Agricultural multifunctionality, environmental sustainability and the WTO: Resistance or accommodation to the neoliberal project for agriculture?

Clive Potter, Mark Tilzey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The liberalisation of agricultural markets is one of the most contested issues in international politics. Debates surrounding it counter-pose the moral imperative to dismantle protectionist agricultural subsidies in order to combat rural poverty in the South with fears for the livelihoods of marginal farmers and the environmental integrity of the countryside in the developed North. A largely European concern with defending the ‘multifunctionality’ of agriculture is dismissed by critics as a protectionist excuse for continued farm support. In this paper we seek to assess how far support for multifunctionality can be construed as a form of resistance to the neoliberal project for agriculture. The paper begins with an analysis of the European negotiating stance in the Doha round and the subsequent evolution of debates surrounding multifunctionality in an international setting. Having identified the European Union as one of the key sites of articulation concerning the implications of trade liberalisation for a multifunctional agriculture, the paper goes on to argue that multifunctionality within the framework of European rural policy emerges as a much more elusive and susceptible concept, informed by radically different interpretations of the vulnerability of family farmers to greater market exposure and the extent to which agricultural restructuring should be regarded as an issue of wider public concern. This maps onto a technically complex debate about how best to procure environmental public goods in a period of rapid agricultural change. The paper concludes that with these differences still very much in play, questions concerning the compatibility of multifunctionality with market liberalisation remain deeply unresolved at an important moment in the internationalisation of rural policy governance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1290-1303
Number of pages14
JournalGeoforum
Volume38
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007
Externally publishedYes

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