Agrarian modernization through "ideal agricultural subjects": A lost cause for smallholders in Rwanda?

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Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have recently gone through agricultural transformations towards increased production of commercial crops, primarily for export, to promote national economic growth. Rural populations are often at the center of such transformations as intended targets of State policies, though their roles in strategies for rural development and poverty alleviation are contested. We approach these changes not as a simple opportunity for accumulation, but rather as an instance of ‘rupture’, through which opportunities, risks and impacts are experienced differentially by the targeted farmers. With an example from Rwanda, we ask how the State’s policy strategy and attempts to construct "ideal agricultural subjects" resonate with the actual changes experienced by farmers themselves. We present three different empirical examples to show that a) when opportunities from agricultural transformation initially arise, only the wealthiest can capture them, and even then the government is seen as the main beneficiary; b) some priority crop growers experience an increase in income and savings due to higher productivity and better prices, while those who do not grow priority crops face land scarcity and lack of employment opportunities; c) requirements to upscale livestock production do not align with the strategies or capacities of many smallholders. We show that only endowed farmers with sufficient land and ability to engage in priority crops or livestock production can take advantage of the opportunities presented by agricultural transformation, while smallholders with constraints to their adoption of promoted changes face vulnerability to dispossession and poverty. We relate these findings to our broader conceptual frame, and encourage further research to explore the integration, modification, resistance to and impacts of idealized policies in Rwanda and across sub-Saharan Africa.

TidsskriftJournal of Political Ecology
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)100-123
Antal sider24
StatusUdgivet - 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
1 Dr. Maya Pasgaard is an Assistant Professor and Dr. Niels Fold is a Professor at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Email: mapa "at" Dr. Sung Kyu Kim is Lecturer at University of Sussex, United Kingdom. Dr. Neil Dawson is Research Fellow at University of East Anglia, United Kingdom. The authors thank all the local research assistants and participants for their generous time and trust, and invaluable contributions to the study. We also thank Serine Linde Helland for assisting with the format and references of the article, and the reviewer and JPE editor for their valuable comments and contributions towards publication. For MP and NF, this research forms part of the 'African Rural–City Connections' (RurbanAfrica) research project, funded by the European Union under the 7th Research Framework Program (theme SSH),

Funding Information:
Grant Agreement no. 290732. SKK's work was supported by the Economic & Social Research Council [ES/T008652/1].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022

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