Peasant-driven agricultural growth and food sovereignty

Ploeg, J.D. van der


The concept of food sovereignty presents us with an important theoretical and practical challenge. The political economy of agriculture can only take up this gauntlet through improving its understanding of the processes of agricultural growth. It is very difficult to address the issue of food sovereignty without such an understanding. Developing such an understanding involves (re)combining the political economy of agriculture with the Chayanovian approach. This paper gives several explanations (all individually valid but stronger in combination) as to why peasant agriculture results in sturdy and sustainable growth and also identifies the factors that undermine this capacity. The paper also argues that peasant agriculture is far from being a remnant of the past. While different peasantries around the world are shaped and reproduced by today's capital (and more specifically by current food empires), they equally help to shape and contribute to the further unfolding of the forms of capital related to food and agriculture. It is important to understand this two-way interaction between capital and peasant agriculture as this helps to ground the concept of food sovereignty. The article argues that the capacity to produce enough food (at different levels, distinguishing different needs, and so on) needs to be an integral part of the food sovereignty discourse. It concludes by suggesting that peasant agriculture has the best potential for meeting food sovereignty largely because it has the capacity to produce (more than) sufficient good food for the growing world population and that it can do so in a way that is sustainable.