How can we ensure that health, food systems, and sustainable agricultural systems mutually reinforce one another?

Commoditization, employment and the question of land: How does access to land shape employment conditions in the rural labour market?

Ground Floor A 022 September 6, 2017 11:00 to 12:30 - 14:00 to 15:30

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Sabin Bieri1, Gabriela Ruesgas2, Elisabeth Jimenez Zamora2, Saithong Phommavong3

1University of Bern, Centre for Development and Environment, Bern, Switzerland; 2Universidad de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia; 3National University of Laos, Vientiane, Lao PDR


The transition to a capital-intensive, commercial agriculture is deemed the way to more productivity and to the creation of employment for the rural poor. This strategy is promoted as the major route out of poverty by many countries of the global south as well as by the international cooperation. The ideal agricultural transition process is thereby imagined to start from subsistence agriculture and the full dependency on land towards an emancipation from land-related income generation towards wage employment.

In the session we aim to discuss evidence pointing to a much more non-linear process combining land-based income generation with on- and off-farm employment of different family members. We argue that the way land ownership and access to land is regulated in a particular context influences people’s opportunities in the rural labour market and shapes their bargaining power with respect to the conditions of employment. Land and employment are thus intertwined factors in determining people’s opportunities to overcome poverty and to improve their well-being achievements.

Numerous rural families engage in commercial agriculture, thereby being exposed to considerable risks and facing a new quality of precariousness as employees in the rural labour market. The question of access to and ownership of land seems to be of importance with respect to how these risks are dealt with. Access to land provides people with greater possibilities to bargain with respect to their employment conditions. Often, land ownership is the entry fee for membership in cooperatives, making the claim on land a prerequisite for commercial production and access to the market. Given the gender gap in land ownership, men seem to be privileged. Nevertheless, a large number of women engage in commercial production: as employees in export-oriented businesses or as casual labourers.

Furthermore, we would like to explore the employment effect of land acquisitions – large-, but increasingly small-scale – in different contexts. Land acquisitions are often justified by the promise of creating employment for the local population. However, while people’s land is wanted, “their labour is not” (Li, 2011). While large scale land acquisitions have been widely investigated, their effect on employment creation has not been systematically assessed. Even less attention is given to small-scale land acquisitions as a result of commoditization and price spikes in high-value crops.

This session aims to explore the links between commoditization, the regulation of land resources and employment. Providing case studies from three continents, we will discuss how intense commoditization challenges regulating systems for land use that were once established as a means against individual use and over-exploitation. We would like to offer this session as a space to discuss agricultural transition from both the land use/land governance perspective as well as from a socio-economic position, particularly with regards to employment. In bringing together two scientific communities that often operate in separate discourses, this session offers a space to address the question of land and employment, thereby creating the potential to spark ideas for new ideas for action and policy.