Agrarian change in context: Atacora farmers’ struggle for subsistence in the neoliberal capitalist economy

Authors: Rosalind Ragetlie*, Western University
Topics: Development, Agricultural Geography, Africa
Keywords: agrarian transition, development, rural livelihoods, farming, agriculture, sub-Saharan Africa, Benin
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


After a history of agrarian restructuring beginning with colonization, countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) saw the commodification of food production, class differentiation, and land reforms, resulting in the uneven development of capitalist farming. Contemporary agrarian societies such as those found in Benin continue to face dynamic social and economic conditions that are changing labour regimes and continually reshaping the ‘agrarian question’, which remains relevant and of central importance to peasant farmers in SSA (Akram-Lodhi & Kay, 2010). The process of agrarian change is ongoing in Benin, yet a complete transition to a capitalist farming economy will not benefit the most marginalized farmers. Our paper draws on the results from interviews and focus groups with men and women in Atacora, Benin to explore the ways in which the integration of these communities into the neoliberal capitalist economy has affected rural livelihoods. We discuss how the rise of the 'cash economy' has eroded communal labour systems, monetized household reproduction, and how, in the absence of state support, subsistence farmers have been pushed further into the capitalist economy in order to meet their needs. We conclude that the incomplete transition of these rural communities into the capitalist system has undermined the ability of the most vulnerable farmers to maintain their traditional livelihoods, yet has failed to provide them with a viable alternative means of subsistence.

Akram-Lodhi, A. H., & Kay, C. (2010). Surveying the agrarian question (part 2): current debates and beyond. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 37(2), 255-284.

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