The 5th amendment of the constitution, which upholds and protects the right of citizens to own private property, is a central foundation of the system of government and economy in the United States.
However, smallholders are often equated with peasants who are either subordinate to powerful elites or who maintain traditional communal rights to land. While the condition of land scarcity can result in a certain amount of renting, leasing, sharecropping, and taxation, the short term exploitation of smallholders would interfere with the incentive to intensify land use practices that is a fundamental characteristic of smallholders. The misconception that smallholder communities practice communal land tenure has also led to state confiscation of land, such as in the Kano region of northern Nigeria.
Netting argues that where land is a scarce and valuable resource, individual rights of property ownership emerges as an adaptation to those ecological facts. Smallholder land tenure practices therefore resemble private tenure, as heritable, permanently occupied and marked plots of land, along with transaction arrangements such as renting, leasing, and selling. Furthermore, property is put into productive use and actively improved upon, adding economic value to the property as an investment. Private property rights in fields, livestock, and trees are of significant importance to smallholders who depend upon it for their livelihood and who seek to profit from its bounty. The long term investment in their property as a source of wealth, including its close relationship with human capital in the form of specialized knowledge and experience that is accumulated in the use of a particular plot of land, may imbue the smallholder with a great sense of attachment to their land and provide them with a “unique perspective on sustainability” (Netting, 63).
It is not only important to recognize the permanent, private property form of land tenure that smallholders practice, but to realize it is as foundational to their way of life as it is to Americans. However, while the smallholder utilizes their property for productive uses, the suburban ideal in America is a lawn of well-fertilized and chemically-treated grass that has little purpose beyond its aesthetic value. Smallholders views towards their private plots of land arguably runs deeper and serves to contribute to environmental sustainability.
The American Context:
Review of Relevant Literature:
The Lawn-Chemical Economy and Its Discontents
By Paul Robbins and Julie Sharp
Smallholder intensive agricultural practices are one possible alternative to high-input, chemically-treated lawns that goes beyond aesthetic appeal. The productive use of the urban, suburban, and rural landscape can reshape the way Americans view their private and community properties by appealing to their intrinsically American values of private property, self-sufficiency, and even market participation.
The American lawn, considered in aggregate, represents a massive amount of land that is spread across the entire country. However, it has become common practice over the years to input increasing amounts of energy and expense into lawn chemicals in order to maintain the American ideal lawn covered in majestic, green grass. Robbins and Sharp argues that this trend is environmentally, biologically, and financially costly and questions whether “it is demand or supply that drives the prevalent and growing application of lawn chemicals.” By conducting interviews with users of lawn-chemicals, Robbins and Sharp learn that the American lawn represents certain moral and class-related values that many people feel obligated to display despite concerns of the environmental impacts of lawn fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, they find that state and federal laws all the way down to the municipal level serve to promote high-input lawn maintenance in order to sustain property values. However, reviewing the historical trajectory of the agrochemical industry from the early 21st century, Robbins and Sharp argue that decreasing profits from the conventional agricultural markets has caused many chemical manufacturers to vigorously pursued the municipal market in order to make up for contracting agricultural markets.
Through exclusive agreements with formulator companies and a steady increase in lawn chemicals, the market for nonagricultural pesticides has grown worldwide. While Robbins and Sharp have found that movements of resistance that have risen in response to the onslaught of the nonagricultural chemical market have had some success at the municipal level, they have caused disputes amongst neighbors as well. Alternative landscapes are being promoted by organizations in both the US and Canada to resist lawn norms and encourage local biodiversity. However, municipal-level prohibitions and federal regulations of lawn chemicals have been met with fierce campaigning by chemical manufacturers.
Robbins and Sharp argue that the “socioeconomic force relations” of social norms, municipal regulations, and industry dependence serve to propagate the high-maintenance lawn as a normative practice. However, they also point out that grassroots movements are continuing to challenge current practices and to promote alternative practices. As they say, “Struggles with capitalism do indeed seem to begin in the back yard.”
By Robert Netting
The assumptions held by ecologists that the capitalist system is inherently unsustainable and the alternative view that small-scale cultivators are sustainable guides the policies and direction of groups within the environmental movement. Netting’s study compares small-scale cultivators with larger industrial agricultural operations in terms of their tendencies to operate as environmentally sustainable and socially just systems. Netting argues that the characteristics and practices that determine whether an operation is environmentally sustainable must be demonstrated in each case. In an analysis of small-scale cultivators, the study finds that environmental deterioration may still occur due to overuse of land and the growing use of high-yielding seeds, chemicals and machinery. However, the practice of monoculture agriculture associated with large-scale commercial and industrial enterprises was found to be less biologically stable and energy-efficient compared to small-scale cultivator practices. Therefore, small-scale farming that focuses on labor and land management was argued to be a possible solution to environmental degradation.
The chapter excerpt didn’t thoroughly analyze all of the possible data associated with environmentally sustainable, socially just practices in its comparison of small-scale and large-scale agriculture. The practices of small-scale cultivators that were critiqued were those commonly associated with large-scale cultivators, such as overuse of land and the use of chemicals.
Neoliberal Conservation: A Brief Introduction
By Igoe and Brockington
Land tenure practices of smallholders closely resemble private property, for instance, but it is practiced at a distinctly local level. Plots of land are claimed in order to put it to productive use and no more is taken than one household can utilize to those ends. These practices have positive implications in the conservation of land and bare some affinities to the neoliberal emphasis of private property and even market participation.
Neoliberalism is presented as an approach that can automatically benefit people and the environment and easily solve complex problems with market solutions. However, Igoe and Brockington argue that such “rigorously formulated technocratic solutions” ignores the multitude of complexities that arise when addressing conservation policy. Igoe and Brockington set out to review common features of neoliberal conservation policies using case studies. They open by defining neoliberalism as a bundle of processes, as opposed to just an abstract concept, including the processes of deregulation, territorialization, decentralization, and privatization. Igoe and Brockington find that while state-sponsored protected areas has been the primary strategy for conservation, privatization was promoted as the more effective conservation strategy. In this way private game reserves and NGO’s sought to reregulate through the state protected areas into market commodities.
Referring to the concept of territorialization as the “demarcation of territories within states for the purposes of controlling people and resources,” Igoe and Brockington argue that territorialization has been utilized by neoliberal forces in the form of protected areas. For-profit businesses and NGOs have become key partners in national parks across the world. Large conservation NGOs, what is called BINGOS for big non-governmental organizations have also come to dominate the funding of environmental projects. Creating a situation where corporate interests are deeply embedded in environmental causes and making it difficult for NGOs to take a stand against large business investors. They argue that these investors also represent a vast network of actors that are highly exclusive. As seen, for instance, in the absence of any local partners in the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park website.
These networks are also highly selective of which areas to invest capital into, ignoring areas with low perceived value and transforming high-value areas into spaces that are governed by nonlocal actors. While Igoe and Brockington leave open the possibility that neoliberal policies can contribute to conservation efforts and benefit local people, they argue that they don’t automatically do so.
Benefits of The Commons
By F. Berkes, D. Feeny, B. J. McCay, and J. M. Acheson
Hardin’s book, The Tragedy of the Commons, has made the notion that common-property models are inherently susceptible to overexploitation an accepted truth. His arguments have resulted in the nationalization and privatization of land resources. However, the article finds that Hardin mistakes common-property with open-access by assuming that there is no property rights enforced. Several case studies are analyzed that demonstrate common-property characteristics not considered in Hardin’s arguments. The article finds that resources within open-access communities are controlled and regulated by social pressure, as well as institutions, and that community-wide cooperation is common. The authors argue that privatization and nationalization are not the only solutions and can sometimes cause more harm than good. Therefore, they propose that the most viable policy solutions will involve a combination of property-rights and institutional arrangements. However, the article does not cover the appropriateness of these different property-rights regimes to certain situations. Political, social, and economic motivations behind the implementation of privatization and nationalization policies are also not discussed.