The first work package will explore, analyze and compare cultural preconditions for maintenance of agricultural land in three land resource-based economies; Norway, Australia and Canada.
a) In Norway, agriculture has survived despite marginal conditions and a small-scale structure, due to a protectionist setting with the support and cooperation of the public, the state and agricultural actors (Bjørkhaug and Richards 2008). The system is family based, meaning farm operations are owned and managed by farming families, usually over generations (Bjørkhaug 2007). The cultural, historical and political importance of the small-scale, independent self-owning farmer has been pointed out (Almås, 2004; Daugstad et al, 2006). A social contract, guaranteeing income for farmers in return for food security, rural viability, and other, varying multifunctional objectives, the last 15-20 years especially the preservation of cultural landscapes and other amenity values, has been the basis for the Norwegian policy model (Almås, 2004; Bjørkhaug 2007; Daugstad et al. 2006; Rønningen et al 2012). However, very recently the policy has shifted from ‘preservation’ to ‘neo-productivism’ (Bjørkhaug et al, 2012). Little research has been carried out to understand the value of the agricultural land and farmland preservation. This study aims to explore and analyze the cultural preconditions for maintenance of agricultural land in Norway.
b) Three counties with a large proportion of high quality farmland close on the urban-rural fringe will be of particular interest for the Norwegian case study; Østfold, Rogaland and Sør-Trøndelag. These represent sites of land use contestation, as the need for housing and infrastructure competes with the so-called “national granaries”. Which discourses (terminology, categories, assumptions, and distinctions) underpin the way agricultural land is managed in these areas? Methods for data collection will include in-depth interviews with farmers, politicians, planners, organizations and other pressure groups in each of the three locations. A textual analysis of key papers, documents, plans and newspaper articles will provide the historical and contextual backdrop. Key discourses that are deployed to co-construct the meaning of land and its importance for the opportunity to lead meaningful lives will be identified and analyzed.
c) The Australian component, will explore the social, economic and environmental values that shape contemporary land use and land use conflict. Foremost amongst land use debates and conflicts in Australia include those related to ‘food vs fuel’. Typically this refers to ‘food crops vs agrofuel crops’(see McMichael, 2009), however, we extend this framing to examine the enrolment of agricultural lands into coal mining, and/or coal seam gas extraction. This extraction of fossil fuels from agricultural and pastoral land has raised concerns regarding conservation, soil and water pollution, the exacerbation of climate change, rural livelihoods and national and international food security – given Australia’s food export credentials (Lawrence, Richards and Lyons 2012). There have been a number of policy and advocacy responses to manage these competing understandings of appropriate land use (eg. Strategic Cropping Land Act 2011 and Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). Interestingly, in terms of advocacy responses, traditionally adversaries, green groups (politically-left leaning environmental activists) and farmers (often more right-leaning, politically) have now formed what has been called an ‘unholy alliance’ to challenge the hegemony of the mining industry. Through an analysis of policy and industry documents, as well as in-depth interviews with policy makers, ‘green activists’, and farmers, we will map the diverse values related to land resources. As with the Norwegian section above, we will employ a textual analysis of key documents, texts and media to assess how these new alliances are negotiated.
d) The Canadian component of the study, will investigate the changing nature of land ownership in Western Canada, largely because of the activities of Canadian private equity firms in purchasing vast tracts of farmland, and the concomitant social and economic transformation that is happening among the rural population as their lives are affected by it1. These are striking developments whose effects remain unknown and unstudied given that the practice was non-existent in Canada five years ago. However, they have the potential to fundamentally alter the relationship of the people and the land. What will be the medium and long-term effect of this development on agriculture in Canada? Is there a transfer of ownership and control of farmland in Canada, with the resultant loss of community, culture and food supply and a deteriorating environmental and ecological condition? What effect will this have on land quality, use of resources and food security? While private property is strongly engrained in the socio-cultural composition of farmers, as well as corporations, their definitions could collide when those of the former relate to identification of time and place and those of the latter relate to profit and exploitation. Is it the case, as Zoomers (2010) suggests, that the cultural, spiritual and social importance of land to individuals is often ignored when the value of land is determined (see also De Schutter 2010)? Through an analysis of federal and provincial policy, examining the content of interviews undertaken with officials and politicians from both levels of government as well as with senior management from private equity firms, and an evaluation of industry documentation, this WP will seek to answer the questions posed above.
Responsible for WP1 and the Norwegian case study will be Dr. Katrina Rønningen of CRR in collaboration with Dr. Hilde Bjørkhaug and a PhD student. Dr Carol Richards and Dr Kristen Lyons of The University of Queensland will jointly lead the Australian study. Professor Bruce Muirhead of the University of Waterloo will undertake the Canadian study. A comparative analysis will be carried out on cultural preconditions for policy on management of agricultural land in Norway, Australia and Canada. Data and results from the country case studies will inform these analyses.
WP1 will deliver 1 joint article edited by the WP1 team of researchers, further submit 4 articles to peer-reviewed publisher (minimum 2 to scientific journals) and 1 PhD as well as conference presentations and media texts.