Thursday, August 20, 2009

Productivism by any name

Vaasa, Finland: Geoff Lawrence told delegates at the ESRS conference today that one should be careful about terms like neo-productionism and post-productivism that had been used at the conference. Liked productivism, they amounted to a triumph of output over sustainability.

He emphasised the way in which the financialisation of the world food regime has encouraged speculative trading which in turn had resulted in more volatile prices. In 2003 $13bn have been spent on agricultural futures trading and it had soared to $260bn in 2006 as traders saw an opportunity as prices rose.

This theme was emphasised by Peter Feindt and Terry Marsden who argued that short-term and long-term resource shortfalls fuelled speculation. They also drew attention to the carbon dependant nature of the current world food regime.

Unfortunately, the articulation of sustainability concerns often di not got beyond reports, leading to an incoherent articulation which did not change policy. Cracks in the current regime offered up real opportunities for change, but more attention needed to be paid to the politics of transitions.

Mark Tilzey presented an analysis informed by Marxist categories, drawing attention to the attempts of fractions of capital to restore class hegemony. Delegates wondered if they had stumbled into a time warp, but Tilzey argued that the export of productivism through globalisation opened up spaces for the affluent at home. He questioned whether the production of staples could be undertaken by a sustainable rural paradigm, but did not call for machine tractor stations.

In discussion it was argued that supply chains were the dominant form of governance in the current agri-food system. These were potentially highly flexible strategic devices, but did they have the absorptive capacity to deal with challenges like the decreased availability of fossil fuels?

Later discussion emphasised the increasingly close links between food, the environment, energy and finance.

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