For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Labor, Ecology, and a Failed Agenda of Market Incentives: The Political Ecology of Agrarian Reforms in Ghana"

by Awanyo, Louis (2001)


In spite of comprehensive market-based reforms and expanding economic incentives to engage in agricultural activities in Ghana, average agricultural growth between 1985 and 1995 remained stagnant at 2 percent per annum, far below the World Bank?s anticipated 4 percent annual growth. Based on an in-depth and primarily qualitative study of a sample of more than 200 farmers in the Berekum District of Ghana over the period 1985 ? 1995, this article addresses the question of the slow growth in agriculture. The study investigates which farmers are able to expand production under the conditions of economic reform, and why. In addressing this problem, this article focuses at the point of production and employs a regional political-ecology perspective to indicate how the economic behavior of farmers?the focus of agricultural reforms?is inextricably bound to the culture, politics, and ecology of production within which farmers are embedded. More specifically, the discussion seeks to show that expansion in production extends beyond the influence of the reform?s production incentives and is contingent upon farmers? varying ability to use custom and power to negotiate successfully for the critical resource of labor. Such access to labor, this article argues, is needed to meet the formidable challenge and to manage the menace presented particularly by the dominant C. odorata plant species and its ecology of notorious weeds and bushes. By stressing the labor processes of production, this article reflects on ways in which?to borrow Fairhead and Leach?s (1996, 8) phrase??ecological phenomena are ?socialised? and social phenomena ?ecologised?? to shape the outcome of agricultural production.

Key Passage

The menace presented by the ecology of bushes and weeds makes it imperative that farmers forge and maintain social relationships that are conducive to access to and control over labor for ecologically shaped tasks. Yet farmers have not always met the terms of labor contracts and have been confronted with various forms of resistance that have had implications for production levels. Resistance has often been timed to occur when labor scheduling for optimal production is most critical, especially during the period of weeding. As a result of such resistance, even the wealthier households who are contributing to the state’s growthobjectives have failed to realize their full production potentials and capacities. This entwined relationship among ecology, social relationships of access to and use of labor, and labor resistance and its effects on agricultural production are part of the local discourse within the Berekum community. This discourse points to ecology-society relations and provides further insights into why ecology and politics matter, regardless of the economic restructuring and the production incentives of SAP. It needs to be brought back into analysis of agricultural land use in the context of economic reforms. Contrary to the great expectations of the economic reform model, this article indicates the difficulties of expanding production and reiterates that agricultural production cannot be viewed primarily as the outcome of purely economic decisions made by farmers in response to economic incentives. ()


No Keywords


African History, Ecology

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