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Agrarian Scholarship: Actors, Processes and Policies

Rajeswari Raina

Edited by V.K. Ramachandran and Madhura Swaminathan
Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 568, Rs. 780.00


Published as the aproceedings of an international conference, organized by the Development and Planning Department of the Government of West Bengal, this is an exciting book. The book features stalwarts in the literature on the political economy of agriculture. The 20 essays and presentations are divided into 5 sections--(1) theoretical perspectives, (2) agrarian relations, human development and neoliberal land reform, (3) Latin America-country experiences, (4) South Asia-country experiences, (5) some socialist experiences. The book delivers a fortified attack on the processes of liberalization and structural adjustment being imposed on the rural populations in less developed countries by global and domestic capital. A significant feature that enriches the attack is the inclusion of several non-academic authors, and the discussions presenting the views of activists, bureaucrats, politicians and academics. The fortification comes from the various analyses, presenting different views, arguing that there are other historical processes and institutional determinants besides 'good capital' that lead to the immiseration of the rural proletariat. For instance, the 'landlord biased' agricultural policy, and indifference and lethargy of the public sector may be determinants. The book presents a power packed melee; there are historical specificities of stratification and inequalities in each region/country, and several ways and forms in which capitalism exists and transforms rural society. Yet there are common principles and processes like land reform, applicable across countries and contexts, determining the access and control that the rural poor have over their land and labour resources, and thereby to rural well being. The introduction confesses that scholarship has lagged behind the rapid and complex changes that are occurring in the countryside in less-developmed countries. Should scholarship inform only movements seeking social change? When seeking agrarian rejform are 'the classes that have been identified' (p. xiv) the only ones to be mobilized? How does/can scholarship engage with different actors, understand policy processes as well as inform and change policies?  Recent neo-liberal policies tend to see agriculture as commodity production conditioned by comparative advantage as estimated in a global free market. But agriculture has different purposes and meanings--commodity production--for subsistence or for the market, a status symbol, an activity to maintain or control soil and water resources, a meager wage, an explicit and sometimes lifetime contract, a technology package, a message, crucial input markets, some unique and exploitative gender relationship, a sector in the economy, an information/data set, and several culturally and ecologically specific concepts or ways of living, for different people, ...

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