Patrick Bottazzi

Researches and publications

The division of work in Senegalese conventional and alternative food networks: a contributive justice perspective

Labor conditions and rights are a key justice issue in agri-food systems, particularly in global, capitalized and industrialized food supply chains. While alternative food networks have emerged to produce and distribute food outside these logics, their ability to provide more equitable work conditions remains widely debated. We examine equity issues in the division of labor in food exchange networks in the horticultural sector of Senegal from the perspective of contributive justice. Contributive justice considers more broadly how different qualities of work are distributed and how work is perceived by the workers themselves. We performed 71 interviews of workers participating in three food exchange networks: (1) the conventional horticultural supply chain from the Niayes production area to Dakar, (2) an NGO-supported organic food network also supplying goods from Niayes to Dakar and (3) a community-supported agriculture scheme in a peri-urban coastal area. We investigated how functions and tasks are distributed along gender, ethnicity, place of origin and education characteristics of workers and how they qualify their tasks in terms of satisfaction and tediousness. We found a sharp labor division along gender, education and ethnic characteristics in the conventional network and a less sharp one in the two alternative networks. However, worker participants in alternative networks tend to belong to local elites and rarely include more disadvantaged people; they also tend to be less specialized and perform several functions, but do not necessarily express better work satisfaction. Workers who perform highly tedious tasks in the conventional network show rather surprising high work satisfaction. Based on these findings, we discuss the interplays between external and situated perceptions of work and the organization of food supply chains. This allows to critically examine the transformative potential of alternative food networks in the context of a lower-middle income country such as Senegal.


Green Agendas and White Markets: The Coloniality of Agroecology in Senegal

Development actors in West Africa have been promoting agroecological farming as a solution to combat climate change and to create more sovereign food systems that enhance the autonomy of local smallholders. However, there is a lack of empirical evidence regarding the actual implementation of such programs and their potential to empower smallholders, especially in the West African region. Drawing on co-produced knowledge from anthropological fieldwork in Western Senegal, the case study of an alternative food network explores the interlinkages between the promotion of agroecology, anti-migration policies, and unequal power and market relations. Informed by decolonial political ecologies, the analysis reveals different layers of coloniality which complicate embodied effects on horticultural smallholders. The authors conclude that instead of fostering the emancipation of smallholders, development actors promote a labor-intensive and unprofitable way of farming that exploits local resources for the sake of green agendas and white markets. This article highlights the need for a critical reflection on the potential limitations of agroecology and calls for a more nuanced approach that considers the complex realities of smallholders in West Africa.


The agroecological transition in Senegal: transnational links and uneven empowerment

Transnational agroecological networks in Senegal (Pic:Boillat et al. 2021)

Senegal is among the few African countries that counts with an important agroecological movement. This movement is strongly backed up by a network of transnational partnerships and has recently matured into an advocacy coalition that promotes an agroecological transition at national scale. In this article, we investigate the role of transnational links on the empowerment potential of agroecology. Combining the multi-level perspective of socio-technical transitions and Bourdieu’s theory of practices, we conceptualize the agroecological network as a niche shaped by the circulation of different types of capital. Using social network analysis, we investigate the existing flows of resources and knowledge, as well as membership and advocacy links to critically address within-niche empowerment processes. We show that transnational ties play a key role in building the niche protective space, showing a financial dependency of the agroecological niche on NGOs and international cooperation programmes based in Europe and North America. This configuration tends to favor the empowerment of NGOs instead of farmer unions, which only play a peripheral role in the network. However, the multiple innovations focus of agroecology may open up prospects for more gradual but potentially radical change. Based on our findings, we suggest to include more explicitly core-periphery dynamics in transition studies involving North–South relations, including circulation of capital, ideas and norms.


Political Agroecology in Senegal: Historicity and Repertoires of Collective Actions of an Emerging Social Movement

Senegalese community protesting against the grab of their land (Picture:

Agroecology has become an ideological foundation for social and environmental transformation in sub-Saharan Africa. In Senegal, agroecological advocacy coalitions, made up of farmers’ organizations, scientists, NGOs, and IOs, are using agroecology as an umbrella concept for proposing policy changes at multiple scales. We describe the history of the agroecological movement in Senegal in the context of the constitution of a national advocacy coalition. We then examine the “repertoires of collective action” mobilized by the coalition. Four repertoires are identified: technical support and knowledge co-production, territorial governance, alternative food networks, and national policy dialogue. Our analysis highlights the potential that these multi-level approaches have to sustainably transform the current food systems in sub-Saharan Africa. However, our research also reveals the limited agency of farmer organizations and the limitations of a movement that is strongly dependent on NGOs and international donors, leading to a “projectorate” situation in which contradictory policy actions can overlap. We further argue that, although the central government has formally welcomed some of the principles of agroecology into their policy discourse, financial and political interests in pursuing a Green Revolution and co-opting agroecology are pending. This leads to a lack of political and financial autonomy for grassroots farmers’ organizations, limiting the development of counter-hegemonic agroecology. We discuss the conditions under which territorial approaches, and the three other repertoires of collective action, can have significant potential to transform Sub-Saharan
Africa in the coming years.


Channels of Labour Control in Organic Farming: Toward a Just Agroecological Transition for sub-Saharan Africa

Channels of labour control and their indirect links to surplus values.
Participatory guarantee system monitoring (Senegal 2018) (Pic: Bottazzi)

Agroecological farming has long been described as more fulfilling than conventional agriculture, in terms of farmers’ labour and sense of autonomy. These assumptions must be reconsidered with adequate theoretical perspectives and with the empirical experience of recent
studies. This paper introduces the concept of channels of labour control in agriculture based on four initiatives in Senegalese agroecological horticulture. We build on Bourdieu’s theory of social fields to elaborate a framework that articulates multiple channels of labour control with the type of capital or surplus values structuring power relations during labour processes. Although each of the four agroecological initiatives place a clear emphasis on improving farmers’ well-being, various top-down channels of labour control exist, maintaining most farmworkers as technical demonstrators rather than agents of transformation. These constraints stem from dependence on foreign funding, enforcement of uncoordinated organic standards, and farmers’ incorporation of cultural values through interplays of knowledge and symbolic power with initiative promotors. Pressure on agricultural workers is exacerbated by the context of the neo-liberalisation of Senegalese agriculture and increasingly difficult climatic conditions. A more holistic approach of agroecological initiatives is needed, including the institutionalisation of protected markets for their products, farmers’ inclusion in agroecosystem governance and inclusiveness in the co-production of agroecological knowledge, taking cultural patterns of local communities into account. Recent attempts to scale-up and politicise agroecology through farmers’ organisations, advocacy NGOs, and municipalities may offer new perspectives for a just agroecological transition in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Mechanisms and impacts of an incentive‐based conservation program with evidence from a randomized control trial

Conservation science needs more high‐quality impact evaluations, especially ones that explore mechanisms of success or failure. Randomized control trials (RCTs) provide particularly robust evidence of the effectiveness of interventions (although they have been criticized as reductionist and unable to provide insights into mechanisms), but there have been few such experiments investigating conservation at the landscape scale. We explored the impact of Watershared, an incentive‐based conservation program in the Bolivian Andes, with one of the few RCTs of landscape‐scale conservation in existence. There is strong interest in such incentive‐based conservation approaches as some argue they can avoid negative social impacts sometimes associated with protected areas. We focused on social and environmental outcomes based on responses from a household survey in 129 communities randomly allocated to control or treatment (conducted both at the baseline in 2010 and repeated in 2015–2016). We controlled for incomplete program uptake by combining standard RCT analysis with matching methods and investigated mechanisms by exploring intermediate and ultimate outcomes according to the underlying theory of change. Previous analyses, focused on single biophysical outcomes, showed that over its first 5 years Watershared did not slow deforestation or improve water quality at the landscape scale. We found that Watershared influenced some outcomes measured using the survey, but the effects were complex, and some were unexpected. We thus demonstrated how RCTs can provide insights into the pathways of impact, as well as whether an intervention has impact. This paper, one of the first registered reports in conservation science, demonstrates how preregistration can help make complex research designs more transparent, avoid cherry picking, and reduce publication bias.


Why telecoupling research needs to account for environmental justice

Mining in Senegal impacting small-scale agriculture (Pic: Patrick Bottazzi, 2019)

Engaging with normative questions in land system science is a key challenge. This debate paper highlights the potential of incorporating elements of environmental justice scholarship into the evolving telecoupling framework that focuses on distant interactions in land systems. We first expose the reasons why environmental justice matters in understanding telecoupled systems, and the relevant approaches suited to mainstream environmental justice into telecoupled contexts. We then explore which specific elements of environmental justice need to be incorporated into telecoupling research. We focus on 1) the distribution of social-ecological burdens and benefits across distances, 2) power and justice issues in governing distantly tied systems, and 3) recognition issues in information flows, framings and discourses across distances. We conclude our paper highlighting key mechanisms to address injustices in telecoupled land systems.


Agroecology as a pathway to resilience justice: peasant movements and collective action in the Niayes coastal region of Senegal

Participatory mapping (Niayes, Senegal) Pic: Bottazzi 2019

In semi-arid sub-Saharan Africa, farming populations face harsh climatic
conditions but also very unequal and dynamic social processes that affect their resilience. This study addresses aspects of power and social justice related with the social-ecological system of the Niayes coastal region of Senegal, and examines the potential of agroecology to improve the adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers. We performed a knowledge co-production process with a local farmer union to identify the main social-ecological nexuses that matter for smallholder farmers, their dynamics and the influence of powerful actors and institutions on them. We also look at the potential actions of the farmer union under the banner of agroecology to transform these dynamics. We found that social-ecological dynamics involve reinforcing feedback loops that undermine
the resilience of smallholder farmers and that powerful actors such as
agribusinesses have a strong influence on these processes. Union actions
promoting agroecology have enhanced system thinking and related solutions, but observed social justice claims are very recent and have a limited scope. Our findings expand the notion of resilience grabbing, understood as the undermining of resilience through the loss of commons, to include systemic degradations due to direct and indirect actions of involved stakeholders. We also propose to expand the notion of resilience justice vertically, integrating procedural and recognition justice, and horizontally, integrating linked social-ecological issues. We conclude that agroecology can become a transformative bridge from resilience grabbing to resilience justice, but must be more sensitive to power relations, in particular around labour.

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Why do we work ? Labour and agroecological transition in sub-Saharan Africa (AgroWork)

Rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa are facing a major social and ecological crisis. It is particularly true for food systems that are in a critical situation due to ecological degradation and unbridle neo-liberal policies. Facing these challenges, a large-scale transition to agroecological farming is increasingly presented as a potential solution as it leads to more sustainable agricultural practices, farm resilience and improve farmers’ working and living conditions. AgroWork is a research project aiming at understanding the enabling and limiting factors of a transition to agroecological farming systems in Senegal, with a particular focus on human work. Researchers use various lens from social, political and earth system sciences. The general framework of Socio-Technical Transition studies (STT) is combined with other approaches such as environmental justice, political ecology, environmental socio-anthropology, ecological economics and physical geography. Most case studies take place in the Niayes regions Northern Dakar, an areas dedicated to horticultural production. The area, that used to play an important role for food provision in the entire country, is highly affected by climate change, urban sprawl and unsustainable use of natural resources.

Main approaches of the AgroWork research

1.      Food system governance: lock-in and leverage points for just transitions

Food systems are not ‘components’ of given societies but reflect the entire social system. Former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa have maintained the stigma of Northern control. Cash crops monoculture, low wages and dependence to foreign inputs are combined with consumption habits reflecting decades of economic and symbolic influence from abroad. In Senegal, as in other Sahelian countries, the narrative of food security is, since the structural adjustment, supporting a liberalization of the food sector characterized by massive import of staple crops, large-scale land acquisition by foreign companies or subsidies to agrochemical fertilizers. In recent years however, the food security narrative is being challenged by agroecological coalitions led by NGOs and farmers’ organizations with the aim of making the transition socially and environmental ‘just’. Agroecological coalitions can be considered as a ‘niches’ of transformation in relation to the broader agro-food regime still promoted by the government, private trusts and international lobbies. The interaction between the niche and the regime is one of the core focus of the research to better understand under which institutional changes a transition to agroecology is possible.

2.      Political ecology of work: Who controls labour in agroecological farming ?

An originality of the AgroWork research project is to study agrarian transitions from the central point of view of labour relations. Researchers mainly adopt a “political ecology of work” that can be defined as the study of power relations established in and around labour processes in link with environmental issues and ‘Nature’ (Bottazzi, 2019). Agroecological farming has been presented as potentially more ‘fulfilling’ in terms of human needs, satisfactions and incomes. Some experts also argue that agroecology could help farmers emancipating from external dependency and support their autonomy. In fact, agroecological farming is associated to increasing labour inputs as it requires more manual weeding and self-made treatment and fertilizers. Additional labour is likely subject to additional controls within what can be considered various ‘modes of production’. As for example, agroecological pilot programmes remain controled by a network of NGOs and international organizations mainly dependent from the Northern countries. Challenges of increasing farmers’ autonomy and emancipation from external form of labour control are not determined by technical transformations but by the mobilization capacity of farmers’ through their organization. The researchers also explore the question of the various meanings and perception of agricultural work according to different social statute such as gender, age, hierarchy or ethnicity.

Family harvest of organic chili in the Niayers region of Senegal (Pic: Patrick Bottazzi)

3.      Farmers’ motivations to adopt: a psycho-sociological approach

Another challenging question for agrarian transition studies relates to farmers’ psycho-sociological motivations of adopting a given behavior. Although agroecological practices are perceived by farmers to be beneficial in terms of human health, soil conservation and the durability of products, their adoption is determined by farmers’ perceptions in three different dimensions:

  1. Their ability (i.e. access to means of production);
  2. Their opportunities (i.e. access to preferential market);
  3. Their legitimacy (i.e. social norms supporting organic products).

Researchers formulate the hypothesis that labour conditions are at the interface of these three dimension which share in return farmers’ willingness to adopt. Farmers generally seek to minimize labour effort and dedicates to other incomes generating activities. Sharecropping is used in this sense to allow small land-owners relying on external labour force, while keeping a direct benefit from their land. Organic certification norms recently adopted by national farmers’ organizations tend to restrict this practices by arguing the lack of effective control of farmers’ standards fulfilment. Farmers’ motivations to adopt agroecology are therefore complex processes of estimating the costs and benefits of changing modes of production in a limited information system.

Participatory mapping and focus group discussion with farmers’ organisations (Pic: Patrick Bottazzi, Sebastien Boillat)

4.      Labour modelling: can agroecological transition mitigate the labour crisis ?

Another key question for the project is to know how labour demand and outcomes varies according to the different models of production such as small-scale agroecological farming or industrial conventional farming. Responding to this question could help better understand the potential of agroecology to provide an alternative rural development pathway by combining rural employment and sustainable food production. Based on multiple data sources such as existing and primary data, (i.e. survey, expert interview, participatory modelling) this module is centered on quantifying the work load (or labour demand) in different types of farming systems currently present in the Niayes areas of Senegal. System dynamic modelling is used to calculate interactions between core variables such as water consumption, soil fertility, biomass use and labour demand. It finally helps estimate scenarios of long-term transformations that are shared and commented with local stakeholders and put in the broader perspective of ‘bioregional’ development.

5. AgroWork: The team

6. Further informations

Main research institutions: The research is co-hosted at the Institute of Geography (University of Bern), and the Centre for Development and Environment (University of Bern)

Duration : 2018 – 2022 (possibly extended to 2024)

Funding : Swiss National Science Foundation – Professorship Grant

Partners: Initiative Prospective Agricole (Senegal), Université Cheikh Anta Diop Dakar (Senegal)



The Geopolitics of Protected Areas

Bolivian police intervention in the indigenous TIPNIS march Sept 2011 (pic: Dario Kenner)

The conservation enterprise is embedded in ideas of the environment
through which it promotes a vision of the world and the
relations between the non-human and human. The papers in this
forum analyse conservation from various vantage points to draw
the links between geopolitics and conservation. The authors use
three themes to demonstrate these links. The first theme draws on
the concept of environmentality to show the mobilization of ecological
rationalities and power towards the creation of protected
areas. The second pays attention to networks formed across the
distance, and how they influence the location and governance of
protected areas. The third focuses on the strategies the conservation
lobby uses to align local identities with global conservation
ideals and goals. Collectively, these themes highlight features of
conservation geopolitics.

Link to the published article


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