Emancipation of young agroecological peasants in Zona da Mata, Minas Gerais, Brazil: an identity in-the-making

Intergovernmental organisations and researchers point to agroecology as a pathway to preserve biodiversity, address climate change and achieve the sustainable development goals. Little is known about how young people become engaged in peasant agroecology. Literature shows that autonomy is decisive for young people to start farming. The thesis draws on Feminist and peasant studies literature, as well as discourse theory and the concept of affect to analyse and understand the relevance of relationality and resignification in young people’s engagement in peasant agroecology.

It uses film-based action research methods that visualise how young people build, maintain, and alter their relationships with peers, with family, and with nature and culture in popular education, and how they, through those relationships, co-produce a form of relational autonomy. This relational autonomy is emancipatory because it enables young people to resignify peasant agroecology.

The notion of ‘Peasant’ becomes an inclusive category that is not tied to bodies, and that does political work by connecting diverse groups of peasants with multiple, interrelated identities in terms of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, beliefs and place, but with a similar way of farming with nature. To illustrate, they open up the peasant identity to youth who farm in urban areas or who farm part-time. They are continuously revising who is presented by this term and who is excluded.

The situated abilities to create this shared narrative and cultural-political base are developed in popular education. The self-organisations of youth create a discursive place to exchange knowledge, to develop skills and voice and to express their own ideas. Whereas in the past spirituality was seen as the mobilising force for youth to join youth organisations, today joy has also become an organising force.

The thesis also shows how social movement organizations deal with racism and sexism in agriculture by hiring Black youth, by including elements of Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian cultures in social movement activities, by arranging transportation to youth events and by ungendering agricultural and domestic work. Affective pedagogies and methods create emancipatory practices within a youth organisation, a workers’ union school and a family farming high school with a focus on agroecology.

An example of this is the pedagogy of alternation – frequently used in popular education on agroecology in Brazil – in which school time is alternated with time spent in the community. This social pedagogy shifts power in parent-child relationships because both are recognised as knowledge holders; this enhances dialogues at farms, which in turn are crucial for youth to continue with farming, and at the same time the assignments during the community time engages students and parents from conventional farms to participate in an agroecological transformation.