May 5: Landless Science and Capitalist Development in Colombia

ICGC Brown Bag Series 
Friday May 5, 2017 
Noon-1pm, 537 Heller Hall

Presented by: Alexander Liebman, Department of Horticulture

Abstract: On November 30th, 2016, the Colombian government and FARC signed a peace agreement following months of deliberation after the Colombian electorate narrowly rejected the Havana Accords in a plebiscite vote. The historic treaty ends a 50-year civil war between FARC and the Colombian government, yet the consequence of the “No” vote halted the return of agrarian reform. Agrarian reform had long been one of FARC’s central aims, as peasants have been displaced in successive waves of violent dispossession. Colombia boasts the highest disparity of land inequality in Latin America, with little to suggest this may change in the near future. If not land reform, what do international and national institutions offer as a response to the contradictions of rural Colombia? To explore this, I ask if international agricultural research centers, such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and its Latin American flagship in Colombia, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), include land distribution and inequality in their research and outreach aims. I analyzed a decade of policy documents from the CGIAR and CIAT and traced the history of agrarian land conflicts and reform and counter-reform in Colombia throughout the 20th century and preceding the recent peace accords. Preliminary findings support my hypothesis: abject lack of research and directives on land distribution and conflict in the CGIAR system and ongoing institutionalization of entrepreneurial agriculture at the expense of Colombian smallholder autonomy. How can we explain this disjuncture between material reality and development policy? By sidestepping the question of land, CGIAR policy maintains - rather than resolves - rural inequity. But with the world’s largest germplasm libraries and high quality research personnel and facilities, we agricultural scientists face a dilemma: Do these institutions offer some use to the ‘left’? To conclude, I discuss preliminary attempts and concerns in leveraging this institutional space.
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