The Journal of Peasant Studies

Mediated territoriality: rural workers and the efforts to scale out agroecology in Nicaragua

Nils McCune, Peter M. Rosset, Tania Cruz Salazar, Antonio Saldívar Moreno & Helda Morales
Sunday 19 November 2017 by LRAN

The Spanish word formación can be translated as ‘training’ or ‘education’, but Latin
American social movements use it as inspired by Che Guevara’s notion of ‘molding’
the values of the new woman and new man for egalitarian, cooperative social
relations in the construction of a ‘new society’.

This contribution presents findings on the dialectical linkages between the formación processes led by the Rural Workers’ Association (ATC) and the gradual transformation of the Nicaraguan countryside by peasant families choosing to grow food using agroecological practices. We use Vygotsky’s sociocultural historical theory to explore the developmental processes of formación subjects and the pedagogical mediators of their transformation into movement cadre.

The motivations of active learners to develop new senses and collective understandings about their material reality become a counterhegemonic process of internalization and socialization of agroecological knowledges and senses. In this paper, we further explore the formación process by identifying territorial mediators: culturally significant elements within and outside of individuals that facilitate the rooting of agroecological social processes in a given territory where the social movement is active. By placing the territory, rather than the individual, at the center of popular education processes, new synergies are emerging in the construction of socially mobilizing methods for producing and spreading agroecological knowledge.

Keywords: social movements; mediators; territory; agroecological transition


An incipient literature on agroecological formación is emerging among academics who study new generation agrarian movements (Caldart 2002; Sevilla Guzmán 2013; Meek 2011, 2014, 2015; Rosset et al. 2011; McCune, Reardon, and Rosset 2014; Costa, McCune, and Hernández 2014; Rosset 2015a, 2015b). With the consolidation of La Vía Campesina (LVC), an international alliance of peasant, indigenous, rural proletarian, youth, feminist and pastoralist organizations and social movements from 79 countries, the capacity for rural movements to share ideas and criteria about educational processes has vastly increased, as well as the sophistication of their pedagogical proposals. In Zimbabwe, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Haiti, India, Thailand, South Korea, Spain – and many more countries in five continents – LVC member organizations are founding agroecology schools based on both formal and informal educational approaches. Indeed, the Coordination of Latin American Rural Organizations (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo – CLOC), the continental expression of La Vía Campesina in Latin America, has even created a series of peasant universities called the Latin American Agroecological Institutes (Institutos Agroecológicos LatinoAmericanos – IALA) in Brazil, Venezuela, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile, with several more in development (Román and Sánchez 2015).

These popular universities are ‘sovereign spaces’ for social movements of CLOC–LVC to develop their own curriculum and organizational structures, based on their original pedagogical theories and methodologies. The organizations of CLOC have converted agroecology into a tool for social and political struggles to recover and transform food systems, using the frame of food sovereignty to challenge capitalism, colonialism, environmental destruction and patriarchy (Wittman 2010; Moyo, Jha, and Yeros 2013; McMichael 2008; Martínez-Torres and Rosset 2010).

Teaching agroecology turns out to be an epistemologically complex task, given its incisive critical nature, wholesale rejection of formulae, and insistence on equal footing for Western and non-Western forms of knowledge (Francis et al. 2003; Toledo 2011; Ferguson and Morales 2010; Sevilla Guzman and Woodgate 2013). Conventional university education in Northern countries increasingly includes agroecology in some form or another, often as action or participatory education (Lieblein, Ostergaard, and Francis 2004; Méndez, Bacon, and Cohen 2013), but has difficulty foregrounding the knowledge of rural peoples, likely due to the highly diverse knowledges and ways of knowing the world found in rural cultures. The organizations and movements of LVC approach agroecology from distinct historical experiences and collective identities, making their agroecological pedagogy (a dialogue between a sociopolitical organization and its members) inherently diverse (Martínez-Torres and Rosset 2014), a point we will return to later.

The fact that despite its complex definition, the rural peoples of the world have been practicing agroecology for thousands of years makes the challenge of ‘teaching’ agroecology that much more of a paradoxical and pedagogically rich process within LVC (Rosset and Martinez-Torres 2013). Irene Leon (2010), an Ecuadorian theorist within CLOC, has proposed a creative use of Spanish phrases to suggest that rather than the traditional focus on the future (‘el porvenir’) popular movements can look around them and discover the already existing solutions (‘el ad-venir’) to social and environmental crises. Agroecological formación by LVC necessarily finds itself within the debate about how to scale out (create many more successful experiences) and scale up (create institutional support for) agroecological farming (Parmentier 2014; Rosset et al. 2011; Rosset and Martínez-Torres 2012; Rosset 2015b; Isgren 2016). Despite increasing recognition of agroecology as a key element of just, healthy, sustainable food systems, there is continuing debate on the political economy and methods for scaling out agroecological farming, which favors the interests of small producers, rural communities and consumers, but not private capital accumulation (IAASTD 2009; Declaration of Nyéléni 2015). Researchers, advocates and social movements look for methods for transforming isolated experiences by dedicated farmers into state-supported, landscape-wide processes of agrarian change (Rosset 2006; Altieri and Toledo 2011; Gliessman 2013).


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29 December 2017
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