Food Systems and Land

Connections and Contradictions

Authored by: Geoffrey Lawrence

Routledge International Handbook of Rural Studies

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138804371
eBook ISBN: 9781315753041
Adobe ISBN: 9781317619864


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As the physical base for agriculture, land-related resources are crucial to sustaining human life. Land, however, has much deeper meaning than the provision of food. The meanings attached to land include social, cultural and spiritual dimensions. For First World peoples, in particular, land and water are central to culture, part of their extended selves. Land reinforces cultural identity and its protection is paramount. A different, market-based, view is that land is a tradable resource whose real value can be discovered through price signals. While it may have social significance for those occupying the land, it also has an overriding economic value related to its particular characteristics (level of fertility, access to water, proximity to markets, and so forth) and its ability to generate profits for investors. The ‘struggle’ over the meaning/s of land is ongoing. But there has also been a more direct ‘struggle’ over physical access to, and ownership of, land. Conquest and dispossession in the colonial era occurred as European nations entered new territories and appropriated lands. Even today, agricultural lands – and associated resources – are being purchased and leased by nations and companies eager to grow food, fibre and biofuels. While seemingly not as pernicious as in colonial times, many of today’s large-scale land acquisitions have been identified as illegal and unfair, denying people their customary and legal rights over lands providing food, water, clothing, energy and shelter.

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