Farming in the Ecological Condition.

Andrea Ghelfi

Andrea Ghelfi is a researcher based at University of Nottingham. He has been living in Tuscany for six years, where he is learning the work of the land on the Testalapre farm. Together with other ecologists and communities of peasant resistance, he carries out the political activities of the Genuino Clandestino network. 

Mondeggi Bene Comune

Sixth mass extinction, climate crisis, soil depletion, oceans acidification, human displacement, forest destruction, coronavirus. The traces of the global ecological crisis are everywhere. The unpredictable consequences of the ongoing modifications of the chemical, biological and geophysical composition of the Earth are ungovernable. This condition of unpredictability forces us to stay with the ‘many intrusions of Gaia’ (Stengers, 2017): all the environmental events and disasters that upset, interrupt, destabilize and threaten the human world mean that the inconvenient truth of the ecological crises will be part of our present and future. Gaia is the name of the Greek mythological deity, the primordial Mother Earth goddess, that shows a resolute indifference in relation to the effects of its actions: she does not act in order to punish someone or to restore justice. She acts, full stop. The “intrusions of Gaia” interrupt any idea of historical progress, geocentric humanism, passive nature. As philosopher Michel Serres reminds us: “it no longer depends on us that everything depends on us” (Serres, 1995: 189). This statement is not an invitation to inaction. On the contrary it seems to contain a call for action, an invitation to experiment within modes of living by undertaking actions without guarantee in the (new) ecological condition.

Ecological justice has a long history in social movements action. For example, movements that emerged around the idea of the commons refer to actively shared worlds that combat injustice and stem social enclosure: commons are about co-action, collective stewardship of material practices, self-organization. But the social commons are not only about rules managing and sharing common resources, they also entail a multiplicity of practices of commoning that bring us to the field of processual, actively shared, more than human worlds. It is what Patrick Bresnihan (2013) calls the ‘manifold commons’ and Herbert Reid and Betsy Taylor call the “body~place~commons” as they emphasize the “dynamic, interactive process of human and nonhuman production and reproduction” (2010: : 20). The commons rarely exist in the abstract and never outside of a specific ecology and specific material spaces. In the (new) ecological condition a renewed sense of ecological justice emerges: the emphasis here is on the ability of a common problem and a matter of common interest to capture the attention of different actors. What is common, as Stengers (2005) mentions, is not a common property but rather what brings different actors into play, what forces them to think, to invent, to act in concert depending on each other. The common within an “acting with” is what lies between us, that in various ways challenges us, what calls us and forces us to think and act to restore justice. The co-actors, the commensals of the Earth carry on forms of partial recovery, work the Earth within the Earth, create multispecies shelters, learn from each other, starting from the situated materiality of the problems they face: “nobody lives everywhere; they all live somewhere. Nothing is connected to everything; everything is connected to something” (Haraway 2016: 31).

Co-action conceptualizes the political ecology of our current historical moment in a very different way than the narratives of Anthropocene and Capitalocene. The symptom Anthropocene testifies to the indelible traces of human presence on planet Earth, positioning humans as equally the source of the problem and the key to the solution. In a similar pattern, Capitalocene anthropomorphizes an economic system by assigning to it some form of human agency as if it is the system itself that is the subject of history and subsequently of Earth’s futures. In both narratives, the ecological is dependent on the social and humans are positioned as the culprits and, simultaneously, the guarantors of social and ecological justice. Within the imperative to “act with,” a different sense of socio-ecological responsibility and a different sense of justice emerges: humans are not in a position to govern Earth; humans are in and with Earth, and the abiotic and biotic powers of the planet make up the key actors of this story.

The (new) ecological condition demands a vision of materialism that engages seriously with the challenges of political ecology, a materialism that allows us to think of our material worlds not only as a matter of governance and regulation. The threshold of the material sustainability of modernity and the safe governability of human societies has been crossed. Political ecology is not the only field, in which a multitude of revolts against ecological injustices are recorded on a global scale.Ppolitical ecology is also the field for experimentation with everyday practices of socio-ecological regeneration.

An alternative politics of matter is emerging: alternative forms of coexistence between species, inorganic substances and technologies. The autonomy of the twenty-first century comes from the resurgence of the dense network of interdependencies, from the end of essentialist divisions between human and nonhuman, from the ability to create translocal infrastructures able to support, defend and remake alternative forms of existence.

By inventing ways of reactivating heterogeneous elements, creating ecologies of existence that are rich and responsible enough for cultivating worldly prosperity and the least possible suffering for all the entities that inhabit them, movements are experimenting material justice within a politics of everyday life. From food sovereignty movements to practices of solidarity for the right to health, from permaculture to occupied factories, from feminist and queer movements to indigenous resistance, from environmental justice campaigns to alternative autonomous subsistence movements, from grassroots climate urbanism to alternative making, mending, hacking and design practices, a central point of contemporary political ecology lies in the experimentation of other ways of relating between humans, animals and plants, objects and technologies. Instead of situating politics within the social sphere of production only, these movements place politics in the forest, in the scientific laboratory, in the clinic, in the commune, in the field and the farm, in the hackerspace, and in the many other places where humans are learning how to decolonize their relationship with the materiality of life.

Let’s take agriculture as an example. Starting from the end of the sixties of the last century, the so called “green revolution” transformed in a significant manner the ways through which agriculture has been developing on a global scale (Rosset, 2017; Shiva, 2008; Altieri, 2018). A central role of mechanization, the adoption of new technologies, the selection of high yielding varieties of cereals and the extensive use of chemical fertilizers and agro-chemicals are the main features of current “industrial” agriculture. These technologies of food production have wide-ranging eco-social implications on biodiversity and climate change, and they entail a relation of strong dependency between farmers and the world’s largest chemical producers. Agroecology (Rosset, 2017) appears nowadays as one of the alternatives for overcoming the shortcomings of the “green revolution”. Agroecology is a response to the question how to transform and repair our material reality in food systems and rural worlds starting from the ecological practices of peasants and farmers, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, urban food producers etc. (Giraldo and Rosset, 2018; Rosset, 2017; Altieri, 2018). Food movements and agroecological farming represent an immediate form of politics: by seeking different material circulations, they enact different possibilities of human-earth relations.

Following the example of an Italian network of farmers, called Genuino Clandestino (Genuine Clandestine in English), we can see how agroecology can be understood not only as a science that is transforming our understanding of soil and as a set of practices that is redefining the everyday doing of farming but also as a movement that is trying to redefine the political, economic and juridical space of action of organic food producers. In the case of Genuino Clandestino, agroecology is (also) synonymous with the making of alternative forms of life. The network was born in 2010 in order to defend the existence of a multiplicity of alternative rural forms of living and promoting agroecological knowledges and practices. Genuino Clandestino’s practices include grassroots farmers’ markets that promote food sovereignty, innovative forms of trust between producers and consumers through a self-organized process called Participatory Guarantee System, civic use and collective care of land as commons and links between the movement and scientific research on soil ecology and food sustainability.

Mondeggi Bene Comune

The resurgence of rural forms of life is not a way for restoring some form of premodern vision of social conditions. In the politics of Genuino Clandestino the farmers and activists who define themselves as “contadini” (peasants) reactivate the capacity to invent other spaces and times of existence. The peasants of Genuino Clandestino reclaim the right to make their own food in self-sufficient farms. Here farming is a way for cultivating a “practicality” of life within the cycles of the land, for creating alternative forms of rural living. Agroecology and food communities are first of all about creating alternative ways to deal with the ecological interactions and interdependencies involved in the processes of farming: the collective enterprise of creating an alternative lifeworld within the interactive dynamics that inhabit the soil and its inhabitants. The resurgence of “becoming a peasant” is a transition to a form of living in which self-subsistence and ecological care are inextricably intertwined starting from the reinvention of daily practices of existential regeneration and socio-ecological repair. The desire of an embodied, everyday, dirty, material relationship with the land: this is the peasant return. More than a job, the word peasant here evocates a form of life, a secession from the monoculture of economic productivism.

Starting from these foundational practices or ecological resurgence, the food communities of Genuino Clandestino reinvent practices of cooperation between the countryside and the city, creating autonomous infrastructures capable of rearticulating the food web within and beyond the farm. Through the organization of farmer markets, the experimentation of complementary currencies, the creation of self-organized community emporium, the birth of community support agriculture projects and the adoption of participatory practices of decision making, new alliances and transversalities amongst producers and consumers create emergent food communities. For example the Genuino Clandestino network of farmers and consumers has developed a space outside of state-regulated organic certification: a participatory guarantee system through which producers and consumers (called co-producers in Genuino Clandestino) decide together prices, organize visits in the farms in which they check farming conditions (the type of fodder used, the living conditions of animals, the revenue and working practices of farmers and their co-workers, and so on), make public reports on strengths and limits of each farm, set up self-education workshop on agroecological knowledge. Food communities achieve their political autonomy, their capacity to act and repair economies, ecologies and social relations, through the making of alternative infrastructures. The infrastructures of food communities make agroecology durable, generate “generous” encounters, dislocate politics within everyday practices.

When movements encounter matter as a strategic field of action for experimenting generative practices of justice, a new idea of autonomy emerges. The autonomous politics of ecological transitions requires material interconnectedness, practical organizing, everyday coexistence and the fostering of ontological alliances. They entail interactions, ways of knowing, forms of practice that involve the material world, plants and the soil, other groups of humans and their surroundings, and other species and machines. Autonomy is a call for direct practical action, for material recombination, for immediate justice.

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