiques sociales qui sont neuves dans leur propre contexte. Dans ce milieu, ces pratiques sociales sont souvent liées à la production de biens agricoles ou de services. Les nouveautés sont « neuves » parce qu’elles font partie d’un projet des acteurs sociaux. Un projet est un récit construit par l’acteur social afin de positionner son rôle, les ressources, le futur, et les relations avec les autres (incl. les membres de la famille, le voisins, les consommateurs) ; ce récit contient aussi ses désirs, ses attentes, aspirations et rêves. Le projet d’une ferme contient une vision de la ferme dans le passé, aujourd’hui et demain de telle façon que les nouveautés font sens à travers la vision de l’agriculteur d’un « futur meilleur ». En d’autres mots, la production de nouveautés signifie la construction de nouvelles relations et l’occupation de l’espace paysan d’une nouvelle façon. Elle peut se manifester à travers la coproduction et la continuité (c’est-à-dire trouver des éléments de réponse dans l’interaction avec la nature vivante et dans le passé), des déconnections et de nouvelles connections à l’intérieur et avec l’extérieur de la ferme.

L’espace paysan: des "nouveautés" connectées

Les agriculteurs créent activement un espace protégé, distancié, qui peut être un nid pour la production de nouveautés sur la ferme. Par exemple, ils essaient de limiter l’endettement, épargner et cultiver le patrimoine familial. Ils sont souvent fiers de dire qu’ils ne sont peut-être pas riches mais qu’ils ne sont pas endettés. Les agriculteurs ne cherchent pas à être super-équipés pour toutes leurs tâches ; certaines sont réalisées à la main. Cela permet des ajustements dans le temps. De plus, certains m’ont dit se sentir plus réflexifs en travaillant à la main (plutôt qu’avec une machine) ; cela les fait davantage repenser ce qu’ils font, pourquoi et comment. Les agriculteurs passent leur temps libre à rénover les bâtiments de ferme, l’apiculture, entrainer des chevaux de trait, ou encore visiter des fermes en France. Ils allouent et réinvestissent des ressources disponibles dans leur ferme, sur quelque chose qu’ils aiment en particulier. A travers ces différents types de stratégies, les agriculteurs créent de l’espace pour essayer de nouvelles choses, pour des nouveautés qui (ils l’espèrent) vont à leur tour repousser les limites, leur permettre de survivre -sans élargir ni s’endetter mais plutôt en obtenant de meilleurs prix, réduisant les couts, accroissant la valeur ajoutée des produits (voir cinquième dessin)- et de développer leur propre façon de faire les choses qui est davantage en ligne avec les ressources locales, leurs aspirations personnelles, leurs préférences, normes et croyances -ce que l’on peut appeler l’hétérogénéité des pratiques. Ils consacrent beaucoup de temps et d’énergie à cela -bien plus qu’à implorer les élites.

L’espace paysan: des "nouveautés" connectées

En produisant des nouveautés, les agriculteurs participent à l’évolution continue de l’agriculture ; des cascades de nouveautés engendrent de réelles transitions (Roep & Wiskerke, 2004). Des agriculteurs qui commencent à transformer une petite partie de leur lait sont parfois amenés à augmenter cette proportion, et adapter l’alimentation de leurs animaux et leur rotation de culture (voir sixième dessin).

L’espace paysan: des "nouveautés" connectées

Finalement, les nouveautés peuvent pousser les agriculteurs à se connecter entre eux d’une autre façon. De plus, ils sont amenés à d’autres relations non seulement entre fermes mais aussi avec la recherche participative, les artisans, les revendeurs, les restaurants etc. c’est-à-dire des nouveaux partenaires impliqués dans le nouvel espace paysan (voir septième dessin) et donc moteurs du développement rural. Ainsi, de nouveaux types de relations émergent par-delà la régulation, la prescription et la marchandisation. Les agriculteurs gagnent du contrôle, «décider nous-mêmes”.

Le chapitre suivant est intitulé « redéfinir le futur : nouvelles relations et nouveau paysage ». Il contient trois sections : les profiles des neuf fermes, la description de cinquante nouveautés et la caractérisation des projets de ferme : leurs traits communs, leur diversité, la multiplicité des « logiques » (façons légitimes, morales d’organiser mentalement la production) et leur créativité.

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6 novembre 2014 4 06 /11 /novembre /2014 19:17
Script of the communication

Script of the communication

Generally speaking, farmers in Europe face “modern problems” i.e. difficulties emerging from modern technologies and institutions (scientific, political, and industrial organizations) = so called "regime".

#BAM14: Participatory research & farmers' novelty production

These Modern problems are

  • The economic squeeze: farmers got stuck between increasing prices of inputs (fertilizers, fuel, seeds, chemicals, high-tech devices) and increasingly fluctuating prices of outputs. Farmers’ incomes and farms’ continuity are threatened.
  • The Codes of new technologies & regulations restrict farm development to:
    • One must innovate = adopt latest technological packages developed by agro-industries along their particular (patented) science
    • One must enlarge = take over neighbors’ resources to survive

In response to this squeeze, farmers spontaneously change their practices, actively produce "novelties" (novel production patterns) according to their vision of “better future”.

#BAM14: Participatory research & farmers' novelty production

They design new production systems grounded on local resources, broaden farm activities (products and services), and increase the added value and the distinctiveness of farm’s products. Farms are actual spaces of novelty production.

#BAM14: Participatory research & farmers' novelty production

Re-peasantisation brings about not only new materialities and new relationships with surrounding society but also new knowledge and truths: other things become relevant, other things become true. Farmers start relying more and more on their own observations and they are eager to learn new things about soil, plants, animal feed, and selling products for instance.

They bring about new ways of farming Science has not explored yet. This is why we want to develop new relationship between farming and research worlds, inspired by action-research methods.

#BAM14: Participatory research & farmers' novelty production
  1. The first step consists in listening farmers’
    1. context -their situation and how they experience it-,
    2. their problems –their definition of issues to be addressed-, and
    3. the novelties -their ideas about potential solutions to be developed.
    4. Thus, the new themes to be tackled emerge from the multiple farm projects of peasant families.
  2. Secondly, this heterogeneous group of people shares information, knowledge and experience. We seek to make existing knowledge available to the different members.
  3. Thirdly, we organize to produce the knowledge that is missing through literature review, on-farm trials, observations, measurements and experiments.

Celine’s MSc thesis project was a great opportunity to start and try the method with our group of farmers around Tournai (Belgium).

#BAM14: Participatory research & farmers' novelty production

Her research topic was the different processes of agroforestry system design. AF (defined as valuing trees on the farm) is an illustration of “re-grounding” farming upon nature some farmers of our group have opted for.

Celine

  • gathered farmers willing to plant more trees as well as researchers and experts in agroforestry.
  • she visited the different farms to understand the plantation projects within their specific contexts. Based on this “listening phase”, she could identify what these farmers actually needed to move forward.

Then, she organized discussion evenings and a conference. Farmers had the opportunity to share information, experiences and to brainstorm on their plantation projects.

#BAM14: Participatory research & farmers' novelty production

At the moment, farmers take the lead! The group expands beyond her MSc project as we enlarged the scope to new socio-technical topics farmers said they want to tackle together. The group becomes an actual network of innovative farms where scientists and farmers collaborate. On-line tools for cooperation are being developed and new meetings are being prepared.

#BAM14: Participatory research & farmers' novelty production

To conclude, we encourage fellow scientists to relate directly with farm families and to listen to their problems, wishes and projects.

It requires some flexibility and reflexivity: this kind of research process cannot be entirely planned in advance and some of its outputs might be of unexpected kinds.

While contesting agriculture modernization, it is of great importance

  • to acknowledge the socio-political nature of science and technologies,
  • legitimate our research activity on farmers’ multiple projects, and
  • to value the diversity of practice and thinking among farmers and scientists.
#BAM14: Participatory research & farmers' novelty production
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17 février 2014 1 17 /02 /février /2014 21:08

[extract of Les Indomptables, MSc thesis]

Peasant space as negotiated space

In this last section, I would like to characterize peasant space and its relationships with other spaces. Farmers I met consider agriculture is in crisis because of income decrease, multiplication of rules, standards and norms, various threats on continuity, degradation of agricultural resources, and other many reasons -see section “Modern problems”. In order to escape from the crisis, they take the lead to change farm organization and relationships much beyond and in other direction(s) than what they are asked or supposed to do. Thus, farmers struggle against existing state of affaires and institutions on three main battlefields [Fig. 39]: regrounding, repositioning and self-regulation (van der Ploeg, 2006). The fifty novelties listed above can be understood in this context of struggle [Table 3].

First, “regrounding” means developing farm resource base and internal cycles. Farmers seek to integrate resources and their uses in order to increase farm autonomy and reduce expenditures. For instance, they mix cattle races to get “better cattle” -i.e. more appropriate to their context and objectives-, foster self-provision of animal food, value by-products on the farm, rely on soil biology to improve soil structure and fertility, value existing buildings and ‘ecological infrastructure’ (incl. woody vegetation), and settle rotational grazing (paths, water troughs, fences, shelters). Regrounding can lead to enter in conflict with “regime” institutions and rules. Some farmers keep, sort, and clean their own seeds while seed industries are lobbying to forbid that, others struggle to get manure accepted as fertilizer by environmental regulations and make cereal-legume associations acknowledged in CAP categories.

Figure 38 Ways out of the current agricultural crisis - from (van der Ploeg, 2006)

Secondly, “repositioning” the farm toward output markets leads to process and increase added-value of farm products, diversify farm production, and to value alternative ways of working and producing food. Farmers seek to re-define performance and to make people accept to pay (more) for “better food” and more sustainable modes of producing it. They invest labour and energy in the elaboration of markets where they can do and say something about food price and qualities. Thus, they struggle to construct new markets rather than taking over market shares -invading supermarket shelves. For instance, farmers create their own brand, label and/or farm shop. Others struggle against large traders for access to weekly markets.

Thirdly, farmers struggle for “self-regulation” “décider nous-mêmes” (lit. decide on our own) and to incorporate their own values in their decisions. For instance, raw milk requires specific know-how and skills to make good and safe dairy products out of it. Farmers really want to process raw milk because it has an identity; it is the living fruit of the whole farm (animal food, living conditions, farmers care, etc.). They often struggle against hygiene rules and standards aligned to industrial practices. Both ontological properties of milk -milk identity “mon lait” (my milk) vs. global commodity- and farmers specific know-how -comparative advantage toward industries and source of income- are reasons for disagreements with control agencies that sometimes operate beyond the state itself. Farmers want to defend their own way of making distinctive dairy products; they question some of prescriptions about ‘good practices’ and ‘proper equipment’. Thus, they take an active part in public debates and make people ‘taste the difference’ -e.g. via degustations and open-doors.

“Struggle and hope”

Why do they struggle? The legacy of modernization project is still deeply rooted in many “surrounding” institutions; these farmers are pioneers and experience these institutions as additional constraints that foster prescription, commodification, and externalization of tasks. While these institutions do not guarantee good food, rural employment, nor sustainable development -cf. institutionalised incapacity (Roep, 2000)-, farmers consider these institutions are constraining them in novelty production and in their definition of progress. Thus, farmers not only cannot align -it would lead to their disappearance- but they also do not want to align -it would not bring desirable future. Farmers do not focus on sending signals, imploring institutions and policy-makers; these farmers focus on changing their practices -sometimes despite legality. Their ability to do such moves is deeply rooted in peasant culture. This can be explained by Chayanov’s balance between utility and drudgery [see first drawing]. “C’est dur mais il y a de l’espoir” (it is hard but there is hope) -as a farmer says in the movie “Il a plu sur le grand paysage” (Andrien, 2012). In other words, it’s hard now but the future will be better (increased utility) so pesants accept higher level of drudgery i.e. to make extra effort today. Thus, current institutional constraint is not an absolute barrier for peasant practices; they find it ‘reasonable’ to move forward despite that.

“Struggle and hope”

Therefore, novelties cannot be reduced to the re-organization of farms as closed and isolated spaces. Renewed peasant space is open but negotiated space; it is characterized by many relationships with other spaces but its existence is not institutionalized. It has to move to be seen, peasant space “n’a pas sa place” (its existence is not given), it has to “faire sa place” (insert itself and claim its own existence).

What gives hope? Farmers seek support from elsewhere than agro industries -their vendors, advisors- and subsidy schemes -tightly related spaces some people would call ‘dominant’ regime. Farmers say their work would be easier if they plow grasslands and stick to vendors’ prescriptions but it is not compulsory to do so -they decided not to choose this option. Farmers look for other relationships with actors from a non-limited list of other spaces, for instance: eco-construction sector, second-hand websites, groups of consumers, entertainment and tourism agencies, biodiversity and nature conservation associations, schools, restaurants, artisans, care institutions, “revendeurs”, and ‘different’ scientists. Thus, the ensemble of options for repeasantization is not size-limited but rather popping-up from many sources; there are as many sources of novelties as farms spaces. Farmers I met told me they enjoy having diverse tasks to do (vs. monotony), better labour income - it is a lot of work but it pays back-, and these farm projects open doors for continuity and attractive future, notably in the eyes of their children. Peasant space is open so that farmers can engage in new relationships with a multitude of actors from other spaces.

To settle new bridges is not that easy; theory of space may help to understand processes going on. In order to go further in the analysis, I suggest focusing on one case: relationships with “participatory” research and scientists ‘looking for something else’. Actually, ‘Science’ is often seen as major source of innovation. In the list above, we could see it is far from being the only one. Moreover, I would like to show how and why science itself has to evolve to actually contribute to novelties in the following paragraphs. In the words of Jean-Pierre Darré, ‘Science’ should not be such monolithic space [see second drawing] and should get rid of believes such as that there would be only one kind of actual knowledge, that knowledge can be transferred in packages, and that having ‘higher status’ provides with better access to truth (Darré, 1996: 183-184).

“Struggle and hope”

During fieldwork, I met scientists who are not satisfied with ‘Science’ as it has been built and framed in modernization project. These scientists criticize “recherches qui planent dans les universités” (research projects that ‘fly’ in universities), “un beau modèle, quelque chose de bien théorique et qu’on est en déphasage total par rapport au terrain” (a beautiful model, something strongly theoretical, and in total discrepancy with the field), « j’ai une connaissance livresque » (I have ‘bookish’ knowledge) as Louis Hautier (CRA-W) told me. They think ‘science’ and ‘practice’ became two disconnected worlds, with different interests and problems. The only ‘intermediaries’ are agro-industries that finance and provide research topics [see Annexe 6]. They think “déphasage” (discrepancy) is source of irrelevance and misunderstanding while they -personally- would like to contribute to sustainable agriculture.

Thus, some scientists are eager to find time to ‘fix discrepancy’, « aller à la rencontre des réalités de terrain » (go out and meet ‘reality of the field’), and “quitter un peu le siege du chercheur-fonctionnaire” (quit the position of researcher-public servant -pejorative: guy having cushy, desk job) -as Louis puts it- but they also struggle with the context of modern scientific institutions -key elements of the “regime”. This stuggle takes different forms. First, divergent grammar and vocabulary are big challenges for inter-disciplinarity (collaboration between academic disciplines) and trans-disciplinarity (between ‘Science’ and ‘field’). Misunderstandings emerge because actors use both different words and different meanings; “le signe doit être reconnu, le discours doit être compris” (the sign must be recognized, the meaning -or content, discourse- must be understood) (Darré, 1996, p. 140). The author insists on the fact that surrounding “univers de pensée” (lit. thoughts-world) provides a word with a meaning; location of the word in the whole life-world really matters while the idea of knowledge transfer is made redundant. During last decades, ‘Science’ imposed its language while the one(s) of ‘practitioners’ became imprecise, relative, subjective. Second, funding schemes are characterized by covering a time-limited period and candidate researchers have to convince funders of project’s relevance in a context of political and personal issues in research centres. Third, common frameworks of scientific activity -study, publish, vulgarize- are orientated toward “comment diffuser” (how to diffuse) packages that contain particular knowledge, rationale, a single solution, and a single way to adopt it. Darré characterizes this orientation toward provision of ready-made solutions with the following words: it displays “urgence sans alternative” (emergency without alternative option), it further “enferme dans cette soumission à la pression économique” (wedges in submission to economic pressure) (Darré, 1996: 155-157). In the same vein, design of research project are often restricted to system optimization, i.e. the development of adoptable, marketable, controlled, and closed systems.

These characteristics of ‘Science’ space are sources of challenges for “participatory research”, they make it more complex than expected but they are not fatalities. Building new relationships between two spaces [see third drawing] requires time, dialogue, actual knowledge encounter, shared observations, reciprocal adjustment and evolution of vocabulary, concepts, and language. There will be misunderstandings for sure as actors start with different frameworks in mind. One must be aware that an academic research protocol will not bridge the spaces; « le labo débarque en champ et ce n’est pas une approche de co-construction, d’observation » (the lab ‘lands’ in the field; it is not a process of co-construction nor shared observation) as Louis says. Such change demands learning from both sides; both farmers and scientists have to develop their ability to communicate feelings, go deeper in their own thoughts, and reflect on their experience.

During fieldwork, I had the opportunity to observe and/or take part in two ‘participatory’ research projects. Firstly, the Centres of Reference and Experimentation on fodder autonomy (described above) consist in on-farm experiments and trials aimed at improving farm autonomy together with making progress on nutritional, environmental, food quality issues. Farmers get a financial support and access to lab analysis in order to test new things or assess new practices they developed. This group of farmers gets support from different farming technical organizations. Farmers and technicians meet regularly (group discussions), organize open doors, and write reports. Technicians say the goal of CRE is not to do actual research but rather on-farm observation. Moreover, they say it is good for vulgarization “ça permet de communiquer” (it allows to communicate) toward other farmers. However, farmers think they do more than observation and vulgarization; they consider they also do research and produce knowledge as they try, test and assess new combinations in real farm conditions. As you can see, debate is open about goals, frameworks and relevant types of knowledge. Secondly, the Agroforestry participatory research project started recently and consists in group discussions between few scientists from Université Libre de Bruxelles (prof. Marjolein Visser and her assistants) and an heterogenous group of farmers already developing novelties on their farm and planting trees and/or hedgerows in particular. This meeting took place on our farm. The ‘proximate’ or short-term goal of this project is to gather diverse experience, knowledge, and observations about ‘trees on farms’. The ‘ultimate’ or long-term goal is to create space for discussion, exchange of experience, ideas, and knowledge between farmers and scientists about novelties that farmers are developing on their own farm. We wish to make the group last and the discussions evolve according to new problems, questions, and techniques farmers ‘encounter’ on their own ‘path’. After the first meeting, farmers told me they were eager to discuss about new combinations re-adaptable in every farm systems, ideas and practices they can re-think and re-mould in their own farm (cf. ‘system innovation’, vs. system optimization). During discussions, actual dialogues could take place and lead to knowledge encounter -see Darré about making new knowledge through dialogue (Darré, 1985, p. 150). This kind of new relationship requires tolerance toward diverse (“crazy”) ideas -we are all “fools”- and coexistance of different ways of thinking, everyone has to accept that one’s truth is not universal; farmers may be more used to that and their attitude really helps (Darré, 1996, p. 147).

“Struggle and hope”

From these experiences, I learnt that it is of great importance to jointly construct new relationships and new space. On the one hand, novelty and knowledge production that take place within the intimacy of farm spaces must be acknowledged - particularly by scientists- as a relevant way to produce knowledge (new relationship). On the other hand, we should consider creating “support” space outside the farm and fed by inputs from ‘scientists’ and ‘farmers’ as a new common for both ‘scientists’ and ‘farmers’ -where roles may be confused, negotiated and/or redefined- and as a new way to do research. As Darré says, we should orientate ‘doing research’ toward “comment vivre” (how to live) i.e. helping farmers to create room for reflection and elaboration of their own answers. (Darré, 1996: 155-157). Thus, we would develop space outside the farm for dialogue and exchange of ideas where different types of knowledge -incl. experiential- could contribute and be of help to novelty production -incl. within and between farms [see third drawing].

In the literature, debate is open about new ways of doing research -see (Carr & Wilkinson, 2005) about boundary organization and (Sherwood & Paredes, 2013) about ‘being’ practitioner and social actor. Indeed, such participatory research projects are opportunities to start building new spaces but ‘participatory research’ is above all a first step that calls for next ones in further evolution toward other types of relationships. For instance, farmers are eager to take scientists in their “never-ending walk” instead of being enrolled in time-limited research projects. In the new space, “ floor is ours” there is no fixed state of affaires and things are evolving; there is room open for multiple types of novel practices and relationship -incl. even researchers running a farm themselves. Through this particular case, I wanted to show how new bridges between peasant space and other spaces can bring (desired) change.

However, we could see that change does not occur without distancing from, struggle against ‘modernization’, ‘regime’ institutional background and its manifestations within attitudes and frames of thoughts of actors involved. Farmers often told me they were struggling for “autonomie” (autonomy) and “liberté” (freedom). Actually, distancing from the regime induces changes at the level of the farm on three entangled dimensions. First, it involves creating other materialities, another reality i.e. other biological processes, nutrient cycles, farm building arrangement, food ration, crop rotation etc. [see Fig. 40 & 41, next page]. Secondly, it involves engaging in other networks. Pierre (FDB) told me that he’s talking “un language que les collègues ne comprennent plus” (a language colleagues do not understand anymore), he feels a kind of exclusion and he doesn’t consider them as colleagues anymore, “on n’a plus les mêmes problèmes, on a l’air mystérieux, ils ne viennent pas voir” (we don’t have the same problems anymore, we look mysterious, they even don’t come and see). He feels he is not understood anymore, since they shifted to organic farming and seek for animal food self-provision. These new materialities bring about other relationships with other actors (artisans, cook chefs, NGO activists) but also other socio-technical problems. To fix them, farmers seek support from elsewhere than vendors and elaborate answers through other knowledge practices -e.g. attending conferences, experimenting, reading books. Thirdly, distancing from the regime involves other truths and knowledges. Arthur (FQP) says « chaque ferme est spécifique, je ne prétends pas avoir le système universel qui marche partout » (each farm is specific, I do not claim to have universal system that works everywhere) « j’ai adapté à ce qu’on avait » (I adapted to what we had) « il faut connaitre ses vaches » (one must know his own cows, -i.e. they are not generic cows). While distancing, other things -incl. internal details, balances, and specificities- become relevant; other things become true. Then he gives an example : « la traite, ça ne peut pas être une contrainte. Sinon, on ne peut plus le faire, faut pas le faire pour les sous. Heureusement, on a le commerce pour valoriser ; c’est un tout » (milking cattle cannot be a constraint. Otherwise, we cannot do that; we could not do that just for money. Fortunately, we have a farm shop to value our milk; it is a whole). Direct selling makes it possible and realistic to continue milking cattle on their particular farm. It allows not only to maintain -even improve- labour income but also to keep the production running so that specific knowledges are still reproduced and quality food is still offered. Through these three types of moves, farms thus become specific and unique spaces, niches for novelty production.

“Struggle and hope”


To conclude this section, while agriculture modernization, its ‘Science’, agro industries, cattle competitions, and CAP subsidies do not bring desirable future anymore -even no future at all-, “Les Indomptables” creatively respond to interstices - regime failures- with multitude of novelties, new projects, relationship and bridges with other spaces -incl. by creating new commons such as nested markets and spaces where they share experience and knowledge. To institutional lock-in, deadly constraints, and powerless rule-makers, they answer with heterogenous and multiple logics; van der Ploeg says peasantries are “multitude” i.e. they “master the art of not being governed” (van der Ploeg, 2013, p. 14). They build new relationships between spaces -while they also keep distance from other spaces-, move the boundaries of farming, and construct new materialities according to their “bon sens” (lit. good/wise sense, i.e. ‘common’ sense) i.e. their own particular rationale where signals from living nature, societal wishes, and their own cultural repertoire and aspirations can all be taken into account.

In their struggle for freedom, “les Indomptables” keep moving and actually bring change by civil disobedience -e.g. by not tolerating waste, “non sens”- and acting for more coherence between their own problems’ definitions and practices within farm spaces. By developing sustainable farming practices and creating rural jobs, they struggle to insert themselves in the future as legitimate and desirable part of tomorrow’s society.

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17 février 2014 1 17 /02 /février /2014 21:01

[extract of Les Indomptables, MSc thesis]

From previous sections, we can understand that novelties make sense in the context of a farm, a farm project. This kind of project is a narrative that “met en musique tout ce petit monde” (expr. puts into music this entire little world, harmonize, bring coherence) -incl. family memebers’ roles, available and constructed resources- and contains a vision of the farm in the past, today and tomorrow. This section is aimed at reflecting on these multiple projects, rich in new expectations, partnerships, and bridges.

In the list of novelties, we can see that many dimensions of farming are involved. In the literature, there are typologies that can help so sort such novelties according to these dimensions. For instance, one could distinguish strategies aimed at broadening, deepening, or regrounding agriculture (van der Ploeg & Roep, 2003, pp. 42-44). The authors define broadening as developing activities that “enlarge the income flows of the farm enterprise, while they simultaneously imply the delivery of goods and services society is willing to pay for” -e.g. diversifying farm production, renting cottage to tourists, developing an educational farm. Deepening means increasing value added of farm products while responding to new societal demands -e.g. developing short food supply chains, developing distinctive quality products. Regrounding means changing resource use patterns notably while valuing locally available resources. Pluri-activity and farming economically (low-external inputs agriculture) are manifestations of regrounding -e.g. reducing fertilizer purchases, self-provisioning of animal food. In “The New Peasantries”, van der Ploeg (2008: 153) lists six strategies of repeasantisation i.e. that contribute to make agriculture peasant-like again. These are (1) diversification, on-farm processing and short circuits, (2) farming more economically (reduce expenditures), (3) regrounding farming upon nature. The list also includes (4) pluriactivity i.e. building the farm (partly) on off-farm income. Finally, the two last strategies are (5) developing new forms of local cooperation and (6) improving efficiency of inputs/outputs conversion. Obviously, these categories are not mutually exclusive and novelties are spontaneous, multi-faceted, and complex.

What would then be the origin of such diversity? I think we can find pieces of answer in what Jean-Pierre Darré calls “la liberté de produire des idées” (Darré, 1986, p. 24) (freedom to produce new ideas). In the theoretical insights given above, we consider each farm as a small space in itself. In each farm, economic squeeze and other macro phenomena are perceived in a particular way according to farm’s internal balances, task organization, resource flow, financial situation, geographical location, historical and cultural background. Thus, different farm families start to “walk” from different ‘locations’ i.e. to look for alternatives in different domains and to consider different indicators as relevant. Farm families combine different ways of producing knowledge: observation, trials, experimentation, read books, attend conferences, discuss with technicians, surf the internet, etc. They also have different hobbies and interests as well as friends or relatives working in different domains -e.g.forestry, carpentry, construction or automotive sector. These many factors lead to the possibility for various novelties to be produced. Moreover, farms are spaces where different novelties are combined, re-moulded and aligned. Finally, farmers complain when they say “on est seul” (we are alone); although farms are different little worlds, farmers are looking for partnership and support from outside the farm. Thus they engage in new relationships with other spaces -see next section.

Multiple projects. In the same vein, there are as many projects as farms. Farmers wish to act as they want, develop their own farming style, take part in the construction of a society which is desirable in their eyes. They want to bring about rural development, social justice, agro-biodiversity, good food, “lieu qui fait du lien” (a place that bonds) in the village, as Véronique (FDB) says. By constructing these projects, they avoid being leftovers of Modernization project (Les Misérables cf. Victor Hugo’s novel), enrolled in the reproduction of systems that lead to phenomena they don’t like -e.g. deforestation, climate change, income inequalities, soil erosion, pesticide poisoning. At their own level, these “Indomptables” (indomitable) make use of their freedom to start to build the society they want through multiple family projects. Another farmer told me : « Je me suis rendu à Agribex ce mardi et j’ai pu redécouvrir l’autre monde, celui de la technologie énergivore, de l’endettement et des banques. Un autre monde, car je ne me sens plus à ma place dans ce monde là. » (I went to Agribex -international agricultural exhibition in Brussels- on Tuesday and I could re-discover the other world, the one of energy-intensive technology, debts and banks. It is another world, because I don’t fit in that world anymore).These ‘alternative’ projects seek to create diverse new realities and new relationships. Farm families decide and commit themselves in their own projects. These projects (means and ends) are re-thought and re-adjusted through family discussions. They really differ from Modernization project that is designed and decided by policy-makers but commits many other actors. Modernization was hardly adjusted; only through centralized and heavily institutionalized procedures. Thus, issues of self-governance, democracy, and even modernity emerge with these alternative projects.

Multiple projects

Multiple logics. Therefore, there are different ways to run a farm while being “raisonnable” (wise) but not “rationnel” (rational, stuck with entrepreneur, financial rationale). Different farmers I met have their own calculus, legitimate way of mentally organizing the production. Thus, I could collect various quotes related to their ‘logic’: “il faut maintenir une taille raisonnable” (one should keep a reasonable farm size), “il faut pouvoir élever sa famille, vivre avec quarante vaches” (one should be able to raise his children, live with forty cows). While milking, Arthur (FQP) also told me “c’est gai, on nage un peu entre les vaches, on ne fait rien de mal” ([working] is funny, we ‘swim’ among cows, we don’t do harm), “tu n’as pas ce système au dessus de la tête qui nous coince” (you don’t have this system upon our head that wedges us), “c’est plus valorisant” (it is more attractive), “je vais à contre courant” (I go against the tide), “ce n’est pas hyper performant mais c’est viable” (it is not hyper-efficient but it is viable), “quand les autres arrêtent, il faut continuer” (when others stop, we should continue [to process milk]). Pierre (FDB) told me he wants to “grapiller de l’autonomie sur tous les fronts” (gain autonomy on all fronts) i.e. animal food, seeds, water, energy; both toward global markets, agro industries and subsidies schemes [Fig. 37]. He does not want to put an end to any relationships nor to target autarky; he wants to relate with other people and in new ways. Different goals, time frames, and parameters can be taken into account in farmers’ own ‘calculus’. Pierre considers this project as « un chemin, on est jamais arrivé, c’est ça qui est gai » (a path, we never arrive, it makes it attractive) although -he says- it may be « un peu frustrant de ne pas tout savoir, tout connaitre » (a bit frustrating not to know everything). While modernization project sought to bring about rupture, these farmers construct continuous, never ending projects.

Be creative to move forward. Arthur (FQP) told me: “notre ligne de conduite n’est pas fixe” (our development trajectory is not fixed), “il faut de la souplesse” (one must be flexible), “on a notre place grâce à notre souplesse” (we do exist thanks to our flexibility). These farmers are proud of a certain degree of creativity, of being able to (re)connect “modern” technologies and innovations -e.g. tractors- with alternative world views, projects, and practices i.e. different from those they were designed for. In the same vein, farmers engage in new relationships with experts. Few scientists and experts start to come to farms in order to get inspired and see novelties. This is what Louis Hautier (CRA-W Walloon agricultural research centre) and Marjolein Visser (Université Libre de Bruxelles) are eager to do despite -let’s say- ‘institutional resistance’ -see next section. They may take over some ideas and develop them further in other spaces. In addition, the adoption of a technological device (innovation) by a farmer may induce novelty production; farmers actively enroll it in their own projects, re-mould and adapt it so that it fits their farm -e.g. FDB hay dryer. Thus, they escape from unilateral prescriptive (TATE) relationships but without fully losing contact. Farmers still listen to vendors because “il y a du bon à prendre partout” (there are interesting things everywhere) -as Jean (FTS) says- but they also consider their intuition and their own observation. The reproduction of these farms still depend on selling products but farmers engage in new kinds of relationships so that they can do something about prices and product properties (standards) i.e. in other -constructed, nested- markets. Thus, farmers target to be part of the place again, to connect agriculture with local ecosystem, resources, culture, norms, neighbours, friends, and eaters. Farmers develop novelties as new ways of embedding agricultural production in living nature, societal needs, and their own emancipation desires [Fig. 38] (van der Ploeg, 2006).

Multiple projects
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17 février 2014 1 17 /02 /février /2014 20:43

The peasant space: related novelties beyond agriculture modernization

[extract of Les Indomptables, MSc thesis]

This short section is aimed at giving few theoretical insights that allow further understanding of novelty production, current manifestations and emerging properties of the peasant space -how people do construct new knowledge, new relationships and new landscapes. These are simple tools to analyze grassroots projects and associated desired futures beyond agriculture modernization (global markets, standards, premiums and regulations). These ideas come from courses followed during this MSc programme, readings of Jean-Pierre Darré books and fieldwork experience.

From the historical overview (previous sections), farmers increasingly experience conventional farming space -that some would call ‘regime’- as threatening their room for manoeuvre. They feel being reduced to buyers, adopters, always being guided, constrained, and taught. I will try to illustrate what happens both at macro and micro (farm family) level in few drawings; two drawings on the left illustrate macro phenomena, two drawings on the right illustrate micro phenomena.

The peasant space: related novelties

On the first darwing, I reproduced the well-known ‘economic squeeze’ on modern agriculture: the expansion and concentration of up and downstream agro industries make prices relations unfavourable for farmers; output prices (Py) stagnate or even decrease while farm expenditures (Px) constantly increase. Moreover, globalization of inputs and outputs markets tends to increase price fluctuations -see Annexes 2-4. The second drawing shows the direction farmers feel guided, driven to. To survive, “il faut innover” one must innovate (i.e. adopt external technologies and production systems designed by experts) and “il faut s’agrandir” one must enlarge. Market forces, premiums and regulations (cf. “la carotte et le bâton") drive “exploitations agricoles” (lit. agricultural exploitation units, official word for ‘farms’) toward an increased number of external technologies per object of labour (technology-based intensity) and an increased number of object of labour per labour unit (scale enlargement). Each trend favours the other: managing large-scale farms requires more support from high-tech devices and investing in such equipment demands greater pay-off capacity. The third drawing illustrates what happens at the level of the farm, for instance in a specialized farm that adopted high-tech intensive dairy farming system. Geometric shapes represent (novel) production-related (pattern of) practices. Commodity and prescriptive (TATE) relationships with CAP, environmental regulation apparatus, up and down stream agro industries tend to reduce farm’s room for manoeuvre and to mould the farm according to their own patterns. The example of mixed farms [see fourth drawing] gives another situation where farmers pay attention to defending some room by combining two types of production on a single farm -e.g. dairy and wheat production. Farmers ‘connect’ both productions by a non-commoditiy, internal relationship (cattle manure fertilizes cropland). The farm is half-specialized in terms of equipment; cattle manure is spread on larger area (to match easily environmental regulation); fertilizer expenditures are reduced and farm gross income relies on two different output markets (milk and wheat) instead of one.

Before going further in the analysis of novelty production, I would like to expand a bit more on family farms as spaces. Van der Ploeg (2013) offers great tools for such analysis, along the lines of Chayanov; I will not copy/paste this input here, one would be better off reading the book “Peasants and the Art of Farming”. In short, the core idea is to focus the understanding of agriculture on the micro-level of farm family, i.e. to start studying the internal balances (production/workforce - consumption/mouths to feed; utility-drudgery, etc.) and dynamics of farms in-depth to understand what happens at aggregate level. They want to study agriculture within the real, daily life of peasant families. The author defines the Art of Farming as “the deliberate and strategically grounded construction of farm” (van der Ploeg, 2013, pp. 69-70) while mastering, fine-tuning, and creatively combining its different balances. Such internal mechanics can be distancing, anti-market devices and explain particular properties of peasant farms, for instance how they “can survive without the oxygen of profit” (van der Ploeg, 2013, p. 16).

Thus, I would like to build on that input and develop about on-farm knowledge and novelty production issues in particular. During fieldwork, I noticed that farm families have specific properties that may make them fertile constructed nests, niches, for novelty production. Farm families are composed of relatives who have to different statuses, interests, skills, experience, and ways of talking about things (e.g.: husband-wife, children-grandparents). Thus, there are knowledge encounters between what children study at school, stories and experience of grandparents, what they read in newspapers, and obviously the different experiences they all respectively have on the farm, for instance through “tour des champs” (go walking around and observing fields), milking times, and feeding times. Family members have different knowledge about other related spaces. I could also notice that eating times are often particular moments of discussion (even debate) about farming -how to do well, what should be done, but also judgements and claims about neighbours’ practices (both positive and negative). Thus, family relationships contribute to the reproduction of cultural repertoire that may include religion and ancestors. Farm family shares historical background and economic reality; members may be economically dependent from one another. Thus, there is an internal legitimacy and economical control on what is “raisonnable” (reasonable) to do and to try; farm families all have particular decision-making process. As farm (partly) relies on family patrimony rather than bank capital (loans), farmer creativity and “inventivité” (inventiveness) are not strictly bounded to being “rationnel” (rational, i.e. stick to financial rationale). In addition, farmers can mobilize occasional or temporary extra work-force via (extended) family relationships. This makes it possible to try something new even if extra workforce is required. Finally, farms are locus for the formulation, definition of problems and all have their particular scope of relevance (what is important, true, interesting, relevant). However, farmers know that the list of parameters to be taken into account is not fixed but rather constantly evolving. Farmers often say that each farm family is walking on its own never-ending path “chacun fait son chemin” (everyone walks on his/her own path), continuously looking for answers to particular problems they encounter and define. All these elements make me consider family farms as interesting niches, protected spaces for novelty production. There is room for change within farms.

It is time now to define “novelty”. Let’s start with what it is not. A novelty is not an innovation developed in expert environment (i.e. elsewhere than it is supposed to work) that promises breakthrough change and that farmers have to adopt. However, a novelty is neither intrinsically meant to settle autarky, to put an end to relationships, nor to adopt technical devices of the past. In short, novelties are social practices that are new in their own context. In farms (spaces), these social practices are often related to the production of food or other farm outputs (incl. services). Novelties are ‘new’ because they are part of meaningful projects of social actors. A project is a narrative actively constructed by social actor in order to position his/her role, resources, future, and relationships with others (incl. family, village, eaters); it also contains his/her desires, expectations, wishes, and dreams. Farm project contains vision of the farm in the past, today and tomorrow so that novelties make sense through farmers’ own visions of ‘better future’. In other words, novelty production is about building new relationships and occupying peasant space in a new way. It may bring about coproduction and continuity (i.e. finding pieces of answers in living nature and in historical, cultural repertoire), both disconnections and new connections within and with outside the farm.

The peasant space: related novelties

Farmers actively create room, intimate, protected, and distanced space that can be a nest for novelty production on their farms. For instance, farmers try to limit debts but rather save money and cultivate family patrimony. They are often proud to say they may be poor but they are not in debt. Farmers do not seek to be super-equipped for every task; many tasks are still done by hand. This allows adjustment over time. Moreover, some of them even say they are more reflexive when they work ‘manually’ -rather than with machines; it makes them (re)think (to) what they do, why, and how they do. Farmers also spend their free-time (hobby) on renovating farm buildings, beekeeping, training draft horses, or visiting farms in France. They allocate and reinvest available resources on the farm and to something they like in particular. Through these diverse sorts of strategies, farmers create room for trying new things, for novelties that (they hope will) then allow further space, push boundaries further i.e. allow them to survive -without expanding or getting in-debt but rather by getting better prices, reducing costs, and increasing added-value of farm products [see fifth drawing] - and to develop their own way of doing things that matches better with their local resources, personal wishes, pereferences, norms, believes - that some would call heterogeneity of practice. Farmers spend much more time on that than on imploring the elite.

With novelty production, farmers engage in the continuous evolution of agriculture; cascades of novelties may bring about actual farm transitions over time (Roep & Wiskerke, 2004). Farmers may start to process a small part of total farm production but then increase this share and be led to adapt both crop rotation and animal food ration [see sixth drawing].

The peasant space: related novelties

Finally, novelties may push farmers to connect with other farms and in new ways. In addition, they may be led to get connected not only to other farms but also to participatory research, artisans, “revendeurs”, and restaurants, i.e. new actors involved in the (renewed) peasant space [see seventh drawing] and so, brokers of rural development too. Thus, new types of relationships may emerge besides regulation, prescription and commodity ones. Farmers gain self-governance and control on internal balances “décider nous-mêmes”.

The peasant space: related novelties
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17 février 2014 1 17 /02 /février /2014 20:30

[extract of Les Indomptables, MSc thesis]

During the fieldwork experience, I met farmers who -partly- disagree with modernization discourse, had different projects, and who were looking for something else. Thus, they frame modern changes as -source of- problems and they formulate critiques that call for stepping out of these processes and rethinking their logic of farming. They have their own categories to talk about these connected problems; the four next sub-sections gather thoughts, stories, standpoints, and worldviews that show both threat and critical thinking and that call for creativity.

Industry? We don’t fit!

Farmers I met consider their relations with upstream and downstream industries as problematic on different aspects. First, industries prevent them from “décider nous-mêmes” (lit. deciding on our own). Some farmers told me stories about other farmers who adopted innovations (farm systems) offered by industries and that reduced their room for manoeuvre. « Ils se mettent dans des systèmes impossibles » (lit. they put themselves in complicated systems) for instance they install automatic calf feeders but they have to buy milk powder, they grow commercial crops (potatoes and vegetables for can industry) but they must « tout acheter » (lit. buy everything) for cattle. Another farmer told me that dairy industries make new kinds of contracts with farmers in Germany. The dairy “dicte comment il faut faire” (lit. lays down how to do), “dicte le prix” (lays down the price), “ils ont investi, ils sont coincés” (the farmers have invested, they are stuck). In the same vein, farmers are fed up with vendors that try to convince them to invest in larger buildings, machines, tractors than what they actually want. The vendors « embobine le fermier dans la folie des grandeurs » (lit. enrolls the farmer in delusions of grandeur), then “le fermier a du mal” (the farmer has difficulties). « Les marchands nous manipulent, l’agriculture n’est qu’un prétexte pour le business. On la fait vivre pour ça » (lit. salesmen manipulate us; agriculture is just a pretext for doing business. They make it live just for that reason). Farmers formulate vendors’ offers as dangerous traps or risky options. « Quand est-ce qu’ils vont comprendre? » (when will the farmers understand ?) ; « il ne faut jamais faire confiance à tous ces représentants » (one should never trust in all these vendors).

Secondly, they consider that industries make them work in ways they don’t want to. Farmers disagree with the normative framework of industrial technologies and farm systems. Farmers I met position themselves in opposition to industrial farming i.e. farming along the lines of industrial codes and prescriptions. For instance, a farmer told me that his neighbor, industrial pig farmer, had a problem with the ventilation system during few hours. The next day, sixty tons of dead pigs were lying in the courtyard; “ce n’est pas un problème” (lit. it is not a problem [for those farmers]), the insurance intervened. On the opposite, I have been told many times “nous, on n’aime pas les robots” (lit. we don’t like milking robots); « je respecte mes vaches » (I do respect my cattle), “je ne supporte pas le gaspillage" (I can’t stand waste). Although farmers I met are still in relation with industries in a way or another, they say they would not accept to do everything, “je ne fais pas n’importe quoi » (I don’t do random things).

Thirdly, they think that industrial systems are responsible for malfunctioning world (hunger, climate change, social inequities, deforestation, etc.). For instance, a farmer told me that he doesn’t like that his milk “parte à la laiterie” (lit. goes to dairy industry) and to supermarkets, he feels guilty and responsible for the “agressivité économique” (lit. economic aggressiveness) of these companies. Farmers don’t want to take part in systems that produce a world they don’t like to see. Agro-industries and the farmer union keep telling « vous faites bien » (lit. you do well) « les gens extérieurs n’y connaissent rien » (the rest of society does not know about farming) but « on n’y croit de moins en moins » (we believe less and less in this discourse). “La société nous envoie des signaux” (lit. society sends signals to us); these farmers consider these signals and they want to rethink their ways of farming instead of following the codes, the prescriptions and the rules. In the same vein, they try to be receptive to signals sent by surrounding living nature in order to design alternative farm systems “nous essayons de sentir les besoins de la terre, des bêtes et ils le rendent, un contact s’est rétabli” (lit. we try to feel the needs of the earth, of animals and they give back, there is a contact again).

Finally, industrial projects do not match their own projects and may even undermine them. Agro-industries « ouvrent et ferment comme pour rire » (lit. open and close as for fun), « ils vont nous faire creuver de faim » (they will make us die from hunger), “elles nous laissent tomber” (they let us fall, abandon, or deceive us), so farmers do not trust in industries for long-run projects. New technologies makes “labour that pays back” redundant « dès qu’on ne va plus devoir mettre nos mains dessus (…) on ne va plus rien gagner » (lit. as soon as we won’t have to put our hands on it anymore, (…) we won’t earn anything”). Many of technologies industries offer don’t help them to reach their goals. For instance, the newest machines are neither affordable nor adapted to their needs “ce n’est pas pour nous tout ça” (lit. all this is not for us).

Continuity is threatened

Although most of farmers I met are farming “de père en fils” (lit. from father to son) for decades, the continuity of this activity is not evident and is even threatened. Market forces make farming hard and risky; inputs prices (“les charges”) increase faster than outputs’. Statistical data confirm this “economic squeeze” and shows that many farms are still running thanks to the fact that farmers are not paying wages to themselves (DGARNE - SPW/DGO 3, 2013, p. 61). As farmers cannot do anything about output and input prices, the only way to get an income is to enlarge the farm (reduce labour input per object of labour) and to increase farm “competitiveness” with high-tech and specialized equipment. Then a new problem emerges in farm families: “la reprise” (i.e. when the son/daughter takes over parents’ farm) is really difficult because of too large and specialized investments « ça tue les jeunes » (lit. it kills youth). The young generation gets in debt at a high level and for a long time; it’s often considered as insane « il faut garder une pomme pour sa soif » a farm accountant told me (expr. one should keep something for rainy days)

Thus, the threat comes from outside: “les marchés” (markets), “les factures à payer” (invoices to be paid) threaten their labour income. “Il faut reconnaitre notre travail” (our labour must be acknowledged) “il est grand temps qu’on s’en aperçoive, sinon les jeunes ne vont pas continuer” (it’s really time to be aware of this, otherwise children will not continue). Farmers then warn their surrounding environment that their own disappearance would be damaging. “À côté de nous, on fait vivre le vété, le marchand d’aliments, etc.; on donne du travail” (we make the vet, animal food provider, etc. live besides us; we give them work). If there was only one big farmer per village, there would be « du gros materiel et un chauffeur, et puis c’est tout » (big machines and a driver, that’s all) « ils coupent la branche sur laquelle ils sont assis » (they are cutting the branch they are sat on).

Modern problems
Modern problems

“Les Rapaces”

The threat of “les rapaces” (lit. the raptors or the rapacious) comes from different but entangled processes: scale enlargement, global market competition, farm and region specialization, and CAP premiums. One should keep in mind that this threat is both an issue of land access and land use. “Les rapaces” are taking over land everywhere it is possible to grow commercial crops (wheat, potatoes, beetroots, vegetables for can industry). Rapaces are called by their family name and farmers often talk about them. However, farmers rarely see them as they live further from their fields and they work fast with big machines. Rapaces almost never come to their fields except for intervening (planting, fertilizing, spraying pesticides, and harvesting). They are known for not respecting social norms “les bonnes pratiques entre fermiers” (lit. good practices between farmers) and making non-sustainable use of the land.

Rapaces are either “les gros fermiers du village” (lit. the big farmers of the village) i.e. ‘remaining’ farmers that seek to expand their farms because of the economic squeeze - “la fuite en avant” (lit. headlong evasion) - or “gestionnaires” (lit. managers) of hundreds of hectares who work for large land owners (incl. private companies, local industries, banks). These farms are often mounted in “sociétés” (lit. companies) in order to gather capital (land and machinery -incl. investments made by non-agricultural entities), make the transfer of ownership easier and pay less tax. Their practices are described as immoral; farmers I met experienced them as ruptures towards the social norms that have regulated land access and land use until now.

Attachment to land has a long history in this area, particularly in the “Maugré” stories. For centuries, around Tournai, village communities revenged former tenant who had to leave the land “de mal gré” (i.e. against his will, according to owner’s will) by sabotaging undercover new tenants’ belongings. Indeed, the former tenant would lose the land “enrichie de son travail et de son expérience” (lit. enriched by his work and his skills) (Ravez, 1975, p. 471); village members acted as Robin Hood characters around the contested notion of land ownership. This practice sought to frighten newcomers, prevent rent increases, and witnessed a kind of solidarity among village members against landowners. The last manifestation of “malédiction du Maugré” happened in the late 1970s but it is still one of the major mysterious local stories. Thus, the local custom slowly but hardly disappeared despite repression (public death penalty executions) and new tenure laws.

Today, the law organizes the “bail à ferme” (agricultural usufructuary lease) as the general rule. This frame guarantees land access for at least nine years to the farmer. In this frame, the rent is often cheap and the contract is renewable implicitly - it may even not be written at all. When a farmer retires, there is either “reprise par un enfant” - the right is transferred to the son/daughter - or “remise à un confrère” - i.e. to a colleague. The law also authorizes the “location à l’année” (i.e. rent for a year); this right is negotiable every year and the rent is often much higher. The law foresees that the new tenant gives a certain amount of money to the former for “graisses et fumures” i.e. to pay for investments made by former tenant in field fertility. The law provides the formula to calculate this relatively little amount of money. Besides the legal frame and since the mid-twentieth century, it became socially accepted in this area that in case of “remise”, the new tenant gives “un chapeau” (lit. a hat) i.e. extra money “under the table” -not declared- to the former tenant -in addition to “graisses et fumures”. Since the 1970s, the “chapeau” increased and became the source of many conflicts within and between farm families. Flemish migrants could offer bigger “chapeaux” thanks to the support they got from the Boerenbond; it has happened that fathers chose to sell the farm to Flemish migrants rather than to their own children. Obviously, local farmers find it immoral that newcomers offer “chapeaux” that they cannot afford.

It is said that rapaces take an active part in the “surenchère” (lit. overbid); they are looking for land whatever the price and they offer higher “chapeaux” than what farmers can afford. Thus, they gather land from deactivated farms i.e. when the farmer retires, goes bankrupt or dies, “c’est un monde de rapaces” (lit. it is a world of raptors); farmers say they sometimes lie and bribe to get the pieces of land. Farmers complain that there is no solidarity among farmers anymore; they describe this economic battle for land as “un jeu d’échec” (a chess game) between huge farmers they are not part of nor playing in. Rapaces negotiate short-term tenure agreements with landowners “l’agriculture à contrats” (lit. contracts agriculture). Indeed, under the “bail à ferme”, the land owner cannot increase the rent during the covered period; landowners try not to “tomber dans le bail à ferme” (lit. fall -as in a trap- in the usufructuary lease) i.e. to be stuck for nine years with the same tenant. To do so, they must change of tenant regularly. Rapaces promise to leave the land whenever the landowner wants but demand lower rent than “location à l’année” as a counterpart. Rapaces give a part of the “chapeau” to the land owner also.

Rapaces are also considered as ‘the opposite camp’ in terms of land use; they are ‘entrepreneurs’ « on fait en fonction du marché » (lit. they do according to the market), they are considered as CAP premiums hunters and practice monocrop farming of commercial “speculations" e.g. « blé sur blé » (wheat after wheat). Such short-term calculations are considered as ‘pillaging’ rather than ‘cultivation’. This way of farming is considered as easier and « on serait plus riche » (lit. we would be richer) if ‘we’ did like ‘them’. Most of rapaces do not have livestock so they don’t spread manure « il y a de moins en moins d’éleveurs » (lit. there is less and less livestock farmers). A farmer told me: “je suis trop vieux mais toi tu vas en voir” (lit. I am too old but you will see) “toutes ces sociétés qui cultivent et qui vendent la paille (…) au noir, ils veulent leurs sous” (all these companies that cultivate and sell straw … ‘in black’, they want their money) « ils ne devraient pas » (they should not). As they don’t have manure, he thinks they should at least keep their straw to maintain soil structure. As they manage huge number of fields, they have less time and must work faster « rouler plus vite » (lit. drive -instead of work- faster) with bigger tractors and machines. “La force de frappe des gros, c’est le pulvé” (lit. the core strength of big farmers is their pesticide sprayer). « Ils démolissent plus le terrain » (lit. they destroy more the land) « les tâches sont réalisées n’importe quand » (tasks are done at random moments) « ils ne produisent pas spécialement plus » (they don’t really produce more) « avec l’agriculture par contrats, les rendements stagnent » (in contracts agriculture, yields stagnate) « c’est une dérive point de vue environnemental » (it’s a drifting into environmental degradation) as they cause floodings and soil erosion. Farmers sometimes blame them for starting plowing along the street, not letting grass strips between parcels, spraying herbicides on ditches, removing hedgerows with bulldozers, plowing and draining wetlands & meadows while pocketing subsidies for draining.

As long as the “bail à ferme” runs, farmers are not directly threatened by rapaces; the problem only occurs at the end of the agreement -e.g. when the landowner decides to sell the land- or for farmers who rent “à l’année” -they are in direct competition with rapaces. Thanks to their economic (incl. subsidy) and technological forces, rapaces can buy land more easily and farm fields further in other villages. In some cases, rapaces prevent farmers from getting more land “ce n’est pas evident au village (…) quand on a des gros machins ainsi (…) c’est lui qui a mis le grappin sur tout” (lit. it is not easy in the village … when there are such big [farmers] … he got everything in his grips). When it is possible, farmers try to buy the land they use and avoid letting ‘their land’ go in the hands of rapaces.

Another threat on land are the land use management changes « gens qui décident dans les bureaux » (lit. people who decide in offices) « faudrait leur faire enfiler des bottes » (we should make them put on farm boots). A farm I went to sees its grasslands being converted into housing projects -villas with private gardens. Landowners and real estate companies want to value the constructible land and try to put an end to the tenure agreement. « Il faut toujours se battre » (lit. we always have to fight), as soon as they were done with paying back « la reprise », they had to buy land. « L’avenir est menacé » (lit. future is threatened) « ça nous tracasse » (we are worried about that) “qu’on nous laisse ce dont on a besoin pour vivre!” ([we wish] that they would let us enough land, what we need to live). This last kind of threat involves non-agricultural agents and non-agricultural land use but also provokes a rupture in terms of land use and access regulation -both legal and non-legal. In the same vein, a group of Belgian NGOs is working on the phenomenon of land grabbing and also takes together land use and access changes as threats to peasant agriculture (CNCD-11.11.11; 11.11.11; SOS Faim; Oxfam-Solidarité; Réseau Financement Alternatif; FAIRFIN, 2013).

La carotte et le bâton

Last but not least, farmers are fed up with being ‘subsidized farmers’ i.e. stuck between premiums -the carrot- and conditionality, criteria and controls - the stick. “Tout ce système au dessus de la tête” (lit. all this system upon our head) makes them do an agriculture they did not really chose, and enrolls them in projects of others. Far from being democratic, this system demands farmers’ compliance: to stick to public rules -perceived as changing dreams of politicians- and to industrial standards. « Ces aides, ça te conditionne à beaucoup de choses, se préparer pour les contrôles : la compta, le contrôle bio, la déclaration de la PAC, les MAE… On se mord la queue. Avant les aides, les fermiers étaient trop indomptables. Nous, on est encore indépendants, plus libres mais il faudrait l’être encore plus » (those aids, it conditions you to do a lot of things, get prepared for all these controls: accountancy, organic certification, CAP declaration, agri-environmental measures… We’re biting our own tail. Before the aids, farmers were too indomitable. Us, we are still independent, freer, but we should be even freer). Agriculture modernization brought about the design of institutional systems meant for guiding, piloting virtual units. Thus, the responsibility of system well-functioning -matching with expected outcomes- is located in the ‘rationality’ of the units - they think as they should and adopt the new rationale - and in the design of the system -premiums and criteria induce proper behaviour. In the same vein, some farmers also criticize agricultural schools that kill curiosity « on ne peut pas penser autrement » (lit. one must not think otherwise) and train young farmers to be good and compliant managers.

During the fieldwork, I could feel farmers tiredness of following changing prescriptions, chasing after illusionary and virtual farm functioning. They have the feeling that public rules are aligned with industrial standards and that they will never really fit. They are always ‘special’ and if ever they reach a satisfactory level, it is never the case for a long time. Only the well-equipped specialized farms fit. Although farmers do not agree nor want to comply with all the criteria, ‘the stick’ is always there. “Une nouvelle checklist, ça nous casse les bras” (lit. a new checklist, it breaks our arms); it reaches such a point that farmers sometimes wonder whether these institutions still want them to exist. Farmers blame this institutional apparatus for being exhausting and killing farming attractiveness in the eyes of their children. But Arthur told me: “Nous on va se battre, on ne va pas s’arrêter” (lit. we will fight, we won’t stop) …

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MSc Thesis, Development & Rural Innovation at Wageningen University (NL)

MSc Thesis, Development & Rural Innovation at Wageningen University (NL)

Résumé (Summary in English: see below)

Mes ancêtres -paternels comme maternels- ont travaillé la terre pendant des générations. Siècle après siècle, les paysans ont cultivé cet art ancestral et salutaire de la débrouillardise nourricière; ils ont nourri les autres dans la plaine comme dans la montagne, sous la dictature comme en « démocratie ». Cependant, les journaux agricoles disent que nous allons disparaître bientôt ; la population paysanne chute de façon continue depuis plusieurs décennies. Allons-nous vraiment disparaitre? Comment et pourquoi sommes-nous arrivés à une telle situation? Que se passe-t-il dans les fermes aujourd’hui? Quels sont les projets des agriculteurs? Quels futurs nous ouvrent-ils? C’est en bref la structure de ce mémoire. Cette observation alarmante m’a motivé d’aller voir dans les fermes, celle de mes parents et celles de confrères, ce qui s’y passe et de comprendre plus en profondeur les phénomènes en cours. Ainsi, j’ai téléphone à quelques cousins & collègues et leur ai dit que j’étais intéressé par leur “inventivité”, leur propre façon de faire les choses; je leur ai demandé si je pouvais venir travailler avec eux dans leurs fermes, les suivre dans leurs activités quotidiennes -quelles qu’elles soient- afin de comprendre comment et pourquoi ils cherchent à changer leurs routines, c'est-à-dire à produire des ‘nouveautés’.

 

Alors que la modernisation de l’agriculture, sa « Science », les agro-industries, les concours bovins et les primes PAC n’offrent plus de futur désirable -voire plus de futur du tout-, « Les Indomptables » répondent avec créativité aux interstices -échecs du régime- avec une multitude de nouveautés, de nouveaux projets, réciprocités et partenariats. Il s’agit de la lutte de paysans pour le droit de « progresser » dans la direction qu’ils souhaitent. Cette ethnographie a pour objectif d’étudier la repaysannisation de l’agriculture comme une forme de développement rural auto-organisé, c’est-à-dire étudier comment ces agriculteurs (re-) connectent spontanément des ressources locales à leurs activités et projets. En développant des pratiques agricoles durables et en créant des emplois ruraux, ces agriculteurs luttent pour être reconnus parties légitimes et désirables de la société de demain.

Les Indomptables [MSc thesis]

Summary

My ancestors from both sides have been farming for ages. Peasants have continuously held this as ancestral as salutary art of nourishing “débrouillardise” (lit. problem-solving creativity) for ages; they have fed others in the plain as in the mountain, under dictatorship as under “democracy”. However, farmer newspapers today say we may disappear soon; ‘eternal’ peasant population rushes to the bottom.

 

Are we really going to disappear? How and why did we get to this situation? What is going on in farms today? What are farmers’ plans and projects? What futures do these projects lead to? This is in short the structure of this MSc thesis. This alarming observation motivated me to go and see on farms in order to better see, understand phenomena going on in the reality of farms, and to reflect deeper on underlying issues. Thus, I phoned a few cousins and other colleagues and told them I was interested in their “inventivité” (inventiveness), their own way of doing things; I asked them to go and work with them in their own farm, in their daily activities -whatever it would be- to understand why and how they are looking to change their routines, i.e. for novelties.

 

While agriculture modernization, its ‘Science’, agro industries, cattle competitions, and CAP subsidies do not bring desirable future anymore -even no future at all-, “Les Indomptables” creatively respond to interstices - regime failures- with multitude of novelties, new projects, relationship and bridges with other spaces -incl. by creating new commons such as nested markets and spaces where they share experience and knowledge.

 

This MSc thesis is about freedom to carry on projects toward a better society - multiple, diverse as our worldviews and wishes are. It is about peasants’ struggle for the right to make progress in the direction they want. This practice-oriented ethnography is aimed at studying repeasantization as self-organized development, i.e. studying how farmers actively connect local, available resources with their own activities and projects.

 

In their struggle for freedom, “les Indomptables” keep moving and actually bring change by civil disobedience -e.g. by not tolerating waste, “non sens”- and acting for more coherence between their own problems’ definitions and practices within farm spaces. By developing sustainable farming practices and creating rural jobs, they struggle to insert themselves in the future as legitimate and desirable part of tomorrow’s society.

Table of content: click on to enlarge

Table of content: click on to enlarge

Table of contents
ENGLISH FRANCAIS
Full-text : available on Organic Eprints A venir
Introduction: this page Introduction: cette page
Thesis project: see full-text Projet de mémoire: A venir
Wallonia and its agriculture: see full-text La Wallonie et son agriculture: A venir
Modernization: the project : see full-text Modernisation: le projet : A venir
Modernization: the process : see full-text Modernisation: le processus : A venir
Modernization: the practices : see full-text Modernisation: les pratiques : A venir
Modern problems Les problèmes modernes: A venir
Peasant Space L'espace paysan
Farm profiles: see full-text Profils de ferme : A venir
Description of novelties: see full-text Description des nouveautés: A venir
Multiple projects Multiples projets: A venir
Struggle and Hope Lutte et Espoir: A venir
Conclusions: see full-text + extract on this page Conclusions: A venir

 

Introduction (English: see below)

Mes ancêtres -paternels comme maternels- ont travaillé la terre pendant des générations. Mes deux grand-pères ont chanté “Le Credo du Paysan” ensemble au mariage de mes parents; ce chant chrétien imprégné de la culture paysanne demeure connu dans les familles rurales. Il rend gloire à une nature admirée, créée et vivante, au dévouement au travail, à la famille, à la vie, aux champs, à la fertilité, à l’espoir dans le futur et à la liberté à venir. Siècle après siècle, les paysans ont cultivé cet art ancestral et salutaire de la débrouillardise nourricière; ils ont nourri les autres dans la plaine comme dans la montagne, sous la dictature comme en « démocratie ». Cependant, les journaux agricoles disent que nous allons disparaître bientôt ; la population paysanne chute de façon continue depuis plusieurs décennies.

Allons-nous vraiment disparaitre? Comment et pourquoi sommes-nous arrivés à une telle situation? Que se passe-t-il dans les fermes aujourd’hui? Quels sont les projets des agriculteurs? Quels futurs nous ouvrent-ils? C’est en bref la structure de ce mémoire. Cette observation alarmante m’a motivé d’aller voir dans les fermes, celle de mes parents et celles de confrères, ce qui s’y passe et de comprendre plus en profondeur les phénomènes en cours. Ainsi, j’ai téléphone à quelques cousins & collègues et leur ai dit que j’étais intéressé par leur “inventivité”, leur propre façon de faire les choses; je leur ai demandé si je pouvais venir travailler avec eux dans leurs fermes, les suivre dans leurs activités quotidiennes -quelles qu’elles soient- afin de comprendre comment et pourquoi ils cherchent à changer leurs routines, c'est-à-dire à produire des ‘nouveautés’.

Alors que l’adoption d’innovations technologiques - un nouveau tracteur ou un robot de traite- est très visible, la production de ‘nouveautés’ n’est pas considérée, parfois supposée, pratiquement invisible. En réalité, elle prend place dans l’espace privé et intime des fermes ; elle est le fruit d’observations et d’expériences personnelles, d’intuition, et même de relations avec les ancêtres. Cependant, je voudrais la mettre en évidence; comme J-D van der Ploeg (2013, p. 11) la décrit, l’agriculture paysanne est une pratique sans théorie et ses manifestations sont trop souvent considérés comme des ‘comportements irrationnels’, non compris et donc inexsitants et impertinents. Dans ce mémoire, le terme ‘nouveauté’ est utilisé pour mettre en évidence les dynamiques parmi l’hétérogénéité des pratiques et ce qui se passe dans l’intimité des fermes. Ce mémoire parle donc de la liberté de produire de nouvelles idées mais aussi de sécurité alimentaire, de souveraineté alimentaire, de durabilité, de justice sociale et d’emploi. Il s’agit de la liberté de porter des projets vers une meilleure société -multiple, diverse, comme nos points de vue et nos souhaits le sont. Il s’agit de la lutte de paysans pour le droit de « progresser » dans la direction qu’ils souhaitent. Cette ethnographie a pour objectif d’étudier la repaysannisation comme un développement auto-organisé, c’est-à-dire étudier comment ces agriculteurs (re-) connectent spontanément des ressources locales à leurs activités et projets.

Introduction

My ancestors from both sides have been farming for ages. My two grandpas sang this song “Le Credo du Paysan” together at my parents’ wedding; this Christian song imprinted by peasant culture remains well-known in farm families. It glorifies beautiful, created and malleable living nature, dedication to hard work of the land to feed one’s family, life, fields, fertility, hope in the future, and freedom to come. Peasants have continuously held this as ancestral as salutary art of nourishing “débrouillardise” (lit. problem-solving creativity) for ages; they have fed others in the plain as in the mountain, under dictatorship as under “democracy”. However, farmer newspapers today say we may disappear soon; ‘eternal’ peasant population rushes to the bottom.

Are we really going to disappear? How and why did we get to this situation? What is going on in farms today? What are farmers’ plans and projects? What futures do these projects lead to? This is in short the structure of this MSc thesis. This alarming observation motivated me to go and see in farms, not only at home but also to colleagues’ in order to better see, understand phenomena going on in the reality of farms, and to reflect deeper on underlying issues. Thus, I phoned a few cousins and other colleagues and told them I was interested in their “inventivité” (inventiveness), their own way of doing things; I asked them to go and work with them in their own farm, in their daily activities -whatever it would be- to understand why and how they are looking to change their routines, i.e. for novelties.

While the adoption of new technologies, ‘innovations’ -e.g. new tractor or milking robot- is highly visible, the production of novelties is not considered, sometimes assumed, but almost invisible. Actually, it takes place in private, intimate farm space; it emerges from personal observation, experience, intuition, and even religion and relation with ancestors… However, I would like to point it out; as says, peasant agriculture is a practice without a theory and its enactments are too often considered as “irrational behaviors”, not understood so inexistent and irrelevant. Here, the word “novelty” is used to highlight the dynamics within heterogeneity of practice and what is going on within the intimacy of farm spaces.

Thus, this MSc thesis is about freedom to produce new ideas but it is also about food security, food sovereignty, sustainability, social justice and employment. It’s about freedom to carry on projects toward a better society - multiple, diverse as our worldviews and wishes are. It is about peasants’ struggle for the right to make progress in the direction they -we- want. This practice-oriented ethnography is aimed at studying repeasantization as self-organized development, i.e. studying how farmers actively connect local, available resources with their own activities and projects.

Conclusion

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Who, then, are “Les Indomptables”? What characterizes both ‘in born’ and ‘new’ peasants? First of all, the context of regime failure really matters. Manifestations of institutional incapacity are everywhere around us: erosion of consumers’ trust about food quality, obesity and hunger, environmental degradation, increasing income inequalities. Global markets and technological developments erase agricultural labour -and peasants- from the landscape day after day. In this context, what do they do? They produce novelties; they ‘occupy’ their ‘freedom to walk’ in two different ways. On the one hand, they make use of their room for manoeuvre, self-governance, locally available resources, coproduction, quality labour and associated knowledge within farm spaces to produce novelties. On the other hand, they invest labour and energy in new connections with actors from other spaces, outside the farm. As peasant space is an open space, farmers may get involved in relationships with unexpected spaces so that they are unpredictable and ungovernable. They do so with a lot of “inventivité” (inventiveness, creativity, flexibility) -they make specific, particular use of elements they are interested in, even ‘modern’ technologies and high-tech devices- and perseverance “it’s hard but there is hope” -they are not afraid of breaking boundaries; they are not fatalist toward difficulties, rules and constraints. Finally, farmers produce novelties because they actually seek for coherence with better society; novelties are parts of alternative projects toward desired futures beyond agriculture modernization, markets, regulations and subsidies. “Les Indomptables” bring societal change by changing their farm in the direction(s) they want.

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