Panel 2: Environmental commodification

Benedikt Korf et al., University of Zurich,

Abstract: The Painful Birth of Territory at the Margins of the State: Towards a Theory of Frontier

Contemporary resource frontiers generate rapid, violent, and often dramatic alterations of modes of governance, economic accumulation and production, and of landscapes – through enclosure, dispossession, resettlement, exclusion, evictions and displacements. They alter production and governance systems, not only in terms of property relations, but also in their materiality, while tropical rainforests are transformed into palm oil plantations, jungle into irrigation schemes, rangeland into land plots. Frontiers are said to be sites at the margins of the state and of capitalist expansion where territory is literally ‘in the making’ – and this birth is often painful, contentious and complex. In this talk, we explore a variety of resource frontiers in Africa and Asia and Europe, first, to understand empirically the territoriality of violence and dis/order in resource frontiers across the world, and, second, to theorize the frontier – using the conceptual resources of Carl Schmitt, Achille Mbembe, Peter Sloterdijk and Anna Tsing - as the painful birth of territory in the margins of contemporary state and capitalist expansion.

Muriel Cote, University of Zurich, (chair)

Alice Jandrain, Université Catholique de Louvain,

Abstract: Seed’s freedom under threat. Case study of seed’s policy in the east of DRC.

This year, FAO has published for the first time a report about the state of the World's Biodiversity for food and agriculture. It is warning us about its loss and the unknown impacts on humanity. Moreover, scientists around the globe agree that protecting biodiversity is critical for the survival of humanity. However, although research centres throughout the world are collecting seeds in laboratories in order to protect them, seed diversity tends to decrease in the farmers'fields. This situation stems from rigid and standardised regulations. Indeed, various actors, such as states, international organisations, and research laboratories try to regulate the use of seeds through international treaties, trade agreements, development cooperation projects and agricultural research. The speech behind regulations is the need to provide healthy and high quality seeds with a higher productivity than “traditional” one, resistant to diseases, and conform to the market. These stakeholders perceive seeds like a productive resource that needs to be regulated for the economic growth. Official policies are visible but the challenges and values of Congolese farmers remain in the shadow. The case study of the seed’s policy in the east of DRC try to respond to this distortion. It reveals that only the wealthiest farmers are able to fit in national and international standards. Therefore, these regulations create conditions for a minority to control the production of seeds. Based on this dissonance, this study interrogates power relations in the policy process. At first, the political philosopher, Castoriadis, invites us to think about the seed’s role in society through the lens of the “L’institution imaginaire de la société” (1975, 1986). Secondly, the political ecology concept of tactics and strategies from Perramond (2007) allow us to reveal the modalities of “l’institution imaginaire de la société” from the side of policy makers and farmers, and tension between them.

Ruth Pinto, University of Copenhagen and University of East Anglia,

Abstract: Political visibility through land claims in coastal villages of North Sumatra

In North Sumatra, the classification of coastal areas as state forests produced new opportunities for rural residents to have their claims to land recognised as rights. This paper considers what these opportunities for recognition mean to residents of two villages along the east coast of North Sumatra. It argues that people’s access and maintenance of these rights is driven by a desire to be seen by the state. The paper considers how this desire for ‘political visibility’ influences practices and strategies of claim-making. It shows how rural residents try to anticipate these opportunities for recognition, and accordingly employ practices and strategies to gain political visibility. Using examples of coastal tree planting and tourism, it also highlights how people adapt their resource use in order to maintain their rights and visibility. In other words, as coastal space is re-categorised, coastal residents try to re-categorise themselves by complying with forms of organisation that makes them visible citizens of the state.

Michael Eilenberg, University of Aarhus,

Abstract: Frontier Infrastructure: Autonomous Cities and Population Resettlement on the Indonesian Frontier.

Populating the unruly frontier with resettled loyal citizens in the promotion of grant development schemes is not a novel idea in Indonesia. The country has a long and contentious history of frontier colonization through population resettlement and agrarian expansion. Recently the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration announced a grand plan of reinstating the (failed) border transmigration programs of the 1980s. The Ministry introduced a new transmigration ‘paradigm’ driven by the concept of ‘New Integrated Autonomous Cities’. The vison behind these cities is the promotion of new beginnings. Cities of order and control catering the growing resource extraction economy and national security concerns along the land border with Malaysia. A contrast to the overpopulated, poorly planned and chaotic cities of Java. I argue that these new ‘autonomous cities’ and other development zones being constructed on the Indonesian frontier are based on an idealized vision of modernity, order and control. They can be seen as new laboratories of social ordering. They are other spaces set apart from the rest of society in which different relations of power and hence different forms of government rationality can be imagined and implemented - places that is real and unreal at the same time. Places that represents society, but in a distorted way, which calls, to mind particular idealized aspects of control, regulation and surveillance shaped through physical design and social engendering. The New Autonomous Cities and the more recent plans of moving the Indonesian capital to the edge of the state can be argued to represent such an idealized model of urban planning and development.

Steven Schoofs, University of Ghent,

Abstract: Fruits of Peace? The (Un)making of a Banana Plantation in Muslim Mindanao

 This paper presents findings from an ongoing case study that follows the making of a banana plantation in a remote town in conflict-affected Muslim Mindanao, southern Philippines. Development of the plantation started in 2014 and coincided with the signing of a peace agreement that symbolizes the end of nearly half a century of armed conflict between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. With this peace accord in place, the onus is now on cementing the peace through large-scale investments that are expected to create jobs, foster economic growth, and unlock Muslim Mindanao’s presumed development potential. The banana plantation represents the single biggest investment to date in Muslim Mindanao. As such, it is a productive site to explore the material, discursive and affective production of a post-conflict space – as a particular type of development zone – that accommodates capital accumulation. In this paper I seek to explain why the banana plantation has such difficulty in taking root in the town of Buldon, despite widespread support from a wide array of actors. I will draw attention to the contending geographical imaginations at work within a frontier zone of desire and anxiety as an explanation for the undoing of the banana plantation. To develop this argument, I will deploy the concept of frontier tool to historicise Mindanao as a “land of promise” and to elucidate how aspirations for modernity and recognition among ethnic Iranon in Buldon interfere with the designs and fantasies of the banana plantation.