University of Tasmania
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From productivism to pragmatism : sustainability in Tasmania's vegetable processing industry

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posted on 2023-05-26, 22:51 authored by Abraham, AP
From the second half of the twentieth century, modern agricultural developments have reproduced a productivist corporate-controlled globally-integrating food system. Some of the system's negative impacts include heightened and extensive risks to the food and health security of a majority of the world population, environmental modification, and biodiversity losses. The period also witnessed a growth of importance in sustainable issues and alternative farming systems accommodating concerns for sustainability and social equity associated with the hegemonizing power of global productivist agri-food chains. Similar concerns for the condition of agriculture in peripheral regions such as Tasmania gave rise to this study which explored the characteristics and distribution of mandatory productivist industrial farming practices within the vegetable processing industry. The study aimed to determine the overall sustainability of this industry. To achieve these aims, the study commenced by establishing a literature background as a framework on which historical, political, economic, social and environmental dimensions of food production were explored. This was followed by three phases of qualitative field studies of industry stakeholders with a focus on the potato industry and the management practices of farmers and processors. The phases marked a progressive movement from the institutional/structural level to individual actors in specific locations involving farm working visits. The study applied open-ended interviews in which all aspects of the research were open to collaboration by participants, thus encouraging frank communication, cooperative learning and purposeful action. While acknowledging the significant contribution of farming women and the power of retail capital and consumers, the scope of the study was limited to a focus on farmers and processors in the main agricultural regions in the north of the state. Interviews confirmed the views that farmer stereotypes were both inaccurate and unhelpful beyond a certain point, failing to reflect the diversity within farming cultures, while results indicated that practices within the vegetable processing industry were indeed productivist in their reliance on inorganic and chemical inputs, mechanization, heavy dependence on technology and fossil fuels, and therefore unsustainable. Yet some change was discernible where conventional farmers have begun to borrow useful and inexpensive techniques from alternative agriculture such as increased use of rotations, green manures and no-till cultivation among others. The study also recognized and developed a 'farmer narrative' in the volunteered stories and descriptions of local beliefs and practices within the study areas. The incorporation of this accumulated knowledge is a useful aid in the development of more sustainable farming models which rely on close knowledge of local resources and conditions. While the study identified a pervasive fatalism in farmer attitudes regarding shrinking profits, contraction in farm communities, the inevitability of soil erosion, compaction and soil structure loss in Phases One and Two, farmers generally expressed a concern for the welfare of the land and its resources and their role as stewards and conservers. While acknowledging some of the damage caused by conventional practices, farmers generally argued that strained price returns made the cost of resource and environmental conservation prohibitive. The study associated such tensions with farmer demands for change to their situation as 'price takers'. This was subsequently confirmed in action to increase price returns. Longer term less optimistic views suggested continuing farmer stress and adjustment although the results found no evidence of farmers leaving the land. As a contrary indication that lent weight to previous research, the study detected a pragmatic flexibility among Tasmanian farmers to manage new conditions in difficult times. The study concluded that present practices in the vegetable processing industry were both damaging and unsustainable but given public support, pragmatic flexibility and farmer knowledge were valuable resources with which many farmers will manage a gradual transition from productivism to ecological sustainability and social equity.


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Copyright 2010 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references

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