What Is A Smallholder, Householder?

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Before exploring the potentiality and plausibility of smallholder, householder practices within an American context it is first necessary to determine a basic definition of what a smallholder, householder is, both as a concept and as a practice.

Smallholder agricultural practices are viewed as a primitive system of agriculture that occupies the tail end of an evolutionary trajectory of agriculture and society. Often inciting images of peasants bent over a field with simple tools, their way of life is assumed to be unproductive, volatile, and primitive compared to the large scale and technologically-advanced practices of the contemporary agricultural industry. This characterization not only suggests a certain set of policies for developmental agencies towards smallholder communities in developing countries, but prescribes the direction of future agricultural policies across the world. Utilizing the frameworks of Ester Boserups’ theory of agrarian change and Julian Stewards’ concept of cultural ecology as situated knowledge, Netting examines a broad spectrum of research on smallholder communities, including the Nigerian Kofyar, Torbel farmers in the Swiss Alps, wet-rice cultivators throughout Asia, and the smallholder practices that were present during the Chinese Imperial age. He discovers that these cross-cultural studies demonstrate a common set of functional similarities of intensive farming across a wide-range of cultural groups, environments, political-economic regimes and time periods. Netting argues that commonalities between population and land use practices is a result of either land scarcity or population growth, which leads to a corresponding increase in the production of food per unit of land when relocation or expansion of land is not an available option.

As a family-run, small-scale agricultural system that maintains a unit of land under permanent production, the smallholder strategy often must substitute the labor efficiency of large-scale agricultural systems for the productivity of their small plots of land. Through an in-depth knowledge of their micro-environments and crop diversification practices, “combined with a tool kit of practices for soil manipulation, water control, nutrient conservation and restoration,” smallholders are able to consistently achieve a relatively higher yield per unit of land than even large scale farm enterprises (Netting, 56). Instead of relying on fossil fuels and chemicals to work their land, however, they rely on manual labor, composting, and farming byproducts, which has the added benefit of avoiding issues of environmental degradation and resource exhaustion. As such, smallholder practices of intensive agriculture could serve as a viable alternative to large scale agricultural practices that depend on fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides and have created a whole range of environmental problems. Furthermore, the cross-cultural  elements that make up the smallholder system bare some affinities with the deeply embedded values of Americans today, including their priority of private property, individualism, self-sufficiency, puritan work ethic, and even competition and market participation.

The American Context:

Review of Relevant Literature:

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