We are pleased to announce that the Swiss National Research Council and the Presiding Board have allocated funding for the Demeter project for the next three years (2018-2020).  Hereafter we give you an up-date on our research findings and an insight in how we will go along.

From phase one to phase two: Research findings and planned activities.

The first phase of the DEMETER research was dedicated to data-collection. At country level, we have conducted about 200 semi-directive interviews and held some focus group discussions (3 Provinces in Cambodia and 4 Districts in Ghana). In addition, we administered a household survey among 600 randomly selected households on livelihood. Preliminary findings on the gendered transformation of livelihoods show a complex relationship between agricultural and land commercialization and food security. On the negative side of the spectrum, we observe human rights violations in the context of large-scale land concessions (forces evictions, dispossession of land in Cambodia), supporting critique on land grabs in the literature.   On the other side of the spectrum – also in line with the literature – , agricultural commercialization (such as in the South of Ghana) tend to improve their livelihoods. Impacts are unevenly distributed and our research findings will certainly complement a vaste strand of literature and contribute to nuancing critiques of commercialization. Migration status, ethnic belonging, gender and age lead to differentiated outcomes, yet indigenous populations always being the most disadvantaged; internal Khmer migrants in Cambodia profit more than indigenous peoples, and important differences are observed between North and South Ghana. Gender is also a strong principle of social structuring and clearly intersects with other status positions. Agricultural and land commercialization lead to changes in kinship related inheritance practices, which on their turn deteriorate women’s access to land (titles) and impact on accessibility of food, and hence food cultures. Such changes have also been reported in the 1980s, but did not get sufficient attention in the more recent literature on land grabbing.

In various subthemes members of the research team are exploring the connection between commercialization at the household level on the one hand, and incomes, jobs, indebtedness, and coping strategies on the other hand. These connections are systematically broken down by gender, ethnicity and migration status. The changes in livelihoods profoundly affect existing configurations of power relations and impact on food consumption habits. The plan is to lift the insights from the household survey  to the level of our case communities as we get a better grasp of the character of these communities. Moreover, the repetition of the survey in 2019 and additional qualitative livelihoods interviews will allow us to more firmly assess changes in all these areas over time.

With regard to our research question on policies and politics, we have found that orthodox commitments to agricultural commercialization are implemented quite differently in our case countries, with Cambodia favouring large-scale agriculture and Ghana contract farming. We have confirmed a commitment to gender mainstreaming in both countries paralleled by weaknesses when it comes to implementation, again reflecting findings in the literature from other contexts. We are now taking our work on policies and politics to the sub-national level to take advantage of efforts to decentralize policy formulation and implementation in both countries. This will allow us to probe the influence women and men in rural areas have on policies and how this influence is conditioned by different forms of decentralization and different political systems (“competitive authoritarianism” in Cambodia vs. a recognized democracy in Ghana). Moreover, we will continue our work on resistance to land grabs in Cambodia, looking also at the alleged increase in violence against women participating in such resistance, thus contributing to an incipient literature.

Our legal analysis continues to trace developments of the right to food and gender equality language at the international level, including in the sustainable development goals, the discussions on the rights of peasants, and the development of General Recommendation 34 on the rights of rural women in the CEDAW committee. As with our political analysis, in the second phase we want to move our human rights research to the level of practices to examine the way conflicts over food and land are being resolved and to assess dispute resolution mechanisms through the lens of gender equality. Given the weakness of the formal legal system in Cambodia, this work will proceed differently in our two case countries, with Ghana continuing to analyse practices of jurisprudence while in Cambodia we will concentrate on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that our interviews suggest are more widely used.

Update on methodology

Our methodological choices have proven effective, and we largely intend to stick with them. For the livelihoods analysis, this means that we will repeat the survey in 2019. We also will conduct additional qualitative interviews, though in a less extensive and more focused fashion, zeroing in on the verification of the most salient findings from the first round and filling gaps, including issues related to post-production steps of commercialized agriculture.

With regard to studying the influence of policies and politics, laws and legal practices, we have sharpened our methodologies by more clearly identifying promising theoretical inroads. Following these, we have operationalized more clearly our second and third research questions, differentiating the study of structures and processes and emphasizing the latter. We intend to assess the extent to which sub-national policy processes allow for participation and inclusion, following literatures on decentralization and participatory democracy; and we will assess the effectiveness of conflict resolution mechanisms, following literatures from legal pluralism and socio-legal studies. We will also continue our study of policies, expanding our discursive analyses from the international to the national and subnational levels, following literatures on (gender) expertise. And we will continue our study of international and national norms on gender equality and the national reception of human rights guarantees following literatures from feminist legal anthropology and comparative constitutional law.

In addition to these foci, we are allowing room for individual scholars in the project, including Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers, to pursue their own theoretical preferences and methodologies. These currently include a study on peasant resistance and the creation of political identities; and a study of the increased prevalence of violence against women who lead and participate in protests related to land and the right to food.