«Introduction This paper considers productivist/post-productivist conceptualisations of agriculture in the light of changing New Zealand attitudes ...»
Productivist and Post-productivist Conceptualisations of Agriculture from a New
Department of Geography
University of Waikato
This paper considers productivist/post-productivist conceptualisations of agriculture in the
light of changing New Zealand attitudes toward protection of indigenous vegetation and
wildlife. It will show how the attitude of farmers toward native habitat and wildlife mirror
changes in the wider New Zealand society. It will suggest that post-productivist elements vary from one part of the world to another, and thereby reflect not so much change within agriculture, or even change within rural society, but changing relationships between the wider society (of which agriculture is always a part), and the environment.
Comparison of the particularities of post-productivist agriculture in different countries and regions reveals significant differences. In many cases these differences can be related back to aspects of the host society that are not directly related to agriculture. While elements of so called post-productivist agriculture are driven by factors endogenous to agriculture and rural society, other elements are driven by exogenous forces, particularly policies, attitudes and values which originate from urban society.
Within New Zealand, mainstream pastoral agriculture continues to be driven by productivist attitudes and values. However, farmers are members of the wider New Zealand society, and are influenced by shifts in societal attitudes that give greater value to indigenous forest and indigenous biodiversity. The paper concludes that productivist and post-productivist agriculture exist side-by-side and that elements of post-productivist agriculture are a manifestation of structural and value changes in the wider New Zealand society.
In Geoff Kearsley and Blair Fitzharris (eds.) 2004. Glimpses of a Gaian World, Essays in Honour of Peter Holland, pp.151-170. School of Scoial Science, University of Otago, Dunedin Productivist/post-productivist conceptualisations To date, the concepts of productivism and post-productivism have been discussed and applied mostly within a British context (Battershill & Gilg 1997; Beedell & Rehman 1999; Carr & Tait 1991; Gasson & Potter 1988; Ilbery & Bowler 1998; Morris & Potter 1995; Shucksmith 1993; Walford 2002; Ward & Lowe 1994; Wilson 2001). Lowe et al (1993, 221) have defined productivism as "a commitment to an intensive, industrially driven and expansionist agriculture with state support based primarily on output and increased productivity". Ilbery and Bowler (1998) identified three major structural components of agricultural productivism as intensification, concentration, and specialisation.
Post-productivism has been defined largely in opposition to, and as a reaction to productivism, i.e. it comprises forms of contemporary agricultural practice that are not productivist. Wilson has summarised British conceptualisations of productivism and post-productivism on the basis seven dimensions, namely: ideology, actors, food regimes, agricultural production methods, agricultural policies, farming techniques, and environmental impacts. Productivist agriculture is said to have an ideologically hegemonic position in society; to involve a policy community that is small, powerful and tightly knit; to be part of a Fordist food regime; to involve industrialisation, commercialisation, concentration and specialisation; to have strong state support, to involve capital intensive farm techniques; and to cause significant detrimental environmental effects. Post-productivism is said to involve a loss of hegemonic dominance and a move away from agricultural fundamentalism; to comprise a wider agricultural community of policy makers; to involve new market relationships and changing consumer behaviour; to involve less emphasis on commodity production and less state support; to involve reduced intensity of farming, less environmental damage and a shift towards sustainable agriculture and conservation or restoration of valued landscapes and habitats.
Wilson notes that the concept of post-productivism has been developed largely by UK academics and asks the question: "how easily can the notion of post-productivism be In Geoff Kearsley and Blair Fitzharris (eds.) 2004. Glimpses of a Gaian World, Essays in Honour of Peter Holland, pp.151-170. School of Scoial Science, University of Otago, Dunedin transferred to other geographical and cultural settings, and what implications does this have for the terminology of 'post-productivism' itself?" (Wilson 2001, 90).
UK conceptualisations of productivism and post-productivism Before considering an answer to the question posed by Wilson, it is relevant to note the context of the British research and discussion. Much of the British academic discussion is in response to environmental changes in the UK countryside between the 1950s and 1980s, and the introduction of European Communion agri-environmental policies intended to reduce agricultural production, and prevent environmental damage. After the Second World War, British agricultural policy was to achieve domestic self-sufficiency in food production by providing subsidies and supports to farmers. The policy was continued when Britain joined the European Community in 1973. A central aim of the European Community's Common Agricultural Policy ("the CAP") was to ensure a comfortable standard of living for the agricultural community. To this end, agricultural policy aimed to improve farm incomes by providing price guarantees and farm supports. The subsidies encouraged farmers to maximise income by maximising production. The policies brought farm intensification of some areas
and marginalisation or slow decline of traditional farming practices elsewhere (Potter, 1998:
30). Farming in areas of more intensive production brought increased use of fertilisers, pesticides, energy, land improvement, livestock intensification and overgrazing, large-scale mono-crop production, widespread pollution of streams and ground waters, and soil loss or degradation. In marginal areas there was land abandonment and loss of traditional local management systems (such as unusual grazing systems, or combinations of crops). Overall, there has been reduction or loss of mixed farming systems, hedgerows, forest, riparian margins, ponds, marshes, and semi-natural extensive grazing areas (heaths, moors).
By the beginning of the 1980s there was growing criticism of farming methods in UK and the damage that was occurring to wildlife and traditional rural landscapes. A member of the House of Commons wrote a searing critique of agriculture (Body 1982), decrying the subsidies for their gross expense to the tax-payer and consumer, rural depopulation as farm workers displaced by technology moved to the cities, and the damage to valued landscapes.
By the beginning of the 1990s the British had introduced several agri-environmental schemes, In Geoff Kearsley and Blair Fitzharris (eds.) 2004. Glimpses of a Gaian World, Essays in Honour of Peter Holland, pp.151-170. School of Scoial Science, University of Otago, Dunedin most notably the Environmentally Sensitive Areas scheme and the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. The schemes were designed to encourage farmers to protect valued features of the countryside such as wildlife areas, traditional farming practices, historic buildings, hedges, and stone walls, by providing financial incentives.
A series of British studies have found that the response of farmers to environmental protection schemes is varied and complex. Although productivist attitudes, values and practices continue to predominate among most farmers and in most parts of Britain, a significant minority of farmers are supportive of environmental schemes, and an even larger proportion are prepared to use agri-environmental supports as part of their farm management practices (Carr & Tait, 1991; Morris & Potter 1995; Walford 2002). Actual farmer involvement and support for agri-environmental schemes varies from region to region, and with the type and size of farms, the attitude of farmers, the age and social circumstances of farmers (for example, whether they expect a son or daughter to inherit the farm). For example, Battershill and Gilg found for farmers in the southwest of England that attitude outweighed structural factors as a determinant of farmer behaviour (Battershill and Gilg 1997). On the basis of a study of farmers in the southwest of England, Ward and Lowe suggest that “agrarian ideology and culture might be being challenged and reshaped within a changing rural society." (Ward and Lowe 1994). Beedell and Rehman (1999) found that conservation farmers (i.e. farmers who were members of the English conservation organisation Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group or “FWAG”) valued hedges more highly than conventional farmers, believed in the conservation benefits of hedges more strongly, and felt greater social pressure to manage their hedges. These and other studies suggest that while a majority of farmers in the United Kingdom remain production-focused, changes in both attitude and practice are occurring in response to government policy as well as changes within farming and the rural community. If the changes of government policy reflect the influence of Britain's urban majority, then it can be said that many of the changes in UK agriculture are influenced by urban society.
Australian conceptualisations At least two Australian geographers have recently considered the concept of postproductivism in the light of Australian experience. Argent (2002) gives a response in the light In Geoff Kearsley and Blair Fitzharris (eds.) 2004. Glimpses of a Gaian World, Essays in Honour of Peter Holland, pp.151-170. School of Scoial Science, University of Otago, Dunedin of his experience of agriculture in the better watered parts of Australia. Holmes comments on the concept in the light of changes happening to the rangelands of the dry interior.
Argent briefly summarises the era of Australian agricultural productivism from WW2 to 1973, when Australian agriculture experienced the shock of Britain's membership of the European Community and policy reforms by the Whitlam Labour government that removed the subsidies and concessions previously enjoyed by farmers. He notes that concern at the environmental effects of agriculture also influenced Australian policy. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Australian agriculture was forced to switch from a reliance on government subsidies, to "normative values of economic efficiency, individual self-reliance and ecological sustainability" (Argent 2002, 105). The emergence of Landcare undermined a view that farmers alone were the wisest managers of their land and the dominance of agricultural productivism was challenged by a new paradigm "based on economic fundamentalism, environmentalism and a landscape aesthetic drawn from the rural idyll" (Argent 2002, 106).
However, Argent argues that the post-productivist conceptualisation of agriculture is misconceived because it fails to account accurately for the complex nature of regional- and farm-level actions (Argent 2002, 106) and creates a false dichotomy between productivist and post-productivist forms of production. Although Australian agriculture has changed from the productivist era, Argent argues there is little evidence that it is becoming subsumed into a post-Fordist food order or remade by consumptionist values; rather, it has changed in response to policy initiatives and urban values and concerns that give less weight to production and more weight to economic efficiency and environmental sustainability.
Holmes (2002) summarises the change occurring to the outback Australian rangelands as change from pastoral use to Aboriginal title and the amenity uses of conservation and tourism.
He notes that rangeland interests lie mostly outside the market economy (e.g. indigenous heritage or conservation) or they seek access rather than ownership e.g. tourism operators.
These concerns originate both internally but (more importantly) externally, from the cities.
Compared with Europe, Australian rangeland change does not involve change in agricultural polices or a new round of capital accumulation, but lies mainly outside the market with "emerging amenity-oriented values and uses that are multi-faceted and influential in In Geoff Kearsley and Blair Fitzharris (eds.) 2004. Glimpses of a Gaian World, Essays in Honour of Peter Holland, pp.151-170. School of Scoial Science, University of Otago, Dunedin demolishing the former pastoral hegemony” (Holmes 2002, 379). Holmes concludes that in the light of Australian experience, the concept of "post-productivism" as derived from European experience places too much emphasis on agricultural policies as a driving force rather than a response to changing circumstances (Holmes 2002, 380). The internal restructuring of rangelands agriculture from pastoral production to indigenous heritage, conservation, and tourism uses is a symptom of change rather than a cause. Rangelands are not just rural lands of urban consumption, but have values that lie outside the market (e.g.
indigenous identity). He suggests that the key drivers to post-productivism are agricultural over-capacity, alternative amenity uses, and changing societal values (Holmes 2002, 380).
To summarise their views, both commentators, argue that rural change in Australia is different from the patterns observed in Europe. Although the productivist hegemony of farmers and pastoralists has been broken, Australian rural lands are not becoming landscapes of consumption. Instead, the changes reflect urban concerns about the environment, and broader societal change such as the growing strength of Aboriginal rights, and a move away from colonial dependence on UK as the mother country, to an ethic of economic efficiency, selfreliance and ecological sustainability.
The New Zealand example Prior to 1985, New Zealand agriculture and rural institutions displayed most of the classic productivist features described for agriculture in the developed market economies (Bowler 1992; Le Heron & Pawson 1996; Munton 1992). It was geared to commercial production of bulk commodities, strongly influenced by scientific research, maintained strong political influence and support, and involved enormous destruction to the pre-agricultural environment.