Human ecology and food discourses in a smallholder agricultural system in Leyte, The Philippines

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Agriculture and Human Values, 2019
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© 2019, Springer Nature B.V. Food systems are influenced by discourses held by individuals and institutions. Market oriented food security and food sovereignty are frequently presented as co-existing discourses in food systems. This paper documents how smallholder farmers embody market food security and food sovereignty discourses in their agricultural practices, and how these discourses prevent new forms of agriculture from developing given socio-political and institutional rigidity. A human ecology systems framework is used to analyse semi-structured interviews with 39 coconut producing smallholder farmers from Leyte, The Philippines. The results document how smallholders perceive market food security discourse as the main way out of food insecure situations, and thus continue to seek institutional support for maintaining a coconut based agricultural system. Farmers also perceive elements of the food sovereignty discourse, notably decision-making agency and agricultural diversification, as parallel strategies to improve their food security. The ongoing support for coconut production and inequitable access to training and knowledge in rural systems traps farmers into an agricultural system influenced by a long history of colonial institutions and social structures. The paper demonstrates that farmers are aware of the interventions required to diversify food systems towards higher value commodities, yet sovereignty is unlikely to be enabled due to maladaptive institutions and the associated access to new training and extension opportunities. The use of human ecology advances food scholarship through embedding a systems analysis into qualitative studies to reveal the influence of food discourses on food systems’ behaviour and outcomes.
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