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Civil Society and Social Movements Programme Paper 8: Peasant Associations in Theory and Practice

6 Jan 2005

  • Authors: Nora McKeon, Michael Watts and Wendy Wolford

International Monetary Fund–sponsored structural adjustment programmes have radically restructured local rural economies and oriented production toward an international commodity market historically dominated by North American and Western European producers. This paper considers the ways in which liberalization and global market dependence have affected poverty, hunger and what Amartya Sen has called “entitlements”: the political, social and economic resources that condition an individual’s access to food and basic needs. It builds on Sen’s work by considering the ways in which peasant communities and organizations can be central actors in resisting or negotiating the effects of the marketplace. The authors present two case studies of rural producers’ organizations in Brazil and Senegal to illustrate how they can shed light on both development as entitlement provision and what Sen himself has called “development as freedom”.

The two organizations presented, the Conseil national de concertation et de coopération des ruraux (CNCR) in Senegal and the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) in Brazil do not represent the great variety of associations, organizations and social movements found in rural areas, but their comparison allows for an in-depth look at the ways in which rural producers might mobilize participants, develop a methodology and ideology for action, and affect political and economic agendas considered hegemonic at home and abroad.

This paper finds that entitlements are often grounded in the organizational and political capacities of communities and associations, not in individuals or households, and the ways in which entitlements are mobilized and negotiated depend on the local histories of relationships between the state, civil society and the market. For policy makers and practitioners in multilateral and bilateral development agencies, increasingly committed to promoting what is currently termed “good governance”, these cases raise issues of the uncomfortable interface between social movements and development cooperation programmes.

Nora McKeon is a policy advisor on civil society relations at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Michael Watts is Director of the Institute of International Relations and professor of geography at the University of California. Wendy Wolford is assistant professor in the Department of Geography, University of North Carolina.

Order CSSMPP 8 from UNRISD (US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).