Con cojones y maestria : un estudio sociologico-agronomico acerca del desarrollo rural endogeno y procesos de localizacion en la Sierra de la Contraviesa (Espana)

Remmers, G.G.A.


The present volume is concerned with the development problems and prospects of the Contraviesa mountains in Southern Spain. Situated paralel to the Mediterranean Sea, the mountain reach heights of 1,500 meters. The region constitutes the lower part of the Alpujarra region of Granada province, Andalusia. The main economic activity is dryland farming producing perennial crops, such as wine grapes, almonds and figs. Socioeconomically, the area belongs to the category generally labelled 'marginal'. Indicators commonly used to define this category are also present in the Contraviesa and include the out-migration of young people, poor infrastructure, its isolated setting and unfavourable natural conditions - such as steep slopes, poor soil, a low annual rainfall, 350 and 600 millimetres, with signs of a downward trend. It is generally considered that these natural conditions make the region unfit for agriculture as a source of regional development. The present study challenges this position, by exploring alternative strategies for socio-economic development drawing upon agriculture and other local resources.

The central theme of this socio-agronomic study is enlarging the design capacity to cope with the problems of rural and agrarian development . Special prominence is given to those development processes, areas, activities and groups of people which tend to be overlooked, undervalued and as a result dismissed as marginal. It is argued that these factors are crucial to locating alternative ways for development. In this study these elements - the 'unnoticed' - will be examined as follows:

  1. theoretically (globalization, localization, diversity; see Chapters 1 and 7);
  2. empirically (statistics, management of natural resources, farming styles, development interventions, collective actions of the local community; see Chapters 2-6)
  3. exploratory (design capacity, creativity, experiments, redundancy, analysis versus synthesis; see Chapter 7).

On theory: globalization, localization, diversity
Chapter 1 begins with a theoretical discussion of the processes of globalization and localization. Globalization should not be seen as a structural phenomenon exerting a decisive influence on the local level, rather, both globalization and localization are processes generating the rules for interaction between localities . Accordingly, I use the term localization (which I equate with endogenous development ) when, on a given issue, a non-dominant locality (or the 'local') is able to exercise a decisive influence over a dominant locality (a 'globality', or the 'global'). In my research, I have used an actor-oriented approach to trace the processes involved. It is an approach particularly suited to this type of inquiry.

There is an urgent need to re-examine the agricultural activities of marginal-level areas. These activities are frequently dismissed as being of limited development potential. This is particularly the case when the agro-food complex is analysed from a structuralist perspective in which local agricultural developments are seen as being primarily determined by the mechanisms of international markets and State interventions. In this study I wish to highlight the heterogeneity of agricultural activities, and stress the particular ways in which farmers organize their labour processes with respect to markets, their land and the State. Such organisational arrangements are called farming styles . They refer to sets of culturally-shared notions on how farming activities should be carried out. Local knowledge of natural resource management is embedded in these notions. The concept of farming style is thought to be helpful in understanding and explaining the coherency of farming activities. The fact that it is far from easy to gain insight into this question may well explain why non-farming outsiders, such as agronomists, sociologists and politicians, tend to mistake a farming performance for a farm plan (see Richards, 1995).

I devise a theoretical model to facilitate the explanation the generation of diversity (used as a synonym for heterogeneity), a process that is at best poorly understood. The notions of plan, performance and context are central to the model developed and are combined with central elements of Giddens' structuration theory. The plans of actors interact with their specific contexts and crystallize into temporary performances, which in turn modify both plans and contexts. In this way, actors weave together plans, contexts and performances, threads that may at a particular moment intersect with the threads of other actors. At this intersection, projects interlock and joint performances are generated.

In translating a plan into a performance, actors draw not only on their knowledgeability and capability , but also on their creativity . Creativity is considered to be the third formal property of actors. Creativity implies the capacity to perceive the relevance of aspects of the context with regard to the plan. While in the case of intended action unacknowledged conditions are bound to generate diversity, the creative capacity of an actor is bound to create diversity. However, although a lot is known about the creative processes of acclaimed geniuses, much less is known about the day to day creations and discoveries of 'ordinary people', like farmers, and this is what the farming styles concept intends to contribute to. Discoveries imply authorship and processes of authorization (see Schaffer, 1994). Accordingly, creating and generating diversity are processes that can only take place when there is social interaction . This applies not only to the diversity found in the farming world, but also to the range of alternative approaches towards development issues and different scientific views on these approaches. This situation has important methodological consequences. In my case, I have choosen to use a combination of participant observation, semi-structured interviewing, and extensive case studies. This, then, leads us to the empirical part.

The empirical material: statistics, natural resource management, farming styles, development interventions, local collective action
Chapter 2 reviews the statistical data available on demography, employment, external economic dependence and land tenure in the Contraviesa. From the figures two major conclusions may be drawn. First, although the Contraviesa, in spite of being a marginal-level area, it is far less dependent on external subsidies than is commonly believed. On the contrary, it would appear that agriculturally much richer areas such as in Seville province are much more dependent on external financing. In 1992, subsidies accounted for less than 5,5 per cent of total farming income, whereas in Seville this figure was 37 per cent. Second, the massive out-migration, which began in the 1950's, has not made agricultural society apathetic, as might be expected, but even more dynamic, especially so until the early 1980's.

In Chapter 3 the dynamic tendencies apparent in Contraviesa society are elaborated futher, as part of an historic overview of the management of natural resources during the past century. The descriptions provided are mainly based on primary data, collected using ethno-ecological techniques. Three important issues are highlighted in this summary.

First, the importance of the way farmers exchange genetic material is discussed. Farmers do this very selectively: they go to a particular place, and deal with particular people to obtain particular seed. This leads us to hypothesize the existence of a relatively dense network of places where seed of a specific quality is produced; along in this network, seed is transported from one place to another. The term ' crop stops ' is coined here, demonstrating how seed 'embarks' on a journey along the network 'alighting' at specific 'stops'. Once seeds have 'disembarked' they are cropped and embedded according to local agricultural practices. A ' crop stop ' serves as a climate chamber , an environment where seed is given the chance to adapt, phenotypically, to the new conditions. These new natural conditions may give rise to new genetic qualities, and at such moment the climate chamber takes on the character of a delivery room . Thus, the exchange of genetic material may be seen as a system of phenotypic performances according to a genetic plan within a changing context. In other words, the theoretical model which was suggested in Chapter 1 to explain the generation of diversity, also proves useful in the field of natural sciences.

Chapter 3 also deals with moruna ( Vicia articulata Hornem.), a vetch used locally as a green manure and animal feed. The legume is largely absent from agronomic literature despite its usefulness for sustainable agroecosystem design. However, farmers of the so-called High Alpujarra have long recognized this potential. They use seed from the Contraviesa to enhance soil fertility in irrigated horticultural rotations. This organic dependence is a two-way process; farmers from the Contraviesa get barley seed from selected people from the High Alpujarra.

Finally, Chapter 3 discusses the melgar reforestation , a farmer concept to counter the erosion processes in the Contraviesa. Melga or merga is an ancient Spanish word embedded in farmer discourse that refers to small 'spots' on the land of minor importance to the farmer. Instead of combatting the desertification that currently threatens large parts of Southeastern Spain by developing minimum-size tree plantations as is done at present by the Andalusian administration, melgar reforestation proposes a to reforest (very) small patches of land. It is argued that this allows farmers to integrate economic with ecological interests more efficiently and tha practice may also be relevant from a metapopulation theoretical perspective.

Chapter 4 deals extensively with the development of different farming styles and links with the earlier mentioned farming dynamism that enabled people to respond to successive crisis by drawing upon the local cultural repertoire. Massive outmigration led not only to a social depolarization of the Contraviesa (whwn both rich and poor fled the region), but it also enabled the emancipation of those at middle and lower socio-economic levels, who now focussed on making their dream becoming a labrador come true. This term refers to a regional farming style that has served as a reference point for farm development over the years. Key aspects of this style include trying to achieve a farm size that would be big enough to produce viable farms for sons and daughters even after a subdivision into heritable parts (the heritage farm ); the development of as wide an array of products such wine, almonds, figs, cereals, legume species, different types of livestock, vegetables and olives as possible to secure self sufficiency and the determination to acheive as much autonomy as possible from the market and the State.

Gradually, two major farming styles evolved from the regional labrador farming style. One is the anchura type labrador, who emphasize spreading risks and lowering labour costs at the expense of a constant product quality and quantity. The other is the constancia type labrador who emphasizes doing farm jobs at the right moment in order to obtain good and constant quality and quantity involving considerable labour costs, even in years when the harvest is expected to fail. Temporary migration has often played an important role in the construction of the labrador farms. However, not all households were able to make the labrador ideal come true and some continued to rely on external income. Money is earned by ploughing the land of other farmers (the muleros , the muleteers), or taking on additional non-agricultural jobs (the so-called migrantes , migrants).

In the mid-eighties the gradual change in the relative worth of land and labour affects validity of the labrador farm-development project. Other ways had to be found and until the early nineties they were typified by specialisation in vitiviniculture, ecological farming and mechanisation. These elements have been rearranged into new farming perspectives, in an attempt to make the most of local resources. Typically, and contrary to the labrador project, the preferred farm size is one that makes it possible to work with family labour, an area of 10-25 ha, depending on farming style. This tendency, supported by a case study of the recent economic collapse of one of the latifundist type farms, runs counter to beliefs that farming in marginalized areas is only viable when the land base is greatly enlarged. Gradually new farming styles are emerging that seek to link land, labour, technology, markets and the State in new ways. This involves considerable difficulties and many farm housholds are uncertain about how they should proceed. Chapter 4 concludes with a comparison of the economic performance of these different farming styles at househlod and regional level.

In chapter 5, recent local initiatives to transcend the labrador autonomy, in order to defend and improve socio-economic conditions in the Contraviesa on a collective basis, are examined. Studies of a neighbourhood assocociation, the Association of Winegrowers and an ecological wine co-operative are presented, whcih show the crucial role played by intermediaries, individuals capable of articulating the local with the global and vice versa, and of translating, adapting and adjusting the global prescriptions to local realities, whenever possible.

The lack of intermediaries with these qualities is what currently troubles (semi-)public development interventions, of which Chapter 5 discusses two case studies. One case concerns the Plan for the Improvement of the Almonds, which is an European Union and Spanish state subsidized programme implemented through a nation-wide network of co-operatives. In theory it is meant to increase the productivity of almond groves, but in practice it is little more than an additional source of income for farmers. As the Plan is prescriptive as far as the use of chemical inputs is concerned, it ignores and destroys local potential for the ecological cropping of almonds, using such techniques as green manuring with moruna .

The other case is the EU funded LEADER Programme. It is far more diversified and make a real attempt to localize development. However, it has a strong bias towards tourism, to the detriment of support for agriculture. This orientation fails to take into account the importance of agriculture for the reproduction of the landscape, the main touristic resource. Although the Alpujarra LEADER project is a true intermediary between various administrative bodies and the local inhabitants, it demonstrates little capacity to enhance development that proceeds from local strategies, including local agrarian strategies. Instead of strenghtening and building on pluriactivity at the household level, the inherent lack of awareness of farming provokes pluriactivity at the regional level, reflected by the fact that now tourist areas and agricultural areas are created that have, however, hardly any economic links. A contributory factor here is the emphasis on formal and bureacratic procedures. These are unable to cope with or recognize local development strategies and other local resources that contain development potential and constitute one of the key problems in localizing rural development.

This key problem is further elaborated in Chapter 6, which is therefore pivotal in the book. Two case studies are used to document the enormous perseverance agrarian families must develop in order to overcome the numerous administrative, fiscal and sanitary restrictions, that hinder them from applying for financial and other support, to develop their activities. They truly need, as a local saying goes, cojones (balls) and maestría (mastery). The first case study concerns a cheese dairy. The strength of this dairy is precisely its integration of livestock rearing (milk), with the transformation of milk into cheese and direct (local) sale; however, bureaucratic requirements segment these activities along 'industrial' lines, leading to extra costs that weaken the competitive strength of the entreprise, and to the loss of endogenous development potential. This means that paradoxically it is much easier for the cheese dairy to produce the standard 'universal' Gouda cheese than an undocumented, local, traditional fresh cheese.

The other case study discusses the evolution and workings of the wine production sector, and emphasizes the different market channels and the difficulties involved in establishing a hall mark that defends the origin of the local wine against imported wine. This is an issue full of conflict for the Contraviesa; farmers have different perspectives and hence different attitudes to what has been knwon since the mid eighties as the 'wine fraude'.

Chapter 6 provides evidence of the technical and legal pluralism found in the Contraviesa when it depicts the nature of the conflict between the local and the global, the particular and the universal, between the 'folk ways' and the 'state ways'. This pluralism has given way to and at the same time is constituted by what I coin as evasive manoeuvres ('movimientos de soslayo' in Spanish). Evasive manoeuvres are historically and socially constructed ways of behaviour that are employed strategically to hide from what is perceived as having an adverse effect to one's own position, and to reappear when the coast is clear. Farmers for example claim financial support and protection for the wine sector, but when a registration of the vineyards is proposed to consider the establishment of a 'Denomination of Origen', several are reluctant to cooperate for they fear fiscal consequences. The Alpujarra LEADER programme demands greater local participation, but organizes the formulation of the plans in such a way that local ideas and potential can scarcely be articulated. Invisibility is thus used as a strategic resource. At the same time, both administration and inhabitants intensively try to mobilize those resources that the other wants to hide because they concern strategic assets such as public money and local savings. It is suggested that these manoeuvres are best understood as every days forms of peasant and administrative resistance (cf. Scott, 1985).

However, as far as the farmers are concerned, these manoeuvres may work at the household level (clearly related to the dynamism of labrador autonomy), but it is doubtful whether this atomized agency can still be effective in the future. The call for new forms of cooperation is evident, but these are not easily established, as we see in Chapter 5. These need not necesarily take the form of formal collective bodies possessing formal authority but could probably and most importantly be strengthened through a much denser network of intermediaries at the field level capable of translating global prescriptions to local realities and vice versa. Therefore I argue that there is a need for situated authority , i.e. an authority possessed by actors that are knowledgeable, capable and creative in both local and gloal contexts. This is suggested as one one the main ways in which LEADER might develop.

The exploration: design capacity, creativity, experimentation, redundancy, analysis versus synthesis
Impressed by the capacity of the inhabitants of the Contraviesa to survive, to continue their activities and even to innovate, in chapter 7, I reflect on the constructive and compositional aspects of every day life. I explore several itineraries.

First, I reassess the local saying of doing something con cojones y maestría ('with balls and mastery'), then I do the same with notions of plan and performance as developed in Chapter 1. This brings me to a consideration of the analogy between a farming performance and a jazz performance, and to highlighting five key aspects involved in both activities - rhythm, melody, technical skills, love and a 'feeling for the form'. Mastering these aspects enables a jazz musician and a farmer to improvise , that is, to explore paths and try out things that are not easily recognized or appreciated by non-farming outsiders like scientists (including musicologists and agronomists). The musical notion of a feeling for the form ( vormgevoel in Dutch and sentido de forma in Spanish) is equivalent to the notion of farming styles, and leads me to reconsider the importance of goal-orientedness in human activity.

However, the designing power that emanates from a clear vision can be blurred by a lack of learning capacity , that in turn will hinder the timely resetting and fine tuning of objectives. I discuss the Greek notion of 'doing a job sistimatiká ' as developed by Cretan olive growers and in which love and a learning attitude are crucial. These aspects are usually passed over in systems approaches to agricultural and rural development. Learning, I argue, has a lot to do with the capacity of an actor to recognize elements from his or her context as relevant for his or her plan; it is the ability to see coherence that enables the creation of coherence . In other words, it dwells upon the creativity of actors to appropriate, to deconstruct and to transform elements from other localities (that constitute their contexts) and to accomodate them into their own locality (their plans). This is, I argue, essentially what design is. However, as designing always implies a selection based on a certain perspective, it also implies designating other options (other perspectives) less valid, incompatible, marginal, anomalous and finally even as redundant or superflous. Small and mountain farmers have frequently been categorised in this way as have others with know-how acquired in other ways than through science.

I discuss the concept of redundancy and emphasize that there is a challenge associated with seeing anomalies as opportunities. Such an attitude goes beyond the modernization perspective and makes the best of diversity, a diversity that explicitly refers to the capacity possessed by every actor to design his or her projects, or life. I maintain that this capacity has been considered redundant for too long, and argue that the design capacity for rural and agricultural development could be greatly enlarged if the design capacity of individuals and of institutions would be interlocked .

Empirical and descriptive approaches have also long been stigmatised redundant by scientific praxis, to that extent that theory sometimes substitutes reality. Theory (plans, models) should continue to learn from and draw from the reality (context) in order to establish new and innovative scientific endeavour (performances). Sociological analysis is not enough to enrich our day to day activities. The past receives ample attention, but the future remains largely unconsidered and even the present seems hard to catch up with. On the other hand, economic and agronomic models designed to forecast and direct future developments, are usually based on lines of actions taken in the past. They are unable to accomodate changes that might occurr in the present and future and have serious problems to reflect on their own performances. Both sociology, economy and agronomy need to be complemented by a synthetic scientific approach, an approach that constructs new coherence by continously going back and forth between theory and practice (action).

These considerations lead me to conclude the book with a proposal for a sociology of design .

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