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From productivism to pragmatism : sustainability in Tasmania's vegetable processing industry


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Abraham, AP 2010 , 'From productivism to pragmatism : sustainability in Tasmania's vegetable processing industry', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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From the second half of the twentieth century, modern agricultural developments have
reproduced a productivist corporate-controlled globally-integrating food system. Some of
the system's negative impacts include heightened and extensive risks to the food and
health security of a majority of the world population, environmental modification, and
biodiversity losses. The period also witnessed a growth of importance in sustainable issues
and alternative farming systems accommodating concerns for sustainability and social
equity associated with the hegemonizing power of global productivist agri-food chains.
Similar concerns for the condition of agriculture in peripheral regions such as Tasmania
gave rise to this study which explored the characteristics and distribution of mandatory
productivist industrial farming practices within the vegetable processing industry. The
study aimed to determine the overall sustainability of this industry.
To achieve these aims, the study commenced by establishing a literature background as a
framework on which historical, political, economic, social and environmental dimensions
of food production were explored. This was followed by three phases of qualitative field
studies of industry stakeholders with a focus on the potato industry and the management
practices of farmers and processors. The phases marked a progressive movement from the
institutional/structural level to individual actors in specific locations involving farm
working visits. The study applied open-ended interviews in which all aspects of the
research were open to collaboration by participants, thus encouraging frank
communication, cooperative learning and purposeful action. While acknowledging the
significant contribution of farming women and the power of retail capital and consumers,
the scope of the study was limited to a focus on farmers and processors in the main
agricultural regions in the north of the state.
Interviews confirmed the views that farmer stereotypes were both inaccurate and unhelpful
beyond a certain point, failing to reflect the diversity within farming cultures, while results
indicated that practices within the vegetable processing industry were indeed productivist
in their reliance on inorganic and chemical inputs, mechanization, heavy dependence on
technology and fossil fuels, and therefore unsustainable. Yet some change was discernible
where conventional farmers have begun to borrow useful and inexpensive techniques from
alternative agriculture such as increased use of rotations, green manures and no-till
cultivation among others. The study also recognized and developed a 'farmer narrative' in
the volunteered stories and descriptions of local beliefs and practices within the study
areas. The incorporation of this accumulated knowledge is a useful aid in the development
of more sustainable farming models which rely on close knowledge of local resources and
conditions. While the study identified a pervasive fatalism in farmer attitudes regarding
shrinking profits, contraction in farm communities, the inevitability of soil erosion,
compaction and soil structure loss in Phases One and Two, farmers generally expressed a
concern for the welfare of the land and its resources and their role as stewards and
conservers. While acknowledging some of the damage caused by conventional practices,
farmers generally argued that strained price returns made the cost of resource and
environmental conservation prohibitive. The study associated such tensions with farmer
demands for change to their situation as 'price takers'. This was subsequently confirmed in
action to increase price returns. Longer term less optimistic views suggested continuing
farmer stress and adjustment although the results found no evidence of farmers leaving the
land. As a contrary indication that lent weight to previous research, the study detected a pragmatic flexibility among Tasmanian farmers to manage new conditions in difficult
times. The study concluded that present practices in the vegetable processing industry were
both damaging and unsustainable but given public support, pragmatic flexibility and
farmer knowledge were valuable resources with which many farmers will manage a
gradual transition from productivism to ecological sustainability and social equity.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Abraham, AP
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2010 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Available for use in the Library and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references

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