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The peasant mode of production revisited

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg

The renewed attention for family farming (agricultura familiar) in Brazil, as expressed in the organization of the "1st Coloquio Agricultura Familiar e Desenvolvimento Rural"(Porto Alegre, 24 e 25 Novembro de 2005) reflects important changes within Brazilian agriculture[1]; it equally reflects the strength and maturity of ˜rural studies' as they are practiced in Brazil. The combination of a solid theoretical grounding, a broad and methodologically well structured empirical focus[2] and, last but not least, an open eye for and strong involvement in current processes of change, all contribute to the capacity to escape from ideological chains. Thus, seemingly ˜old fashioned' issues that often have been declared as ˜resolved and finished' (as e.g. ˜family farming' ) are now addressed in fresh and frank ways: they are converted into inspiring new theoretical challenges that associate, on the level of practice, with important and new development trajectories.
This renewed interest in family farming coincides, I would argue, with current debates in Europe in which the notions of peasantry and peasant farming are re-emerging as key-elements for the understanding of several complicated and mutually contradictory processes of transition that occur in the European countryside[3].
This contribution is based on three interrelated premises. First, family farming currently embraces two contrasting constellations: these are the peasant and the entrepreneurial modes of farming. To distinguish between the two increasingly turns out to be important, amongst others to understand why entrepreneurial farming in Europe is increasingly facing a demise[4], whilst peasant farming represents, due to its inbuilt resistance, the promise of continuity (Ploeg, 2003). Second: the essence of, and main differences between these two contrasting modes of production do not reside that much in property relations; they are mainly located in the (different) ways in which the production, distribution and appropriation of value are ordered. Thirdly: by defining the specificity of the peasant mode of production in terms of value production, it might be (re-)linked, in a fruitful way[5], to the development debate.
This contribution focuses, albeit not exclusively, on Europe. It basically argues that peasant farming is widely spread throughout Europe, whilst it is currently being strengthened through new responses that might be summarized with the concept of repeasantization. The consequence is, as far as Third World countries are concerned, quite clear: in no way peasant farming can be seen as intrinsically backward. Peasant agriculture is not an obstacle to development and change, but might be, instead, an excellent starting point for it (just as happened in the past, as argued convincingly by e.g. Jollivet, 2001)

Moving beyond classical dualism
Debates on the peasantry have been dominated, for a long time, by the dualism thesis[6] that introduced capitalist farmers and peasants as the main, and mutually opposed, categories into the realm of rural studies. This same dualism is also referred to as the one between capitalist and family farming. In this contribution I will argue that even if this dualism thesis tended to reflect, until the decade of the 1960s, one of the central contradictions in agricultural systems around the world, it has, since then, become increasingly inadequate to come at grips with a quickly changing world. I will discuss here, at some length, two historical trends which materially reshaped the politico-economic contours, contradictions and dynamics of many rural constellations around the world. I will also argue that, in view of these new trends, the notion of the peasant is to be reconceptualized it is to be adapted to the historical circumstances that have been changed dramatically.
From the 1960s onwards a new development trend materialized, both in the centre and the perifery a trend that I will refer to here as the emergence of entrepreneurial farming. Although the germs of it had been laying dormant already for quite a while within the peasant mode of farming (Ploeg, 2003: chapter 2), the entrepreneurial mode of farming could only materialize and develop due to the new conditions introduced and consolidated by the massive state-led modernization project that was initiated nearly worldwide, albeit with different rhythms and a different consistency in the 1960s and 1970s (Abramovay, 1992: 197 signals the central role of the state in agricultural modernization as world wide phenomenon).
Due to the particularities of time and space, the modernization project took many forms (Ellis and Biggs, 2001). In Europe, the initial Plan Mansholt and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that resulted out of it became a main vehicle for modernization, which on its turn was supported by often farreaching state interventions in agriculture at the level of the individual member states. In Asian countries modernization mainly took the form of the well known ˜green revolution' , consisting in the introduction of miracle seeds and the associated ˜package' of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, credit facilities, infrastructural works, extension and training and interventions in the markets. As far as Latin America is concerned the massive land reform programme in Peru (in the 1969-1975 period) typically represented modernization, whilst in e.g. Mexico first an ˜Asian-like' green revolution was tried out (just as occurred in Colombia with e.g. the DRI programme), whilst later a strong process of ˜ganaderización' (Gerritsen, 2002) started to literally change the countryside, just as occured in several other Central and Southern American countries. In Brazil (Cabello Norder, 2004) it was especially the big change from coffee cultivation to soja production that represented a first, massive and farreaching expression of modernization, that laid the foundations for several episodes of further modernization that followed later on.
Whatever its specific forms, and whatever its specific location in the evolving spatial division in worldwide agricultural production, modernization implied, firstly, a farreaching increase in the scale of production and the associated outflow of agricultural labour force. Secondly, it implied the introduction of a technology-driven (but equally technology-dependent) intensification of production, which superseded labour driven forms of intensification. Related to the increases in scale and intensity was a manysided and abrupt process of commoditization. The latter was a result of, as well as a prerequisite for, the former. Commoditization, especially on the ˜inputside' of the farms, and a far reaching restructuration of the process of production went hand in hand[7] they became the core of the new entrepreneurial mode of farming as it was constituted by and through the modernization of agriculture.
The rise of the entrepreneurial farming (which will be detailed further on) did not sweep away the peasant mode of farming. In many places, all over the world, important pockets of peasant agricultures remained, whilst we are witnessing during the last two decades important new processes of re-peasantization, sometimes of a qualitative nature, sometimes expressing themselves especially in quantitative terms, whilst there is also an increasing series of expressions that unfold along both the quantitative and the qualitative dimension. Repeasantization is, in fact, the second important historical trend that moved the rural world beyond the once classical dualism of capitalists and peasants. The ˜peasant' is not anymore the disappearing side of the equation: through repeasantization new robust and promising constellations are emerging, which increasingly turn out to be superior to contrasting and competing modes of production.
In figure 1 I have schematically summarized the resulting panorama. It shows that there is not just one central contradiction. There are at least three. The figure also indicates that there are complex, and often confusing, interfaces between the different modes of farming. At each interface there will be considerable and often highly confusing ˜overlap' just as there will be contradictory but combined movements from one part of the constellation to another and viceversa.

Figure 1: different but interlinked modes of production

From an analytical point of view the basic differences between the different modes of farming are easy to assess. They reside in the different interrelations between farming and markets and in the associated ordering of the agricultural process of production. As summarized in table 1, the elements that constitute the process of production might enter this process as commodities (+) or as non-commodities (-)[8]. This depends on the relations that are established between the farming units and the different markets: are the concerned elements (labour, other resources) mobilized through the corresponding markets or are they produced, reproduced and/or exchanged through non-commodity circuits?
Table 1: Different forms of commodity production
form of commodity
production (domestic) (petty) (simple) (capitalist)
produced output - + + +
other resources - - + +
labour force - - - +
(objective) (selfprovisioning) (survival) (income) (surplusvalue)

The table indicates that in petty commodity production[9] (PCP) the produced output is (at least partly) marketed and is, therefore, to be seen as representing a set of commodities. However, in the same mode of farming it is essential that neither the labour force nor the other crucial resources (land, water, seeds, animals, knowledge, networks, etc) enter the labour process as commodities it are usevalues that have a different biography: they are "moved out of the commodity state"(Appadurai, 1986)[10]. In simple commodity production (SCP) there is a decisive shift beyond PCP: except labour, all other material and social resources enter the labour process as commodities. Therefore, they introduce as well the reigning commodity relations with all their immediacy as "the logic of the markets" (Friedmann, 1980) into the labour process The capitalist form of commodity production (CCP) represents full commoditization: both labour force and the other resources enter the labour process as commodities and all produced output is to circulate as commodity. In the following text I will discuss the peasant mode of farming as PCP and the entrepreneurial mode of farming as expression of SCP. This approach is, I would argue, in line with Ellis' definition of the peasants as being "only partially integrated into incomplete markets" (1988:4)[11]. It also coincides with Bernstein' s earlier notion of the "intensification of commodity relations": "it can help to distinguish the various ways in which, and degrees to which, peasant production is constituted [¦] through commodity relations"(1977)[12]. Thus, I understand peasant production to be associated with a low degree of commoditization, whilst entrepreneurial farming is build upon an elevated commoditization (it is, as Ellis argues, "wholly integrated"(1988:4)).

The peasant condition
Although the distinctions as introduced in Table 1 are helpful to distinguish the different modes of farming, at least analytically, they do not explain why particular modes emerge (and re-emerge), nor do they explain the dynamics (that is, the reproduction over time) of the different modes. In order to do so they are to be located into their societal context. I will do this here for the peasant mode of production by introducing the concept of the ˜peasant condition' (see also Figure 2).
A peasant is not only part of an "awkward class" (Shanin, 1972), he or she is equally facing an awkward world. Thus, the struggle for autonomy (and for survival, dignity, prospects for a better life) in a society that rather condemns people to submission, dependency, deprivation and to the menace of a deteriorating livelihood, becomes central to the ˜peasant condition' . This struggle for autonomy, which the peasantry evidently shares with many other social categories, articulates, in the specific case of the peasantry, as the ongoing construction, improvement, enlargement and defense of a self-controlled resource base, out of which land and living nature (crops, animals, sunlight, water) are essential parts (Toledo,1992; Sevilla Guzman and Molina,1990). With these resources (which are not limited to natural resources alone, but which include a large range of social resources as e.g. local knowledge, social networks, specific institutions) peasants engage in co-production. A strategic element here is that the resource-base that allows for co-production basically is composed by non-commodities (and/or by commodities converted into non-commodities). A certain distantiation from the markets often is a prerequisite (as argued in neo-institutional economics, see e.g. Saccomandi, 1998) for a proper economic functioning. The peasant unit of production is precisely the institutional form that distantiates farming in a specific, strategically ordered way from the (input-) markets, whilst it simultaneously links it (also in a specific, strategically ordered way) to other markets (on the output side of farming).

Figure 2: the peasant condition

Co-production is the ongoing encounter and mutual interaction of man and living nature, or, more generally, of the social and the material. In and through co-production both the social and the material are mutually transformed. They are moulded and remoulded in order to become useful, adequate and promising resources that fit seemingly seamless together into a coherent pattern, i.e. the peasant mode of production. Further on I will define this peasant mode of production in more detail what I am trying to do here is to ˜locate' it into a specific societal context, which will allow, I believe, for a better understanding of its nature, its dynamics and its worldwide persistence.
On its turn, co-production articulates with the markets but in a specific, strategically ordered way that will be specified further on. A part of production is sold, a part of production might be consumed directly by the peasant family and another part of total production will feed into the next cycles of production: thus the outcomes of co-production will strengthen the resource-base on which it is grounded (and thus contribute indirectly to the creation of more autonomy). Evidently, the relative shares destined to reproduction of the productive unite, to the (direct) reproduction of the farming family and to commercialization, are highly variable. They will depend on the particularities of time and space and equally on the strategies as employed by the involved actors. However, a mere change in the relative shares does not change the basic nature of the peasant condition, nor of the peasant mode of farming that is embedded in it. Crucial is that the process of production is structured in such a way that it allows for survival whilst it aims at the same time at further reproduction (and possibly enlarged reproduction)[13] over time.

The peasant mode of production
The peasant mode of production is embedded in the more general relations that define the position of the peasantry in society as a whole (i.e. ˜the peasant condition' ). This specific allocation is having important implications for the peasant mode of production as ordering principle. It implies, in the first place, that the resource base as a whole will be limited (Janvry, 2000: 9-11). This is not only due to its origins, but also to the intergenerational reproduction that mostly implies a distribution over more children and, consequently, a reduction of the resources available per unit of production[14]. An expansion of the resource base through the establishment of dependency relations with the markets for factors of production will be avoided it runs counter to the strife for autonomy and would imply high transaction costs[15]. The (relative) scarcity of available resources implies that the socalled ˜technical efficiency' (Yotopoulos, 1974) and ˜disembodied technical change' (Salter, 1966) becomes central: within the peasant mode of production as much output as possible is to be realized with the given amount of resources[16] and without deteriorating the quality of these resources[17].
A second important feature regards the quantitative composition of the resource base: labour will be relatively abundant, whilst labour objects (land, animals, etc) will be relatively scarce. In combination with the first characteristic this implies that peasant production tends to be intensive (that is, the production per object of labour will be relatively high) and that the development trajectory will be shaped as an ongoing process of intensification.
The qualitative nature of the interrelations as existing within the resource base is also highly important. This refers to a third characteristic: the resource base is not separated into opposed and contradictory elements (as labour and capital, or manual and mental labour). The available social and material resources represent an organic unity[18] and are possessed and controlled by those directly involved in the labour process. The rules governing the interrelations between the involved actors (and defining their relations with the implied resources) are typically derived from (entailed in) local cultural repertoire and gender relations, whilst the Chayanovian type of internal balances (as e.g. the one between drudgery and satisfaction) equally play an important role.

A fourth characteristic (following from the previous ones) concerns the centrality of labour: levels of intensity as well as further development critically depend upon the quantity and quality of labour. Associated with this are the importance of labour investments (terraces, irrigation systems, buildings, improved and carefully selected cattle, etc)[19], the nature of applied technologies (˜skill oriented' as opposed to ˜mechanical' , ref. Bray, 1986) and novelty-production (Wiskerke and Ploeg, 2004) or peasant innovativeness (Osti, 1991).
In the fifth place I want to point here to the specificity of the relations as established between the peasant unit of production and the markets. As outlined in Figure 3, the process of production structured as peasant mode of production is typically grounded upon (and simultaneously embraces) a relatively autonomous, historically guaranteed reproduction. Each and every cycle of production is build upon resources produced and reproduced during previous cycles. Thus, they enter the process of production as use-values, as labour objects and instruments that are used to produce commodities and to reproduce at the same time the unit of production[20]. Such a pattern considerably contrasts with a market dependent reproduction (as summarized in Figure 4): here all resources are to be mobilized on the corresponding markets after which they enter the process of production as commodities. Thus, commodity relations penetrate into the heart of the labour and production process. Figure 4 therefore refers to an entrepreneurial mode of production.

Figure 3: the relatively autonomous, historically guaranteed scheme of reproduction

Figure 4: market dependent reproduction

Finally, I want to refer here to a sixth and probably decisive characteristic: the peasant mode of production is basically oriented at the search for and the subsequent creation of value added and productive employment. In the capitalist and entrepreneurial modes of farming, profits and levels of income can be increased through a reduction of labourinput as a matter of fact both proceed through, and as, an ongoing outflow of labour. Due to its location in the peasant condition, this cannot occur in the peasant mode of production[21]. Emancipation (˜successfully facing the hostile environment' ) coincides here, necessarily, with the enlargement of total value added per unit of production (i.e. per farm). This occurs through a slow but persistent growth of the resource base, or through an improvement of the ˜technical efficiency' . Mostly, however, the two movements will be combined and intertwined and thus obtain an autonomous moment of self enforcement. The ongoing increase of value added per farm is brought in line, within the peasant mode of production, with simultaneous increases at two interconnected levels: the one of the peasant community as a whole and the other of the individual actors engaged in the process of production.

On the level of the peasant community as a whole it applies (a few exceptions apart) that the possession of a specific resource base by a specific family is generally recognized. Within the prevailing cultural repertoires (or "moral economies", as Scott, 1976 would argue), progress is definitely not defined as the take over of adjacent possessions. At the level of a peasant community that would be tantamount to self destruction. Hence, individual units of production are striving for progress (albeit evidently with different rhythms[22] and with different degrees of success) within and through their own units of production. This adds, at the level of the community (or regional economy) to an overall growth of value added. The typical pattern of capitalist and/or entrepreneurial farming growth at the level of individual enterprises, whilst stagnation or even decreases of the total amount of value added emerge at higher levels of aggregation[23] - is basically excluded in the peasant economy. This also explains why, throughout history, agricultural sectors showed worldwide an ongoing increase in absolute numbers of the total agricultural labour force (Hayami and Ruttan, 1985) and why demographic growth translated into further agricultural growth (Boserup, 1965). It is only from the 1950s onwards that such interrelations are increasingly interrupted (between 1850 and 1950 the total agricultural labour force in the Netherlands augmented from 300,000 to 670,000; it is from 1957 onwards that an absolute decline is starting to occur) and replaced by new regularities (see Hayami and Ruttan, 1985 for similar data)[24].
Concerning the individual actors, two important considerations have to be taken in mind. First, those who participate in the labour process do not enter it (again: a few exceptions apart) through a wage-labour relation, but through complex and highly differentiated relations governed by kinship, gender, age, religion and reciprocity. Hence, individual shares in total value added cannot be quantified but they will definitively not be equal, but reflect the different positions as defined by the reigning social and cultural relations. Secondly, the balance between the present and the future is critically at stake here. Consumption now might be suppressed in order to enlarge gains and benefits in the future, as is summarized in the beautiful title of Sara Berry' s book: "Fathers work for their sons".

Be it as it is, one might assume that the availability of a qualified and involved labourforce is a strategic and indispensable feature of the required resource base. Hence, it might be assumed as well that the more value added is available at the level of the unit of production (which mostly coincides with the level of the involved peasant family), the more there will be available for individual actors. This applies especially when internal relations are relatively democratic (i.e. non authoritarian).

The entrepreneurial mode of farming
There is not just one single difference between peasants and entrepreneurs, nor between the two underlying modes of farming. The peasant mode of farming articulates, just as the entrepreneurial one, along a wide range of dimensions, each of which might, in a particular constellation, emerge as being the most relevant one. In highly industrialized societies, that witnessed a range of food scandals, and which are increasingly facing an energy crisis, the degree in which agriculture is ordered as co-production might come to the fore as a major distinctive dimension. In third world countries, which are facing food shortages, chronic unemployment and low income levels in the countryside, the overall agricultural development trajectory (intensification versus scale enlargement) will probably be the major dimension on which relevant differences are being articulated. The same dimension also defines the arena in which the major battles are taking place. And in agricultural systems that are being confronted with an enduring squeeze, market dependency (as opposed to a relative autonomy) might pop up as decisive.
From this follows that immediate differences between the peasant and the entrepreneurial ways of farming will vary considerably with time and place. What emerges as the main direct and relevant difference in one situation, might sharply differ from the most visible and most relevant difference in another situation. Nonetheless, such dissimilarities might very well go back to the basic differences implied by the different, underlying modes of ordering and the ways in which they interact with different social formations.
At the same time it applies that the different, and potentially relevant, dimensions that distinguish the two modes of farming are strongly, albeit not mechanically interrelated. A well articulated co-production, for instance, will feed into a lower dependency upon input-markets, which on its turn might allow for more robustness when facing the overall squeeze on agriculture. Equally, it is quite probable that such a pattern, once it is firmly established, will translate in an ongoing intensification (based on an increased quantity and quality of labour) rather than in a spurred scale-enlargement.
Table 2 summarizes some of the main dimensions upon which the peasant and the entrepreneurial modes of farming articulate in contrasting, but interrelated ways. Some of these dimensions regard directly the manner in which the process of agricultural production is ordered, others regard higher levels of aggregation[25].

Table 2: a schematic overview of basic differences between the peasant and the entrepreneurial modes of farming
Peasant mode Entrepreneurial mode
Building upon and disconnecting from nature;
internalizing nature; co- 'artificialization'
production and co-evolution
Distantiation from markets high market-dependency; high
at input side; differentiation degree of commoditization
at output side (low degree of
Centrality of craft and centrality of entrepreneurship
skill-oriented technolo- and mechanical technologies

continuity of past, creation of ruptures between past,
present and future present and future
ongoing intensification scale-enlargement is dominant
based on quantity and development trajectory; intensity is
quality of labor bought in and a function of techno-
increasing social wealth containing and redistributing
social wealth

During the last 15 years a range of empirical inquiries has revealed the heterogeneity as existing in agricultural systems all around the world. Mostly the patterns of coherence underlying this heterogeneity have been referred to as ˜styles of farming' . These are the material, relational and symbolic outcomes of the strategically ordered flows through time to which I referred here above. Taken together they compose a richly chequered range that goes from different forms of peasant agriculture on the one hand, via highly complex combinations towards different expressions of entrepreneurial agriculture on the other. Instead of summarizing here the many relevant differences associated with this distinction, I prefer to discuss here some of the main outcomes of a national research project in the Netherlands that was not only inspired by and built upon this distinction, but which also tried to explore its potential further. This research project, structured as a pluri-annual experiment, was realized at the National Centre for Applied Research in Animal Production at Lelystad (PR). Departing from the different strategies encountered in the dairy farming sector, two farms have been build here: one so called ˜low cost farm' , the other a ˜high tech' one (including a.o. completely automated milking). Both have been designed in such a way that one person can do all the work. Equally, both farms are to render the same so called ˜comparable income' . To meet these two criteria the low cost farm had to produce a quota of 400,000 kg. milk, whilst the high tech farms needed a quota of nearly 800,000 kg. Table 3 summarizes a few of the most salient data.

Table 3: a comparison between a peasant and an entrepreneurial approach in Dutch dairy farming




Units of labour force



Working hours/man/year



Hectares of land



Milking cows



Milk yield per milking cow



Total milk production (kg)



Concentrates per 100 kg of milk (in €)



Calculated labour cost per 100 kg of milk (in €)



Costs associated with technology use per 100 kg (in €)

Production costs per 100 kg (in €)





Realized income per working hour (euro)



The individual differences contained in table 3 are, as such, just minor and at first sight probably irrelevant. However, by combining a range of small differences in a coherent way, the decisive contrasts might be wrought. That is precisely what table 3 refers to. When the available Dutch dairy quota (10.8 billion kg of milk) would be produced by the relatively large scale entrepreneurial style, there would be ˜space' for nearly 13,900 dairy farms. If, however, the peasant style would dominate, the total number of farms would be twice as high. And more important: productive employment and the created value added would also be twice as high. For the Netherlands such a difference is, at the moment, relatively irrelevant especially from the point of view of the state and agro-industry. However, there are many other instances within which the indicated contrast would be perceived as strategic, both in Europe (Broekhuizen et al, 1999) as well as elsewhere in the world. As was recently argued by Colin Tudge: "We need again to see farming as a major employer indeed to perceive that to employ people is one of its principal functions, second only to the need to produce good food and maintain the landscape. Yet modern policies are designed expressively to cut farm labour to the bone and then cut it again"(2004:3).

Growth and development: the relevance of the peasant mode of production
The differences between the distinguished modes of production articulate on different dimensions. Beyond that, the particularities of these differences will highly depend upon the location in time and space[26]. Having said this, I would propose that there is one main feature that will turn out to be decisive in the decades to come. The peasant mode of farming is, in essence, oriented to the production of value added. In itself this might seem a truism, but when compared with the contrasting modes of farming its specificity and relevance will come to the fore.
The entrepreneurial mode of farming is as much oriented to the (internal) redistribution of value added as it is to the production of it - the focus on redistribution sometimes even dominates over the production of value. Then, the possibility to produce value is taken over from others.
In the peasant mode of production, growth is, at the level of the unit of production, based upon the labour process. Growth is an outcome of production as realized in the previous and in the current cycle. It might be referred to as ˜organic' or ˜autonomous growth' . It might equally be characterized as ˜labour driven growth' (especially when improvement of the main resources in and through the process of labour is taken into account). Hence, growth occurs as intensification: with the available resources more production is realized (yields are rising), whilst on the longer run more resources might be created within - or obtained with the results of - the labour process itself. This is not only the case in Third World countries, it equally applies to Europe. Figure 5 summarizes an inquiry into differential development patterns in North Italian dairy farming it covers a 10 year period that ran from 1970 to 1979 (see Benvenuti and Ploeg, 1985; Ploeg, 1987)[27]. In Figure 5 the distinguished patterns concern capitalist farms (C), entrepreneurial farms (E) and peasant farms (P). The latter mainly developed through ongoing intensification[28], whilst in the former (C and E) scale enlargement dominated. Income levels varied, but on the whole equal income levels where realized within the three categories (Bolhuis and Ploeg, 1985; Ploeg, 1990).

Figure 5: differentiated development patterns (Emilia Romagna, Italy; 1970-1980)

Within the wide context of the regional rural economy, many peasant units of production might exist alongside each other, whilst their mutual interrelations are governed through complex and variable balances of autonomy and co-operation. Reciprocity often is an important feature of such balances, and indeed a carrier for further development and growth (Sabourin, 2005). The same applies to the "moral economy"(Scott, 1976): it regulates specific transactions, whilst slowing down or even excluding others, such as those that result in accelerated concentration based upon usurpation of other units. The important consequence, then, of this ˜peasant constellation' [29] is that it has to produce necessarily an ongoing growth of value added. It is the only possible way to proceed and to progress. Hence, the emancipation of the peasantry and the growth of production do coincide the former results from the latter, whilst the search for emancipation feeds into the growth of production and associated employment (see Figure 6). However, the indicated interrelations might as well be interrupted or strongly distorted.

Figure 6: the dialectics of emancipation and growth in ˜peasant constellations'

In the entrepreneurial mode of production, growth (at the level of the single unit of production) is not only dependent on the labour process localized in the involved unit it occurs as well as, and through, the take over and/or subordination of other units (and/or of the resources entailed in those units). This occurs through 5 mechanisms that together have been the core ingredients of ˜modernization' . These are, in the first place, the reorganization of the spatial division of labour in agriculture. Feed and fodder and young animals, for instance, are produced elsewhere and subsequently traded and transported in order to be used elsewhere. Thus the ˜receiving' farms can extend production abruptly and far beyond the boundaries inherent to the locally available resources. When peasant farming is highly localized, entrepreneurial farming increasingly exists in a place-less conversion of global flows into other global flows. At the same time specific tasks, especially the labour consuming ones, are externalized sometimes to nearby custom workers, in other occasions to the other side of the globe (e.g. transplanting flower germs). Secondly, the main resources of neighboring farms are taken over and concentrated in the enlarging farms (see Figure 7). These takeovers occur through the markets. Thus, the conversion of land, animals, labour, quota, assistance, knowledge, plant material, water, etc. into commodities and the simultaneous creation of corresponding markets (a land market, etc) are strategic in this respect[30]. The third mechanism, indispensable to use effectively the two previous ones, is the availability of new technologies which allow for abrupt increases in the scale of production. All three mechanisms result in considerable increases in the degree of commoditization at the level of the involved units of production. That is, each and every one of them represents a move away from the autonomy as constructed in and through the peasant mode of production.
Fourthly: In order to allow the involved farms to engage in the new, dense and global web of commodity relations (in order to ˜intensify the commodity relations' , as the ˜early' Bernstein could have argued, or to move ˜from partial to complete integration' , as Ellis could have said), a basic precondition is to be fulfilled: there is to be long term security in as far as the major prices and cost levels are concerned. A sudden and considerable rise in e.g. interest levels or in the price of industrial concentrates would cause, just a sudden drop in e.g. milk prices, havoc in the highly integrated entrepreneurial units. They would be confronted with a negative cashflow far earlier and more severely than peasant units[31]. Thus, the creation of protected markets became a fourth crucial ingredient of modernization (which also explains why modernization could be far more effective in the centre than in the periphery)[32]. The fifth ingredient is again closely associated with the foregoing ones: it is the strong and sustained state-intervention in agriculture that supports a.o. the maintenance of stable prices[33].

The combination of growth and elimination through take-overs translates into a complicated aggregation problem. The increase of value added at the level of individual enterprises (through the take over of other units of production) will often translate at e.g. the regional level in an overall decrease of the totally produced and available value richness. This is illustrated in Figure 7, which is constructed with empirical data from dairy farming in the Netherlands. It shows the many-sided impact of a transfer of a production volume (of 1 million kg milk) from a few, somewhat smaller farms (each producing some 300,000 kg milk) to a few, somewhat larger farms (each producing a bit more than 500,000 kg of milk). This shift implies that as compared to the initial situation of 3.38 production units, the volume of production of the ˜remaining' farms is some 72% higher than was the case before the transfer. Income levels, however, only increase with some 36% (without accounting for the current costs associated with quota transfers)[34]. What is decisive, though, is that the total ˜earning capacity' , associated with this particular volume of production, is being reduced with 21%. This is due to the different cost structures of the initial 3,38 farms and the 1,97 ' remaining' large farms. The former are more structured according to the logic of peasant production, whilst the latter are more ordered according to an entrepreneurial logic (as illustrated in Table 3). To put it differently: the change from a low external input agriculture (Reijntjes et al, 1992) towards a farming model that is characterized by a larger scale and an elevated use of external inputs (that is, it is more integrated in, and dependent upon, markets at the inputside of the farm unit) will introduce a downward pressure upon value added as realized with the total volume of production. Redistribution augments the value added at the level of the remaining individual enterprises, but reduces the value added for the area as a whole.

Figure 7: the impact of the transfer of volumes of production[35]

The next figure translates the foregoing argument in dynamic terms. Figure 8 summarizes the outcomes of a series of linear programming exercises realized on request of Frisian farmers organizations. It shows the differrential effects of three hypothetical development trajectories that covered the 1990-2005 period. What is crucial here is that the socalled ˜free-trade scenario' , that allowed for an accelerated concentration of production volumes into a sharply reduced number of large farms, would sharply bring down the total regional income of the agricultural sector (from 426 million NLG to 114 million NLG)[36]. The figure refers as well to alternatives one of which will be discussed further on.

Figure 8: regional outcomes of different development processes
So far the entrepreneurial mode of farming and its effects on higher levels of aggregation. In the capitalist mode of farming value added is, as such, an irrelevant categorie. What matters are profit levels and profitability (i.e. the relation between invested capital and realized profits). Precisely here resides the explanation of the large scale and extensive nature of capitalist farming.
Compared to capitalist and entrepreneurial modes of farming, the peasant mode of farming excels through its focus on the creation (or production) of value added. It tends, more than other modes of farming, to strengthen the growth of value added production. Associated with this is the (potential) increase in productive employment.

In order to be able to enlarge the production of value added, there is, within the peasant mode of production, the ongoing strife to distantiate the process of production as much as possible from the reigning and often suffocating commodity circuits. The mobilization of factors of production and non-factor-inputs is moved away from the respective markets. This is done precisely because it enables the involved producers to engage in more satisfying ways into the production of exchange values. Peasants search for possibilities to decommoditize (as far as the inputs side of the farm is concerned), in order to be able to engage in a more efficient way into specific processes of commoditization at the outputside of their farms. This is analytically shown with the ˜passage' from Figure 4 to Figure 3. The latter constellation offers far better prospects to face the markets (especially adverse markets) than the former. I have described and analyzed some of the associated empirical processes (through which the constellation as summarized in Figure 3 was actively constructed) for the 1570-1960 period in the Netherlands (Ploeg, 2003a, chapter 2) and for Western African rice growers (especially the Balanta) during the 1880-1990 period (Ploeg, 1990b). Other examples are giving in Zuiderwijk, 1998 and Benvenuti et al, 1989. The interesting point, of course, is that the same ˜distantiation' (especially when it regards the market for new technologies and associated inputs) has been interpreted by many scientists as expression of backwardness, traditionalism and unwillingness to change. Perceived from the specific rationality of peasant economies, things might be quite different (the more so when the endogenous production of novelties is taken into account). Currently, the same distantiation pops up as one of the strategic carriers of new trends, as e.g. organic farming and low external input farming. It also translates in a promising way in terms of energy balances and energy saving.

Strategically organized but mutually contrasting flows through time
There is hardly any need to stress that the entrepreneurial mode of production represents an organized flow through time. The dynamics of it are currently explained in every available textbook[37]: scale increases are thought to represent a structural if not ˜perennial' feature of modernized farming.
However, the peasant condition and the associated peasant mode of production neither represent static moments it are rather coherent and strategically organized flows that unfold through time and within which the present builds upon the past, whilst the current situation will translate, unless there are major setbacks[38], into a next one. During, and partly due to, such flows the immediate outlook of the peasantry might change considerably the basic pattern, though, remains the same. Thus, the developed definitions cover differences in time. The same applies to differences in space: the definitions of peasant condition and the associated mode of production embrace as much peasants in e.g. Europe as those in the Third World. They evidently do not embrace all farmers they apply to those farmers who order their processes of production and the relations in which they are embedded in a peasant-type way. And this applies not only to Third World countries but also to the socalled First World.

Although there is a very strong tendency in social sciences to delegate the notions of peasant, peasantry and peasant mode of farming to the past and/or the periphery, it can be argued that the same concepts are essential to understand many ongoing development processes in Europe as well. The peasant is not just hidden in the past or in faraway locations. He or she plays a sometimes hidden, but sometimes also decisive role in highly modernized places. It is true: farmers from e.g. Friesland, the land where I was born and raised, differ very much from farmers in, say, Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. Just as there are several communalities. The point, however, is that the quintessence is not to be found in the immediately visible superficialities what is needed is a thorough analysis that focuses on the modes of production and their location in the wider society.

Within Friesland, one of the highly modernized dairy farming areas of Europe, there is, as Table 4 shows, considerable variation in the linkages between farms on the one hand and the important markets for factors of production and inputs on the other. Some farms are highly market-dependent (ref. Figure 4), whilst others are far more based on a relatively autonomous, historically guaranteed scheme of reproduction (ref. Figure 3). These differences are not accidental: they are the outcome of contrasting flows through time, just as they translate in a different structuration of the processes of agricultural production. What Table 4 basically shows, that is, is that European agriculture (I take Friesland as a pars pro toto for Europe as a whole) contains constellations that tend towards the peasant side of the equation as well as contrasting constellations that basically represent the entrepreneurial mode of production. In synthesis: In Europe we witness a co-existence of the peasant and the entrepreneurial modes of farming. Currently, the features of this ˜peasant constellation' are strengthened through new processes of re-peasantization.

Table 4: differentiated degrees of commoditization (dairy farming, Friesland, 1991)[39]





Capital market

Debts per farm (in Dfl)

Debts per labour unit (in Dfl)

Debts per 1000 kg of milk (in Dfl)













Labour market

Salaried labour as percentage of total labour

Machine services per ha (in Dfl)









Input markets

Industrial feed per 1000 kg of milk (in Dfl)

Total expenses for feed and fodder per cow (in Dfl)

Total feed and fodder expenses per 1000 kg of milk (in Dfl)

Bought cattle per annum

















Synthetical index

Total monetary costs as % of GVP 2)

Total monetary costs + 7% interest over debts as % of GVP









Processes of repeasantization: the European example
Re-peasantization is understood here as a concept that summarizes and unites two dimensions: a qualitative as well as a quantitative one. Re-peasantization entails a qualitative shift: it is about people becoming peasant. They enter the peasant condition, the peasant mode of production, from whatever other, contrasting condition. This relates to the quantitative dimension: the number of peasants is growing. Here, the Brazilian MST is an outstanding example. Evidently, there are multiple and many facetted processes of de-peasantization as well Bryceson et al, 2000). Often both re- and de-peasantization occur at the same time and within the same location., whilst the two processes will be interlinked in complex ways.
Becoming a peasant is not understood, in this text, as one single, let alone as a final step. It is, instead, an ongoing and often sharply fluctuating flow through time. That is, the peasant condition is characterized by a range of degrees. The dependency on markets, market-agencies and extra-economic coercion, the relative automony that can be obtained, the magnitude of and control over resources and the levels of productivity that are created are all relevant in this respect (see for a beautiful discussion Halamska, 2004, on the Polish peasantry). In synthesis: once peasants are constituted as such, further re-peasantization might occur (or not).

Throughout history there have been many episodes of re-peasantization[40]. Alongside these historical references there are also several contemporarian, although highly differentiated processes of re-peasantization[41]. Nonetheless, a systematic inquiry into current expressions of this phenomenon remains to be of utmost importance. From a theoretical point of view, because re-peasantization represents a crucial borderline case. In neo-classical economics, in development economics and in nearly all marxist approaches, whatever 're-emergence' of the peasantry is thought to be impossible and, anyway, as non-desirable. Wherever it would occur, it would represent a regression. The second reason for studying re-peasantization resides in the (newly discovered) relevance of the peasant mode of production as far as several of the main global problems are concerned (unemployment, hunger, scarcity of food, unsustainability, overconsumption of energy, etc). And thirdly, because everywhere in the world people (and among them many young people) are reconstituting themselves as peasants. I will illustrate this for Europe.

Currently, farmers throughout Europe are facing an intense squeeze on agriculture: prices are stagnating if not decreasing, whilst costs are increasing. Associated with this there is considerable deprivation[42]. The classical response of scale enlargement increasingly appears to be ineffective (if not counterproductive) due to the high costs associated with further growth (quota, land, environmental space) and the dark prospects related with further liberalization and globalization. One can ask: what are farmers actually doing (apart from the assumed ˜textbook' responses)? How are they de-facto confronting this increasingly ˜hostile environment' ? How are they responding to the increased control exerted upon them by agro-industry and the state? (See the recent debate between Goodman, 2004 and Van der Ploeg and Renting, 2004).

I believe that two basic tendencies might be identified. The first reflects the classical entrepreneurial response, which translates in a further race to the bottom (Ploeg, 2006). The second tendency, which involves a majority of European farmers, represents a sturdy, strong and promising, albeit contested and somewhat hidden process of re-peasantization. It is a process through which autonomy is again created, an autonomy that is simultaneously converted into new forms of development, in new value added and higher incomes as well as in new employment opportunities and increased levels of autonomy.
This process of re-peasantization[43] might analytically be explained by departing from the notion that farming always is a process of conversion (of inputs into outputs), which is based on a twofold mobilization of resources. Resources might be mobilized from the respective markets (and thus enter the process of production as commodities) or they might be produced and reproduced within the farm itself (or the wider rural community). This implies that ˜outputs' might also be oriented in two ways: towards the output markets or towards a re-use (eventually after socially regulated exchange) within the farm.
Facing the big commodity markets, which are increasingly controlled and restructured by big agro-industrial corporations (Bonnano et al, 1994), many farmers have started to diversify their output in a range of ways. (1): New products and services are produced, whilst simultaneously new markets and new market circuits are created (see Figure 9). Thus multi-product firms emerge, which contain new levels of competitiveness[44] and which entail, simultaneously, more autonomy. Parallel to this first tendency (and often neatly intertwined with it) there is (2) a shift away from the main input markets, a shift that is known as farming (more) economically[45](Ploeg, 2000). The process of production is increasingly based upon other resources than those controlled by agro-industry. In the corresponding transition, (3) the re-grounding of agriculture upon nature is playing a central role. According to the same rationale, (4) pluri-activity and (5) new forms of local cooperation are rediscovered and further unfolded. They also allow for a re-grounding and, thus, for delinking agriculture from direct

Figure 9: the choreography of repeasantization

dependency on financial and industrial capital. Within the core of the production process there is (6) a re-introduction of artisanality (an organic unity of mental and manual labour that allows for direct control over, and fine tuning of, the process of production). This re-introduction is associated with the development and implementation of a new generation of skill-oriented technologies (Bray, 1986) and often results in an ongoing production of novelties (Swagemakers, 2002; Wolleswinkel et al, 2004)

These development tendencies are often referred to as ˜rural development' and the associated creation of multifunctionality (Huylenbroeck and Durand, 2003). They might equally be understood and analyzed as a process of re-peasantization. As argued by Marsden (2003), rural development is an evolving practice that basically proceeds as a struggle against state apparatuses, their regulatory schemes and agri-business. It is a struggle for autonomy and survival, rather than, as some assume, a more or less straightforward implementation of EU schemes and the associated rhetoric. Currently some 80% of European farmers are actively applying one or more of the indicated responses that together compose the European process of repeasantization.
Taken together these qualitative shifts result in a reconstruction and further strengthening of autonomy which is their intent. It is important to note that these tendencies are increasingly wrought together and translated to higher levels of aggregation. This is occurring in the environmental (or territorial) co-operatives that have been constructed in the Netherlands (Renting et al, 2001), in the Italian wine routes (Brunori et al, 2000), in farmers' markets in Germany and England (Knickel and Hof, 2003; resp Banks, 2003) and in the French ˜chestnut economy' (Willis and Campbell, 2004). The same reconstruction and strengthening of autonomy can be supported by cleverly designed regional programmes, such as the Spanish Proder and the German RegionAktiv (Dominguez Garcia et al, 2005, Knickel, 2005).

Instead of conclusions
Evidently, the processes of repeasantization I referred to are, in no way, to be understood as a mere ˜return to the past' . It is, instead, all about the actively wrought reconstitution of relations and elements (old and new, material and symbolic) that help to face the modern, but in many respects still awkward world in more adequate and attractive ways. Related to this there is the enormous responsibility of social scientists to save these new processes of emancipation (whether it is in Europe or in Latin America or wherever) from the invisibility in which they often are immersed, and to unfold systematically their potentials and promises. It is equally important to interlink such processes, by showing their communalities and by making the associated experiences ˜travel' from one place to another. Within this common endeavour, a reconceptualization of the peasant and a firm theoretical elaboration and representation of ongoing processes of repeasantization are urgent tasks.


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Dit is een interessante tekst die het voorgaande betoog goed aanvult. ˜Family farmers' zijn "the mass of peasant farmers" (blz 3), interessante quote van Wuyts op pagina 4 ("broad based development" ¦ hiervoor zit een discussie over de vertaling van micro naar macro niveau, je zou kunnen zeggen dat peasant development resulteert in zo' n broad based development ¦Hanlon: "try to raise the production and productivity of the mass of peasant farmers through secure land tenure, beter marketing, extension services, etc. As well as doning more tp bring the poor majority out of poverty, it requires a smaller jump in productivity for 3 million peasant families in contrast to the huge jump needed by a few thousand advanced peasants to make the overall production leap needed".
Verderop in de Hanlon tekst een boeiende discussie over de Soto (die peruaan) ["poor people are not the problem but the solution"]

[1] I refer here especially to the widespread creation of new asentamentos, led and inspired by the MST. See a.o. Cabello Norder, 2004; Branford and Rocha, 2002, and Hammond, 1999.
[2] An inspiring example is to be found in the comparative studies in Rio Grande do Sul, designed and realized by the research group of professor Sergio Schneider of UFRGS in Porte Alegre (Schneider, 2005)
[3] The reintroduction of the concept of the peasant (40 years after the publication of La fin des paysans of Henri Mendras!) into rural studies is especially noteworthy in France (see e.g. Hervieu, 2005 and Jollivet, 2001). I myself published in 1999 a study entitled "The virtual farmer", that argued that a large part of rural reality in the Netherlands is to be understood in terms of peasants and peasant production. As a matter of fact, the subtitle of the English translation referred to the "past, present and future of the Dutch peasantry" (Ploeg, 2003). It is equally telling that the term ˜peasant' , which was taboo for many years, is re-emerging also in political discourse. See e.g. Prodi, 2004 and Valentini, 2006.
[4] It is indeed ironical that after the many times trumpeted "demise of the peasantry"(see e.g. Gudeman, 1978, but also Schultz, 1964 e tutti quanti) we are now facing the possibility of a "demise of entrepreneurial farming" (see a.o. Buckwell et al, who already announced this, albeit in a cryptic way, in 1997).
[5] In far too many theoretical approaches the peasantry is seen, in an a priori way, as major hindrance to the development of society as a whole.
[6] The dualism thesis goes back to the classical works of Boeke (1947), Lenin (1961), Kautsky (1970) and Mariategui (1925). An eloquent elaboration and adaptation to ˜modern times' is entailed in the manual of De Benedictis and Cosentino (1979).
[7] "As far as rural development programmes are concerned, these objectively operate to incorporate the peasantry further into commodity relations, and attempt to standardize and rationalize peasant production of commodities fot the domestic and international markets" (Bernstein, 1977: point 23)
[8] In his discussion of simple commodity production, Bernstein (1977) stresses that "reproduction [occurs] through commodity relations: on one side the production of commodities as means of exchange to acquire elements of necessary consumption (C-M-C); on the other side the incorporation of commodities in the cycle of reproduction as items of productive consumption (e.g. tools, seeds, fertilizers) and individual consumption (e.g. food, clothing, building materials, kerosene, domestic utensils)".
[9] I am well aware of the fact that PCP and SCP are sometimes defined and interlinked in ways that differ from the approach presented here. The two are also presented as being identical the one to the other (Bernstein, 1986). I propose here a different approach that defines SCP as a general form of production that can exist in different historical periods and in variant relations with other forms of production. Petty Commodity Production (PCP), then, is an incomplete (or ˜not yet completed' ) form of SCP “ just as ˜petty bourgeoisie' relates to bourgeoisie as a would-be but not yet perfected version of the latter. It is important to note that we are discussing here analytical distinctions. SCP is based on flows of commodities which are converted into other commodities. PCP instead is based on non commoditized resources which are used to produce commodities and to reproduce the required resources. Analytically PCP is a not fully commoditized form of production. However, in empirical research we might encounter interrelations that are quite different from the ˜complete unfolding' as entailed in SCP and the ˜uncompletedness' of PCP. Depending on the ˜variant relations' in which they are embedded, it might very well be the case that PCP is the dominant, vibrant and promising form, whilst SCP represents the exception and the failure. But it might be the other way around as well.
[10] Appadurai (1986:13) refers to exchangeability as the "socially relevant factor" of a commodity: "the commodity situation [¦] of any ˜thing' [resides in] its exchangeability for some other thing". Typical for farming, especially for peasant farming (wherever it might be located) is that precisely this exchangeability is time and again and in a goal-oriented way cancelled. A farmer will, as the saying goes, "never sell his best cow". The essence of the "best cow" resides precisely in its non-exchangeability. She is not to be sold but to be used to produce promising offspring.
[11] I am less happy with the notion of ˜incomplete markets' as defining the peasantry., especially in Third World countries. "Fully working markets"(as opposed to "incomplete markets") are neither to be encountered in the centre of capitalism. The agricultural and food markets of Europe typically are ˜incomplete markets' . On the other hand, "partial integration" is a widespread and consciously created phenomenon in European agriculture as I will argue further on in this text.
[12] Later on Bernstein changed his position: following Gibbon and Neocosmos (1985) he will argue that there are just two degrees of commoditization: generalized or full commoditization versus no commoditization at all (see Bernstein, 1986).
[13] Enlarged reproduction does not necessarily follow the road of surplus value production followed by accumulation. Enlarging a herd through breeding, building an additional rice terrace, etc., are equally expressions of enlarged reproduction.
[14] Usurpation of land by others, theft of water, exclusion and major hindrances in the access to important services will have similar effects.
[15] It is, of course, not impossible to engage in commodity relations in order to expand the resource base. However, when this occurs, the peasant mode changes into a entrepreneurial mode of farming as I will argue further on. It is typical for the peasant mode of production that growth (i.e. the expansion of the resource base) is ˜organic' , that is it depends and builds on previous cycles of production and the wealth generated through them.
[16] If the main conditions are equal, the peasant mode of farming results in yields which are superior to the outcomes of contrasting modes. For Latin America this has been abundantly documented in the CIDA studies of the 1960s (CIDA, 1966 and 1973). However, the ceteris paribus condition is increasingly invalid: capitalist and/or entrepreneurial farms have access to technologies that are inaccessible for peasant producers. Beyond that, in capitalist and entrepreneurial farming time and space are often organized in such a way that very high yields seem to be, at first sight, their main feature. In e.g. feedlots an extremely high production per hectare is produced “ evidently this is due to imports of feed and fodder produced elsewhere. The same applies to e.g. the reorganization of time in breeding. Cows may produce per year a very high milk yield, but their longevity (the total number of years that a cow is lactating) is, at the same time, sharply reduced.).
[17] Within the cultural repertoires of the peasantry "consuming one' s farm" is always considered to be a major mistake, if not rightaway a major sin.
[18] This organic unity implies, a.o., that material resources do not enter the process of production as capital. It are, and remain to be, labour objects and instruments.
[19] Here again the CIDA studies (1966, 1973) rendered important empirical insights.
[20] Thus, the processes of production and reproduction represent here an organic unity. The two are highly intertwined. In the entrepreneurial mode of farming the reproductive tasks are increasingly externalized towards outside agencies. The once organic unity of production and reproduction is replaced by a complex web of new commodity relations and techno-administrative prescriptions (see Benvenuti et al, 1989)
[21] This does not exclude that processes of depeasantization might occur (Bryceson, 2000).
[22] Here again the work of Chayanov is still highly valid. See for a recent application Broek, 1988.
[23] Which is due, in the case of entrepreneurial farming, to the circumstance that individual farms expand through the elimination and takeover of other farms (see Ploeg 2003a, chapters 6, 7and 8 for an extended discussion). In the case of capitalist farming the increase of value added is no ordering principle whatsoever. Increases in profits and profitability are central “ these might very well go together with a stagnation or even reduction in levels of value added as is amply demonstrated by the extensive use of land as entailed in the typical haciendas of Latin America and by current processes of ganaderizacion (Gerritsen, 2002) .
[24] The subsequent decline is not a generalized process: in some segments there is an accelerated and ongoing decrease of labour force, whilst in other segments there is stability or even an increase in labour input.
[25] Following table 2, I have analyzed, in another publication (Van der Ploeg, 2003b), the long term development trends (1970-2000) in dairy farming in the Emilia Romagna in Italy (more specifically the production area of Parmesan cheese). This case allows for a clear analysis of the differential impact of globalization and liberalization. It shows that it are especially the peasants that are able to resist globalization, liberalization and its associated effects, whilst entrepreneurs strongly tend to de-activate their farms.
[26] It could be argued that one of the typical Brazilian expressions of the basic difference between the peasant and the entrepreneurial mode of farming is encountered in the contradiction between sem terra and posseiros in the Amazon basin. Another typical expression of entrepreneurial farming is, I would argue, the typical soja production farm, with, say, 1000 hectares and a father and 4 sons working it. This contrasts sharply with the peasant families (as e.g. the Casemiro family) discussed in Cabello Norder, 2004.
[27] Later on the analysis was extended to cover a 30 year period. See Ploeg, 2003b
[28] In social sciences there is the strong tendency to reject the notion of ongoing intensification, arguing that the socalled ˜law of diminishing returns' would exclude it (a relatively recent expression is to be found in Warman, 1976). At a higher level of aggregation ongoing intensification has been linked as well to the concept of involution (Geertz, 1963). Involution then would be a specific expression of diminishing returns. In theoretical agronomy and in production ecology, however, it has been proven (and abundantly illustrated) that there is no general law of diminishing returns (de Wit, 1992). Constant or even increasing returns are the rule and diminishing returns the exception that only emerges if a limiting factor is, as yet, not known. With progressing knowledge this exception is corrected.
[29] A peasant constellation is the concrete combination of a specific peasant condition and the corresponding peasant mode of production.
[30] This creation of new commodities and markets, which in practice often is identical to the destruction of local communities and the embedded mechanisms for socially regulated exchange, has been and is time and again a central axis in programmes of agricultural; modernization. A general legitimation can be found a.o. in Hayami and Ruttan, 1985
[31] Following a.o. Salamon 1985 and Strange 1988, Reinhardt and Barlett (1990) signal that "communities of ˜yeiman' farms have been expanding in size over hundred year since settlement, while the communities of ˜entrepreneurs' have been stagnant or declining". They also note that the ˜entrepreneurial farms' may obtain high profits in good years, but they are badly equipped to face "cash flow difficulties in poor years". A European example is entailed in Ploeg, 2003b.
[32] The irony is, of course, that liberalisation (and the globalisation of world food markets which will induce anyway sharp fluctuations in price levels) will destroy quickly one of the central pillars upon which entrepreneurial farming has been grounded. However, due to the characteristic biases that follow from "seeing like a state"(Scott, 1998), this very real danger is turned into a general taboo.
[33] Slightly paraphrasing Servolin (1989) we could indeed say that entrepreneurial farming, as it was constituted through the modernization project, was and is in every respect "a child of the State and its agrarian policy"("uma criatura do Estado e de sua politica agricola", in the translation of Abramovay, 1992).
[34] If these are taking into account the incomes will not rise on the involved, ˜remaining' farms “ at least in the medium run.
[35] Derived from Van der Ploeg, 2003a, pp 307.
[36] Derived from Antuma et al, 1993 and discussed at length in Van der Ploeg, 2003a, pp 307-312. Antuma' s calculations are still in Dutch Guilders (NLG). Later on followed the change to Euros. 2.2 NLG=1 Euro.
[37] Far less attention is given to what we could refer to as the ˜entrepreneurial condition' . In order to be reproduced over time, the entrepreneurial units need more or less stable and above all predictable markets, whilst the realizable income levels are to be satisfactory. Due to liberalization and globalization this is increasingly less the case. This often triggers a de-activation of farming.
[38] Due to draught, pests, animal diseases, theft, death, fraud, market collapses,
[39] For a methodological discussion of these variables, the reader is referred to Bolhuis and Van der Ploeg 1985, and Van der Ploeg 1990; GVP = Gross Value of Product; all data in NLG or, as the table says, Dfl (2.2 NLG or Dfl =1 Euro; Source: Own calculations based on farm accountancy AVM/CCLB.
[40]Apart from the 1850-1950 period in the Netherlands, referred to by Dutch historians as the epoch of repeasantization (see Ploeg, 2003ª, chapter 2 for a summary), reference can be made to e.g. the mergence of crofters in Scotland (MacPhail, 1989), to the repeasantization of Tras-os-Montes in Portugal, an episode that was based on remigration after the fall of Portuguese fascism (Dries, 2002).
[41] As far as Europe is concerned reference can be made to e.g. the construction of new co-operatives or rural workers (Sevilla Guzman and Martinez Alier, 2006), to the re-emergence of family farming in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe (Hann, 2003) and to the endogenous process of rural development taking place everywhere in Europe (Ploeg et al, 2000). For Latin America see Cabello Morder, 2004; Souza Martins, 2003; Vaeren, 2000 and Ploeg 1977.
[42] A recent study in the Netherlands (de Hoog and Vinkers, 2000) revealed that more than 40% of Dutch farm families have an agricultural income below the social minimum. When additional incomes, derived from pluriactivity, are taken into account, it is still 25% of all farming families having a total family income below the legally defined social minimum. In Italy the MPAF 2003 analysis refers to similar findings.
[43] This process is, it seems, also starting to unfold, albeit on a modest scale, in countries like Mexico and Brazil.
[44] Saccomandi, 1998
[45] Internationally this is also known as Low External Input Agriculture.


Jan Douwe van der Ploeg
Formerly Professor and Chair of Rural Sociology and Emeritus professor of Transition Studies at Wageningen University (WUR), the Netherlands and Adjunct Professor of Rural Sociology at the College of Humanities and Development Studies (COHD) of China Agricultural University (CAU) in Beijing, China.
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