Tag Archives extractivism

Development between Extraction and Compassion

Extraction was central to the colonization of half of the world in the twentieth century, having played a key role in enriching already wealthy countries. But while colonization seems to belong to the past, the extractivist mindset based on the notion of extraction continues to pervade all aspects of our lives. In this blog article, a condensed and partial version of the inaugural lecture given by incumbent ISS Rector Ruard Ganzevoort on 12 October 2023, Ganzevoort discusses how extractivism shapes our lived realities and proposes a radically alternative approach to extractivism rooted in compassion.

In recent years, a new ‘Space Race’ has emerged, but instead of states trying to send rockets to space, this new one is centred on resource extraction. Corporations and start-ups are now seeking to extract resources from neighbouring planets and even asteroids — and programmes are being launched that bring them closer to doing so.

I confess that I am overwhelmed by the technological skills that make such endeavours possible. It is amazing that we can send humans to the moon and even actively envision journeys to other planets. And yet… There is something fundamentally unsettling about this story. What is deeply disturbing about this story is the unencumbered thinking about extraction — treating territories as terra nullius, no one’s land, just because the state or the population is not recognized by us, implementing laws alien to that land, and defending mostly the interests of the colonizers. And especially worrisome are the treaties that colonizing countries conclude in order to divide the territories between them without acknowledging the intrinsic rights of people indigenous to those territories.

Of course, one might object that these territories in space are uninhabited and that there are therefore no humans, animals, or other life forms whose rights might be compromised by our explorations and extractions. But first of all, that was also the argument in the past when the indigenous populations were not recognized as people with rights. It still happens in contemporary land grabbing at the expense of indigenous ethnic minority groups, pastoralists, and peasants who need the land the most. It is still the argument when we discuss the intrinsic rights of nature. And secondly, it is completely beside the point I want to make. That point is that such endeavours are emblematic for the extractivist agenda and attitude that has been so dominant and now is so contested in the development discourse. It is linked to the agenda of neoliberalism.


On the origins of extractivism

The concept of extractivism has migrated from its original location in the context of mining and producing raw materials and natural resources, usually shipped out of producing countries without much processing in the country of origin. In colonial times, this was of course the dominant model for North-South international trade. Countries like the Netherlands, England, and Spain would conquer or claim territories on other continents with the main purpose to extract valuable natural resources and produce whatever they could not grow in Europe.

Today, countries don’t officially call these activities colonialism anymore, but the underlying model has not changed. In many places, economic development is defined in terms of trading possibilities and trading is often focused on those resources and products that can be sold to strong economies like Europe and the USA, and increasingly also China. Even when we buy fair trade and organically produced coffee and cocoa (things we want and cannot produce ourselves), even when we improve local economies by stimulating the local processing of these resources, we are still working within the extraction-based economy in which the rest of the world serves the needs of the economic and political centers of power.

But extraction is not yet extractivism[1]. Extractivism refers to a philosophical perspective that questions the broader discourse of the mindset and cultural frameworks of extraction. It is a mindset that is pertinent to our thinking about development, about politics, about economy, and much more. It is a cultural framework underlying a significant part of at least European cultures and that is central to many geopolitical dynamics.

This extractivist approach is found everywhere and it may be helpful to explore some of these fields and reflect on the nature and consequences of extractivism. Beyond the first dimension of extraction — Planet Earth and other territories — we can reflect on extraction in the dimensions of finance, time, data, relationships, religion, and knowledge. Some of these dimensions operate primarily on the systemic or institutional level; other dimensions play out mostly on the individual level, which shows that it is indeed a dominant perspective across our personal, social, and organizational existence. I don’t try to be comprehensive in any way, and I will certainly generalize far too much, but I only aim to show how widespread and taken for granted this perspective is. Below, I briefly show the extractivist approach at work in our daily lives.



The more complex financial systems are, the further they move away from intrinsic value and the more they are part of an extractive system. Extractivism in a financial sense is visible in the accumulation of wealth on the one hand and debt on the other. In fact, following credit theories of money we can claim that money is identical to debt, only seen from the opposite perspective. Development is often financed by loans that create a new dependency and reinforce the dominant economies of the Global North while at the same time creating a market for the North to sell our superfluous or even defected products, thus extracting even more from the Global South under the guise of development. By providing money, we are therefore creating more debts and in fact, global debt (as a share of global GDP) has tripled since the mid-70s.



It is well understood by now that there is no such thing as free data.[2] While Big Tech wants us to believe they are creating new possibilities for us to connect and communicate and to access unlimited data and information, the reality is the other way around. By using Facebook, Netflix, Tiktok, and whatever we have on our smartphones, we are allowing these companies to gather data about us and our societies. We are not watching Netflix; Netflix is watching us. The surveillance society that has become possible through data technology is not only a threat for individual privacy. By extracting data, it creates power for the state and for commercial organizations that was formerly unheard of.



Extractivism is not only present in the actions and structures of institutional powers. It is also part of our own cultural attitude. At least in the West, I must add, because I don’t want to generalize too much across cultural differences, although cultural globalization is visible everywhere and Western culture remains dominant in many parts of the world and is propagated through commercial activities and especially popular culture. One dimension in which this plays out is how we relate to time. Expressions like “wasted my time” and “you have to get the most out of it” or “YOLO, You only live once” reveal this extractivist mentality.

The idea that time is a commodity of limited supply also leads to a perversion of how we look at ageing, again especially in Western cultures. The older people get, the less productive time they have left and therefore the less value they represent. In contrast, we can also see cultures where old age represents not a lack of future time but a richness of experiences.[3]



The commodification of time is paralleled in a commodification of relationships. The most dramatic version perhaps is found in forced marriage, sexual or domestic abuse, and marriage murders. But it is much broader. Modernization and industrialization have led to differentiation in tasks and activities and therefore also in relationships. Colleagues, friends, family members, neighbors, caregivers, trade partners… Many or all of these relational categories could coincide in pre-industrial times but are now commonly organized through different and separate relational spheres. And although there is in many cases still a good degree of mutuality and intrinsic value, there is also at least the risk of commodification where relationships are evaluated for their utility in satisfying specific needs.



And then religion, which I mention specifically because my chair here at ISS is in Lived Religion and Development. Religion can easily become part of the extractivist mindset for example when it takes on magical characteristics. Especially in critical circumstances, people may turn to religion trying to avoid imminent danger. In contexts of poverty, there is a strong temptation to follow prosperity preachers who claim that their approach to religion will bring health, material wealth, and much more. Religious leaders may of course act with sincerity, integrity, and humility, but they may also capitalize on their charisma and extract power, honor, and money from the community they are leading.[4]

I may note here one interesting parallel between missionaries and humanitarian aid organizations. Both are not only engaged with a society in need, usually far from their homeland and constituency. They also both typically share stories about their work in the field, highlighting the dire predicament in which they find the people they want to reach, the beneficial effects of their intervention, and the impact of the financial support of their donors. Everybody wins. The receivers of care or mission are supposed to benefit, the donors can feel good, and the missionaries or aid workers remain in business. Good intentions notwithstanding, both missionary and humanitarian work can easily turn out to be extractive sectors, and in fact, examples of white saviourism. The challenge is to explore alternative spaces of local agency.



Finally, and added here specifically because it regards us as an academic institution, is the role of extractivism in the generation and distribution of knowledge. The contemporary movement of open access and open science is at least trying to correct the perverse system in which public money and the individual drive of researchers have been exploited by commercial organizations.

But there is more. Even an academic institution like ISS that proudly carries the banner of social justice and invests in what we call Recognition and Rewards can in fact perpetuate a competitive rat race for especially younger scholars, whose energy and ambition are being used to further the academic reputation of the institute. Are we really building a nurturing and secure environment in which people can grow under fertile circumstances, or are we just as extractive as we reproach other institutions to be?

And even more seriously. Do we truly embrace different epistemologies and forms of indigenous knowledge, also when they come from other, previously colonized parts of the world? Or do we hold on to our Eurocentric model of knowledge generation and transmission, in which students from the global south are part of our business model, leading to the continuation of North-South knowledge-power dynamics and a potential brain drain from the south? I am not doubting anyone’s intentions, but we also need to reflect on our own role in development studies.


Compassion as radical alternative to extractivism

Maybe you are not convinced by every single example that I mentioned, but I hope that you can follow me when I suggest that extractivism is central to the Western mindset and potentially also influences other cultural contexts. It is at least, I would say, very much present in development discourse and practices. Can we reconceive development in non-extractive ways? We can learn from the debates about decoloniality and degrowth or post-growth. But if extractivism is an underlying cultural mindset that plays out across many domains of how we interact with the world around us, then we also need an alternative fundamental mindset that leads to different ways of relating to the world.

This alternative mindset may go by many different names. One concept that I personally find very appealing is compassion. Compassion is not a soft-hearted emotional response; it is a virtue that is developed over time through a long series of warm and painful experiences, hard and daily choices, honest reflection and introspection, and especially concrete actions. It is also a virtue that is central to many global and indigenous worldviews and religious traditions and therefore can be seen as a core element of human wisdom accumulated over many centuries, as religious studies scholar Karen Armstrong (2010) has outlined.

The concept of compassion combines three interrelated aspects that are relevant for our considerations today. First, it takes its starting point in recognizing that everything is connected. Second, the concept of compassion implies being willing to be affected by ‘the other’, be it fellow humans, animals, future generations, or anything else. “Willingness to be affected”. And then the third aspect of compassion is turning that awareness and willingness to be affected into action.

But this action can no longer be the paternalistic expert-driven top-down form of helping that dominated older paradigms of development and care. It must be based in the awareness of interconnectedness and accountability and therefore breathe the values of mutuality, equality, and justice. To quote the famous words of Aboriginal scholar-activist Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

[1] Riofrancos (2020) offers an even more precise differentiation between extractivism as the policies and ideologies involved in extraction processes and extractivismo as the, especially Latin American, discourse critically reflecting on this.

[2] See Ganzevoort (2020) for further reflections on data and humankind.

[3] Nicely captured in the recent PhD thesis of Constance Dupuis (2023).

[4] See Sanders (2000) for an insightful analysis of charisma in early Christianity and in contemporary cases.

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About the author:

Prof.dr. (Ruard) RR Ganzevoort is the rector of the International Institute of Social Studies in Den Haag (part of Erasmus University Rotterdam) as well as professor of Lived Religion and Development.

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Contract farming is everywhere, but how does it affect agrarian relations in the Global South?

Contemporary debates in agrarian studies have been predominantly focused on land and property issues, at times to the detriment of questions about production and exchange. The large and expanding footprint of contract farming is one example of a relatively neglected – yet significant – dimension of contemporary agricultural systems in the Global South. Farming contracts are one of many forms of coordinating production and exchange that seek to avoid the uncertainty for producers and buyers of finding each other more spontaneously in open markets. Contract farming involves a non-transferable agreement between farmers and buyers that specifies the terms of production and marketing, typically relating to the price, quantity, quality and delivery of the product.

Decades of research and case studies suggest that contract farming is widespread in local, domestic and export-oriented agricultural commodity markets, both linked to large multinational corporate buyers, as well as within the informal networks of small-scale traders. Research on contract farming in the Global South consistently attributes this expansion to two intertwined effects: one is the liberalization of agriculture due to structural adjustments that stripped states from their coordinating roles in production. The other is the active promotion of contract farming by multilateral development agencies, who proposed it as a win-win alternative after the demise of state-led coordination.

International organizations, governments and agribusinesses have promoted contract farming as key tool to integrate smallholders into markets and modernize agricultural sectors. Contract farming is hailed as a source of jobs, income and stable markets for smallholders, and for providing a stable supply base and profits to agribusiness. However, whether contract farming actually does lead to win-win outcomes remains highly contested. Political economy studies reveal that unequal power relationships are inherent to contract farming arrangements, demonstrating that (i) buyers tend to benefit more than smallholders, (ii) not all producers benefit equally (small producers are highly differentiated and many hire labor), and (iii) many smallholders actually lose out from these schemes as they bear the brunt of production risks and enter vicious cycles of indebtedness. As a result, we often see a mosaic of winners and losers.


Contract farming, an avenue for rural development?

Since the 1990s, international organizations such as the FAO and the World Bank have been promoting contract farming as a tool for inclusive growth in rural areas. Responding to criticisms that these arrangements tend to disproportionately benefit buyers and may expose small producers to indebtedness and impoverishment, international organizations have put their weight behind the promotion of “fair contracts” and better governance and transparency in contractual arrangements.    However, political economy studies still question this rebranding of contract farming as an inclusive business model by showing how “fair contracts” focus solely on the unequal power relations between small producers and agribusinesses, while missing the range of inequalities that exist among and between farmers, agricultural workers, unpaid household labor and those who provide ancillary services to small-scale producers. Moreover, many contract farming schemes rely on monopsony power, often leaving producers unable to renegotiate or withdraw from contracts, let alone benefit from price spikes. The monopsony position of the contracting firm refers to a situation where it is the only buyer of the crops produced by the contract farmers. This gives the contracting company exclusive access to the crops of the contract farmers.


Supermarkets, food multinationals and small traders: the new cast of actors in contract farming

With the ongoing restructuring of the global food system, contract farming and a cast of new actors have come to the fore. On the one hand, corporate buyers are expanding their customer base and sourcing geographies. For these actors, contract farming arrangements are a way to ensure standardized and steady supply of agricultural commodities in globalized markets. Most notably, supermarkets make use of contract farming arrangements to supply high quality and standardized vegetables and fruits to consumers around the world. Even though smallholders who are able to comply with the standards set by supermarkets tend to benefit from supermarket contracts, poorer farming households tend to benefit less and may even be excluded from such arrangements altogether.

On the other hand, specialist traders and local procurers increasingly use contract farming (both formally and informally, i.e. with and without written contracts) to source directly from smallholders or act on commission as intermediaries between smallholders and agribusinesses. In the absence of government support, these intermediaries may take on a seemingly developmental role by offering informal extension services, providing road infrastructure and loading necessary materials and machineries to smallholders.


Agency and resistance

Despite the uneven contribution of contract farming to rural development and productive upgrading for small scale producers and agricultural sectors of the Global South, political economy studies highlight that smallholders are not passive victims of corporate buyers and merchants (whether large or small), but often resist and challenge the contract farming relation. This may take the form of overt resistance through protests and strikes, but also of informal and often hidden strategies that take the form of everyday struggles. For example, oil palm contract farmers in the Philippines have reacted to a lopsided contract, unsustainable levels of indebtedness, and the risk of losing their land by side-selling their produce to other agribusinesses, refusing to harvest, or burning oil palm trees. Tobacco contract farmers in Zimbabwe have responded by switching to other crops or diversifying their sources of finance. However, both cases show that contract farmers’ agency and resistance is limited by available resources and alternatives.


Towards a new research agenda

Over the past three decades, political economy studies have contributed to a much better understanding of the differentiated impact of contract farming in the Global South. Yet, important questions remain. For example about the interface of contract farming and changes in land tenure; the prevalence of unpaid household labor and the exploitation of hired labor among small-scale producers; contract farming as a form of extractivism (of the resources and labor contained in the commodity); and the ecological burden of the expansion and intensification of agriculture associated with contract farming. To move towards this new contract farming research agenda, we have founded the Contract Farming Initiative, a network that brings together a diverse group of critical contract farming scholars and activists. The initiative is geared to support cross-country analyses of contract farming schemes. As one of our first tasks, we are mapping contract farming arrangements in the Global South to get an overview of where contract farming scholarship is concentrated and where more research is needed. We warmly invite other scholars to contribute to this project.

As part of our activities this year, we will host a panel at the EADI CEsA General Conference 2023 to bring together scholars from different geographies and critical perspectives to discuss contract farming’s potential for rural development by focusing on dynamics of financialization, resistance from smallholders, social differentiation as both a cause and outcome, and labor exploitation dynamics.

This article was first published on EADI’s blog, Debating Development Research.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Caroline Hambloch (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Mark Vicol (Assistant Professor, Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University) and Helena Pérez Niño (Assistant Professor, International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague) are co-editors of the recent special issue in the Journal of Agrarian Change The Political Economy of Contract Farming: Emerging Insights and Changing Dynamics (January, 2022), and co-founders of the Contract Farming Initiative research network.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

Rural support for authoritarian populism is strong – but another way is possible by Ian Scoones

While the rise of authoritarian populism continues, its rural dimension has been missed in most commentary. Whether it is because of land grabs, voracious extractivism, infrastructural neglect or lack of services, people’s disillusionment with the status quo, across often disconnected rural areas and small towns, is tangible across settings. It is the rural dimension of the rise of authoritarian populism that has been the focus of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), which aims at reinventing politics of new sustainable rural economies, based on solidarity and collectivity. 

The rise of authoritarian populism continues. Now the UK has a fully signed-up version in its new right-wing government, with allies in Trump, Modi, Bolsarano, Orban and others. It is a dangerous, but perhaps inevitable, trend. The soul-searching on the Left after the UK election rather belatedly diagnosed the problem. It has been long in the making – the result of sustained neglect of services, infrastructure and livelihoods as globalised neoliberalism created winners (in London mostly) and losers elsewhere, including large swathes of (semi-)rural England.

It is the rural dimension of the rise of authoritarian populism – strangely missed in most commentary – that has been the focus of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), initiated in 2017 in the aftermath of the election of Trump and the Brexit referendum. Our framing paper in the Journal of Peasant Studies, now downloaded nearly 23,000 times, was written that year, and remains (rather scarily) relevant. Its call for an alternative emancipatory politics and – following Chantal Mouffe – a version of a ‘left populism’, remains relevant.

Since our major meeting at ISS in the Hague in early 2018, the ERPI network has been busy discussing, organising and reflecting – not only diagnosing the problems, but also exploring solutions.

From problems to alternatives

In collaboration with openDemocracy, we produced a series of videos and short articles on ‘Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World’. Following a small grants competition, a series of great articles have been published as part of a special JPS Forum, now including contributions on Belarus, Bolivia, Cambodia, Ecuador, Hungary, Mozambique Russia, Spain, Turkey and the US (and more to come, including on ‘populism from above and below’ in Brazil).

The Journal of Agrarian Change has published an important review piece by Jun Borras emerging from these debates and Fernwood/Practical Action have produced Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right by Walden Bello, part of the ‘small books for big ideas’ series.

In the Hague, a number of regional working groups were established, and they have been pushing the debate further. For example, ERPI Europe has been engaged in a number of events, and is producing an important special issue for Sociologia Ruralis, while ERPI North America has been publishing a great series of papers in a special issue of the Journal of Rural Studies. ERPI Africa has been engaging in field-based exchange visits and writing up experiences, ERPI Latin America is collecting together a set of papers – covering Guatemala, Haiti, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Bolivia – for a proposed special issue, and EPRI South Asia met in Sri Lanka to exchange experiences from across the region.

Finally, the ERPI group focusing on implications for human rights, linked to core ERPI partner the Transnational Institute (TNI), has also produced an excellent piece – A View from the Countryside.

Common threads: rural populism and alternatives to authoritarian politics

Some key themes have emerged from the debates that the ERPI has engaged in with people around the world.

Wherever you look, the rural dimension is key – not just in electoral calculus but in understanding underlying drivers. Whether it is because of land grabs, voracious extractivism, infrastructural neglect or lack of services, people’s disillusionment with the status quo, across often disconnected rural areas and small towns, is tangible across settings.

This leads to the fragmenting of communities and loss of security and identity. Lack of jobs and livelihoods is blamed on outsiders, often immigrant populations working in agricultural industries in such marginalised areas. Declining rural and small town livelihoods is often, in turn, linked to drug abuse and physical and mental ill-health, and increasing despair.

Across cases, the disenchantment and disenfranchisement felt in such areas is firmly the result of state neglect over decades, thanks to neoliberal policies that have resulted in austerity, extraction and exploitation.

The cosmopolitan, mostly urban, educated ‘left’ elite have failed to engage with these real concerns and traumas, while organised labour has defended remaining formal jobs to the exclusion of others who are unemployed or surviving on the margins.

Populist right-wing parties, despite dissonance in values and messages, have appealed to many, with promises of jobs, investment and renewal, combined with a nationalist anti-migrant rhetoric that resonates those who feel under threat.

Yet amongst the gloom, more positively, there are alternatives being created that offer the opportunity of a new politics in such rural and semi-urban areas. These are rooted in communities, linked to rural skills, trades and cultures, and encourage collectivity and solidarity, often around forms of ‘commoning’. Movements, such as around food sovereignty, help mobilise around and extend such alternatives.

Such initiatives often tackle the big issues of today: helping to build a new economy which is sustainable and addresses the threats of climate chaos. Very often they make use of modern tech to encourage connectivity, sharing and building solidarities. Yet, they remain on the periphery of state plans and political debate.

Where next?

Unless progressive politics focuses on such alternatives, and helps articulate and scale them up, the prospect of defeating the rise of authoritarian populism in the rural hinterlands looks slim. This requires new forms of decentred organising, focusing on real issues and people, and building from communities upwards and outwards. It requires different solutions for different places; not grand socialist planning or welfarist deals struck from above.

The UK’s election result was a trauma waiting to happen. It is a pattern that has been repeated elsewhere – and I fear will be in the future. As the ERPI discussions emphasise, the response should not be despair or blame games, but a reinventing of politics of a new sustainable rural economies, based on solidarity and collectivity. Following Ivan Illich, this means creating new practical, political ‘tools for conviviality’ that can confront authoritarian populism by building alternatives. And in this, the rural hinterlands and small towns are key.

This post first appeared on https://steps-centre.org/blog/rural-support-for-authoritarian-populism-is-strong-but-another-way-is-possible/.

About the author:
Ian_Scoones2016.jpgIan Scoones is a Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex and co-director of the ESRC STEPS Centre. He is one of the initiators of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative and is a member of the editorial collective of the Journal of Peasant Studies.