Agroecological transitions aim to redesign the structure of contemporary global food systems to improve food security, ecosystem health, community development, worker livelihoods, and social and ecological justice. A fundamental principle of agroecology is the responsible governance of land. Yet land—as a concept, resource, and territory—is heavily contested through processes of colonization, enclosure, commodification, and financialization. The governance of land and natural resources is also intimately tied to questions of power and privilege—Who governs land? Who benefits, and who is excluded? These questions presuppose an ontological understanding of land that can also be contested: What is land, what purpose(s) does it serve, and for whom? In this article, we review key concepts at the intersection of land governance and agroecology. We take a case study approach to highlight how tensions around ontologies of land mediate agroecological futures in 2 settler-colonial contexts: Brazil and Canada. We then explore how land governance for agroecology might be experienced and understood across different land governance institutions—including relational and community commons, private property regimes, and new forms of hybrid land relations that challenge land privatization. We discuss how these land regimes influence people, landscapes, and agroecological outcomes and conclude with a consideration of the access, equity, and justice implications of different land governance approaches for sustainable food systems.
Land, as an assemblage of material substances (e.g., minerals, water, and biological matter) and social relations (as a source of home, livelihood, food, and cultural and spiritual significance; Li, 2014), is “indispensable to almost all human activity” (Hall, 2013, p. 9). At the same time, access to land and its affordances is one of the primary markers of social exclusion and inequity. Scholars and practitioners in the agrarian change and international development fields have maintained a longstanding concern with land control and access, investigating relationships between the scale of farming, productivity, and viability (Deininger and Byerlee, 2012; Dürr, 2016; Ricciardi et al., 2018); the significance of land rights for adoption of sustainable management or conservation practices (Carolan, 2005; Palmer et al., 2009; Parmentier, 2014); and the importance of land access for the self-determination of structurally marginalized populations, including women and racialized peoples (IAASTD, 2009; Palmer et al., 2009; Alkire et al., 2013). The issue of land governance, or “the politics of who gets what rights and access to which land, for how long and what purposes, and of who gets to decide” (Borras et al., 2015, p. 603), has important implications for food system outcomes such as food security, racial equity, and ecological integrity. As a key element of agroecology, “transparent, accountable, and inclusive governance mechanisms are necessary to create an enabling environment” that supports food providers as they transition to agroecology (Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO], 2018, p. 11).
Agroecology scholars and food systems practitioners increasingly go beyond questions about the mechanics of land access to ask: By whom should issues of land “control” and access be decided and governed, and for what purpose (Grover, 2009; FAO, 2018)? Over the last decade, the FAO of the United Nations, in response to growing social movement calls for the formal consideration of agroecology in policy approaches, has included the responsible governance of land as one of the “10 Elements of Agroecology” (FAO, 2018; Barrios et al., 2020), encompassing elements of fairness, equity, and recognition of the role of family farmers, Indigenous peoples, and peasant and landless food providers as “sustainable managers of natural and genetic resources” (Wezel et al., 2020). These elements aim to foreground considerations of land governance in policies to scale out agroecology in a way that advances social equity while respecting the diversity of knowledges and experiences of distinct communities that engage with and relate to land (Dumont et al., 2016).
Across these contexts, the various ways that humans interact with land and the varying and changing degrees to which they desire to “own,” access, relate to, and/or use land—and the associated water, minerals, and human and nonhuman beings that may also inhabit specific lands—are strongly tied to power and values. El-Ghonemy (1999, p. 1) goes so far as to claim that “perhaps no other policy issue is more susceptible to shifts in ideology and the balance of political power than the transfer of land property rights.” Land sovereignty, or peoples’ right to access land and make land-based decisions, has been proposed as a frame in the food sovereignty and agroecology discourse for digging more deeply into land politics (Borras and Franco, 2012). But at which (intersecting) scales and through which institutions (states, communities, markets, etc.) are decisions related to land governance negotiated and enacted?
In what follows, we review key concepts at the intersection of land governance and agroecology frameworks and highlight several ways in which land has been conceptually and materially contested across agrarian transitions historically and into the present day. Considering ontological, material, and institutional dimensions of land, we reflect upon the illustrative histories of land governance in the settler-colonial states of what is now territorialized as Brazil and Canada. Food sovereignty and agroecology movements in Brazil (Wittman, 2009a; Stédile and Martins de Carvalho, 2011) and Canada (Morrison, 2011; Desmarais and Wittman, 2014; Morrison and Wittman, 2017) are increasingly engaging with different ontologies of land and food (Rosset, 2013; ANA, 2018; 2019; James, 2022) and with movements for Indigenous self-determination (BCFSN, 2016; Morrison and Wittman, 2017; National Farmers Union, n.d.). Social relationships to land and landscapes in these contexts continue to evolve through the interaction of states and markets with pressures from the grassroots.
We have extensively interacted with agroecological and land reform movements in these places over the last 2 decades to observe how contestations over land and changing ontologies of land governance have influenced landscape-level social and ecological outcomes. Our work is based at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, located on the traditional, ancestral, untreatied, and occupied territory of the hən̍q̍əmin̍əm̍ speaking xwməθkwəy̍əm—“the biggest benefactor of UBC,” as xwməθkwəy̍əm Elder Larry Grant states (Grant, quoted in Steedman, 2018). As settler scholars without ancestral ties to the places we live and work, we situate our research within food sovereignty and agroecology frameworks that acknowledge and engage with, rather than prescribe or attempt to appropriate, the diverse relational frameworks that circulate within and across Western and Indigenous ontologies (cf. Jimmy et al., 2019; Stein et al., 2020; Manson, 2021). To this end, this article explores land governance models based on principles of social and ecological justice as critical for implementing transitions to agroecology that improve long-term sustainability, resilience, equity, and well-being for both people and nature.
2. Conceptualizing land governance: Ontological foundations
Land governance is concerned with who is able to make decisions about what happens on the land and how, and how responsibilities to or for land are distributed (Borras et al., 2015; Wittman et al., 2017). Land governance regimes are therefore comprised of not only the actors and rules that structure land-based activities, but also ideas about land itself. This requires an understanding of the distinct ontological foundations that underlie the basis of land governance, considering in turn how land is considered as “relation” or kin and as “property” in distinct land governance regimes (e.g., Datta, 2013). We then describe an approach to understanding the institutional contexts that govern and regulate what happens on the land.
Many Indigenous governance systems treat land not as an object of management, but rather as a mutually constituted relation based on culturally specific cosmologies, developed over millennia between specific people and specific places. Secwepemc food sovereignty scholar-activist Dawn Morrison states, “Indigenous eco-philosophy reinforces the belief that humans do not manage the land, but instead can only manage our behaviours in relation to it,” informed by values of “interdependency, respect, reciprocity and responsibility” (Morrison, 2011, p. 99). Ecosystems are cared for by upholding sacred and unique responsibilities to traditional territories, which in turn care for the peoples living within (Morrison, 2011; Coté, 2016; Whyte, 2018; Robin, 2019). As food systems scholar Tabitha Robin (Cree) has shown, creation stories and naming systems are some pathways by which “responsibilities are ascribed to Indigenous people in their relationship with creation. To live responsibly means to carry out the roles that have been gifted” (James et al., 2021, p. 40). Another form of relationality underlies what Toledo (2022) describes as the “spiritual dimension” of agroecology, which takes shape as an “intercultural practice,” or “ontological commitment” to relational well-being between people and nature through the practice of place-based knowledge (Steinhäuser, 2020; Price et al., 2022; James, 2022).
Relations permeate all land governance regimes—across Indigenous, collective, individual, and state-claimed land—and structure interactions between families, communities, and the state (Borras et al., 2015). As a contrasting example to the endogenous land relations described above, land tenure restructuring in China has followed a series of geopolitical “movements” from the top-down, most recently land collectivization in the mid-20th century and the establishment of the Household Responsibility System in the early 1980s. Ecological considerations formally entered the state-society-land regime in China with the development of land-focused ecological programs in the 1980s and the 1998 Land Management Law for Farmland Protection (Sun et al., 2018). In 2012, the formation of an ecological civilization became part of the Communist Party’s 5-year plan and has been the basis for a new wave of agricultural land and rural settlement consolidation “to readjust human-land relationships” (Yang et al., 2020, p. 2).
In addition to ontological assertions about what land is, there are material debates about what land is for. Indigenous scholars have written about land as a place where meaning, memory, law, and culture are made and remade through relationships, with those relationships holding cultural, ecological, political, and spiritual importance (Morrison, 2011; Corntassel, 2012; Kamal et al., 2015; Coté, 2016; Craft, 2017; Daigle, 2019; Robin, 2019). More in line with an affordances (Li, 2014) approach to land, rural settlement consolidation in China aims to reduce the environmental impact of feeding a growing population undergoing a dietary transition, stimulate regional economies (Si, 2019), and “provide emotional sustenance to rural residents in their daily lives…through [the] aesthetic and cultural value of landscape elements” (Yang et al., 2020, p. 14). In yet other ontological contexts, land is “for” more explicit economic functions. In Brazil, for example, land reform based on the 1988 constitution focused on the “social function” of land, which was viewed by settler farmers as linked to citizenship, participation in public life, and the recognition of their labor (following the “land belongs to those who work it” labor theory of value); in contrast, for the Brazilian state, land-based extractive development activities represented a pathway to economic growth and political enfranchisement (Wolford, 2004; Wittman, 2009b).
Signifying a contractual relation between humans, rather than a relationship between people and the land itself, a Western-liberal ontology situates land primarily as property, a possession formally owned by an individual or group. Particularly influential in Eurocentric land politics have been Lockean notions of private property rights to a specific parcel of land “that can be enclosed, owned and controlled” (Daigle, 2019, p. 300) to the exclusion of others (Ostrom et al., 1999), in exchange for an input of personal labor, capital, or as a spoil of violent colonization. As noted by Carlisle in her examination of property, land, and agrarianism, Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government:
develops a labor theory of value on the basis of Christian theology, natural law theory and the institution of private property. “Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided [terra nullius], and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property,” he writes. For Locke, the improvement of land through agriculture is mankind’s God-given duty. Thus, the institution of private property inevitably arises through the mixing of labor with the soil…(Carlisle, 2014, p. 136)
As such, liberal notions of property also have a relational component (i.e., the extraction of individual worth and meaning from a perceived inanimate “nature” through physical labor, including the “labor” of colonization). Institutionally, however, in this narrative the land is the “object” of the relation, not the subject of it, an ontological distinction from the relational approach described in the previous section, and one that underpinned/underpins the usage of property doctrines as a primary tool of anti-Indigenous violence in settler-colonial land regimes. In this narrative, the colonial notion of terra nullius is based on very particular notions of what “kinds” of labor could be recognized and valued (i.e., the particular forms of agrarian labor and cultivation practices that produce a Western agrarian landscape). This, in turn, underpinned what is known as the “doctrine of discovery,” which has been used by settler states to attempt to erase and displace/replace (through violent dispossession) existing land-based subsistence activities such as hunting, gathering, burning, harvesting, and fishing (Denevan, 1992; Manuel and Derrickson, 2015; Assembly of First Nations, 2018).
As Tuck and Yang write (2012, p. 5), “in the process of settler colonialism, land is remade into property and human relationships to land are restricted to the relationship of the owner to his property. Epistemological, ontological, and cosmological relationships to are interred, indeed made pre-modern and backward.” This Western-liberal property ontology also extends to the enclosure and ownership of both land and people in feudal and plantation economies, in what legal scholar Brenna Bhandar has called “racial regimes of ownership,” where property laws simultaneously “organiz[e] territory and produc[e] racial subjects through a hierarchy of value…that render[s] Indigenous and colonized populations as outside history” (2018, pp. 2–3).
In another line of thinking, some scholars in the Western tradition have contested the absolute right to own land by focusing on the instrumental value of access to land for human well-being and justice. For example, Paine’s (1797) treatise on Agrarian Justice advocates “meliorating the condition of man” by assuming that land is the “common property of the human race” and advocating for a policy structure by which property holders should pay into a fund toward a prescient version of a Universal Basic Income, “in lieu of the natural inheritance, which, as a right, belongs to every man, over and above the property he may have created or inherited from those who did” (Paine, 1797, p. 13). However, this perspective also treats the material object of land as a “collective resource for everyone” rather than acknowledging the material and spiritual ties between specific peoples and specific territories. This approach has been utilized, in particular, in the application of “green grabbing” conservation regimes that seek to dispossess traditional land-dwellers (e.g., Indigenous forest communities) in the name of environmental conservation (Fairhead et al., 2012; Corson and McDonald, 2012).
That said, the materiality of land itself—that it cannot be “moved”—means that modern property systems are able to instrumentally utilize mechanisms to inscribe bundles of rights and duties on both people and land, which can include one or more of the following (Schlager and Ostrom, 1992, pp. 250–251):
Access—a right to enter a defined physical property.
Withdrawal—a right to harvest the products of a resource such as timber, water, or food for pastoral animals.
Management—a right to regulate the use patterns of other harvesters and to transform a resource system by building improvements.
Exclusion—a right to determine who else will have the right of access to a resource and whether that right can be transferred.
Alienation—a right to sell or lease any of the above for rights.
These property “rights” are one example of land governance institutions, or the formal and informal rules that structure a society’s relationship to land, including through laws and norms (Ostrom, 2008). In settler-colonial contexts, property administration institutions have deep roots in the establishment of racial and ethnic hierarchies and exclusions, not only to land as a relation or means of production but also as a signifier of political power, agency, and citizenship.
While property itself is an institution, in this article we differentiate these thematic concepts by using “property” to refer to Western-liberal ontological notions of land, while we use “institutions” to more broadly describe the rules and practices that determine (1) what activities are deemed permissible (or not) on the land and by whom and (2) who has the authority to make decisions about those activities (Wittman et al., 2017). Formal institutions that typically govern private property include legislative frameworks around property rights, land markets, land ownership, succession, taxation, and land transfers, with the associated apparatus of land title offices, land surveys and maps to draw virtual and physical boundaries, and policing infrastructures based on the principles of individual and/or corporate ownership and exclusion of “nonowners.” Property conceived as “commons” often similarly involves formal and informal governance mechanisms such as access agreements and resource allocations, dispute and conflict resolution mechanisms, and written and unwritten rules communicating rights and responsibilities (cf. Geisler and Danekar, 2000; Agrawal, 2001; Ostrom and Hess, 2008).
While many liberal laws and norms center on the right to own and manage land as an inanimate object of private property, many traditional Indigenous laws and norms are structured around roles and responsibilities in relation to one another and the land, itself animated by spirit (Little Bear, 2000; Corntassel, 2012; Daigle, 2016). These roles and responsibilities are often transferred through creation stories and naming and clan systems (Corntassel, 2008; 2012; Tuck and Yang, 2012; James et al., 2021) while also now being shaped by interactions with capital and the state (Grey and Patel, 2014; Persaud, 2020). In so-called British Columbia, Canada, for example, Persaud (2020) investigates land, property, and relations in a study with the Tŝilhqot’in Nation, whose Aboriginal title was recognized in a precedent-setting Supreme Court of Canada case in 2014. He notes that a challenge for the Tŝilhqot’in and other Nations who aim to (re)assert or (re)build land-related institutions that are grounded in Indigenous law and territory is:
to do so in a way that does not acquiesce—epistemologically and ontologically—to settler-colonial concepts of property. Instead, any post-colonial institutional development will likely benefit from careful consideration of the array of social relations and values that resemble property within Tŝilhqot’in law and articulation of these principles in ways that are perhaps cognizable to common-law without being subsumed by it. (Persaud, 2020, p. 145)
As Indigenous rights and title become increasingly (mis)recognized by the state (Coulthard, 2007), Indigenous acts of resurgence and assertions of land-based jurisdictional authority may also increase (by way of land use planning; engaging, subverting, or refusing negotiations with industry and the state; creating or reinvigorating alliances, etc.). For example, Persaud (2020) notes that Indigenous groups in British Columbia may be able to “counter-institutionalize land relations” by subverting, strategically appropriating, or contesting dominant political–legal practices (see also Persaud et al., 2020). Counter-institutionalizing land relations can also entail (re)creating and upholding principles that are based in Indigenous law and that support Indigenous futurity, or Indigenous Nations’ diverse and specific aspirations and visions for Indigenous life and “collective continuance” (Christie, 2003; Tuck and Yang, 2012; Craft, 2017; Whyte, 2018; Daigle, 2019). Examples of counter-institutionalizing land relations to support Indigenous futurity could include Guarani, Kaingang, and Xokleng mobilizations in support of their past, present, and future right to life and territory in the face of genocidal state threats to their land and legal rights under the Bolsonaro administration in so-called Santa Catarina, Brazil (Portal Catarinas, 2021), or Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s legal framework articulating roles and responsibilities to so-called Burrard Inlet in Canada as an expression of Tsleil-Waututh law and jurisdiction in the face of corporate- and state-led expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure (Clogg et al., 2016; Tsleil-Waututh Nation, n.d.).
3. Land governance in practice: How policy and power have shaped agroecological landscapes
Adding to the complexity of land governance and jurisprudence in settler-colonial contexts is the increasingly globalized nature of land, food, capital, and trade, and the multiplicity of actors and institutions engaged with local-to-global land-related activities. In light of the complexity of land-related institutional arrangements as outlined above, how could scholars begin to think about the governance of land for agroecology? Given the incommensurability of notions of land as a complex relation between people(s) and more-than-human kin versus property as a mechanism of exclusion and means for land “ownership” (Tuck and Yang, 2012)—and the hegemony of the latter—what possibilities (if any) exist for moving from “ownership” toward “relational” models in settler-colonial contexts, where food sovereignty-inspired approaches to land access and use come into direct structural confrontation with—or even reproduce—private property regimes (cf. Grey and Patel, 2014; Kepkiewicz and Dale, 2018; Calo et al. 2021)?
We explore these questions by turning to case studies from Brazil and Canada—both settler-colonial states where differential patterns of control over and access to land influence agroecological outcomes at multiple scales. In the following sections, we illustrate perspectives on (and tensions around) land governance in these 2 cases, in each case beginning with an acknowledgement of pre-colonial land relations and arriving at current debates on market-based, state-led, and community-based land reform. In these contexts, ongoing processes of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey, 2003) have served to concentrate land in service of export-oriented commodity production with an attendant diminution of socio-cultural and biological diversity, posing major challenges to an agroecological transition.
3.1.1. Colonization of Indigenous lands
“Não vai ter um centímetro demarcado para reserva indígena ou para quilombola.”
(Not one centimeter of land will be registered for Indigenous or quilombola communities.)
—Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (The Intercept Brasil, 2017)
Land governance has a long, storied, and complex history in Brazil, with multiple waves of dispossession interacting with multiple forms of shifting access and other governance institutions. Long prior to European colonization, thousands of Indigenous communities from dozens of distinct land-based language groups (e.g., Tupí-Guarani, Gê, Carib, and Arawak, among others) across what is now known as Brazil practiced culturally and ecologically diverse forms of agriculture, hunting, and gathering, in many regions developing intensive agricultural infrastructure and roads serving multiple population centers (cf. Ribeiro,  2000; Prado, 1967). Agroecological planning resulted in landscapes that were “compositionally heterogeneous”, integrating forest, compost, intensive and extensive cultivation areas, and population centers (cf. de Souza et al., 2018; Heckenberger et al., 2008).
Brazil was colonized by Europeans, principally the Portuguese, from 1500, beginning the (still ongoing) settler conquest of land and dispossession of Indigenous peoples. Contemporary rates of land inequality stem from this period of colonization (Wolford, 2005; Robles, 2018), when the Portuguese monarchy bestowed 14 huge tracts of land (capitanias, or captaincies) to 12 Portuguese donatários (grantees) (Johnson, 1987; Hidalgo et al., 2010). These royal land donations were similar to lordships—hereditary grants that gave the grantees “royal jurisdiction over a specified territory and its inhabitants” (Johnson, 1987, p. 13). The grantees were given the discretion to allot swaths of land (sesmarías) to other settlers (typically nobility) and to their sons—contributing to patriarchal patterns of ownership—who were to use them for agricultural and economic development of the captaincy (Johnson, 1987; Carvalho, 2015). The labor of enslaved people, primarily from West and Central Africa, was used to fuel the plantation-style production of agricultural export commodities like sugar, as well as tobacco, cotton, coffee, and later, cattle (Johnson, 1987). Sesmarias that were developed into cattle ranches were known to have “exceeded hundreds of thousands of acres,” with one noteworthy lord of the interior, Domingos Afonso Sertão, claiming ownership of more than 1,206,000 ha (Johnson, 1987, p. 105). The latifundia (large private estates held by the rural elite, or ruralistas) system in Brazil is a product of this legacy, where land access is “profoundly marked by the hegemony of an oligarchy rooted in landed property” (Paulino, 2014, p. 134).
Today, Brazil has one of the highest rates of land inequality in the world: The largest 10% of landholders hold 73% of agricultural land (Pinto et al., 2020). This inequality is part of the continued legacy of the colonial period—the dispossession of Indigenous lands, peoples, food systems, and ways of knowing (de la Peña, 2005; Wittman, 2009b; Santos, 2016) in service of industrial, large-scale monocultures grown primarily for export (Lapola et al., 2014; Ferreira Filho and de Freitas Vian, 2016). As in many colonial contexts, land consolidation and dispossession have resulted in significant environmental consequences. Begotti and Peres (2020) note that natural vegetation cover in the 10 km outside of Indigenous reserves across Brazil has been reduced by about half—reflecting both the increasing encroachment of extractive industries (particularly industrial agriculture) and the continued stewardship of Indigenous peoples even in the face of ongoing violence and land use pressures (Figure 1).
Indigenous reserves in Brazil currently occupy 13.5% of the land base, with the vast majority of the area (98.6%) designated as Indigenous lands located in the Amazon region (Begotti and Peres, 2020). Despite the protection of Indigenous rights in the 1988 constitution, including the right to exclusive and customary land use (Le Tourneau, 2019), President Temer (2016–2018) further eroded Indigenous rights by rolling back numerous human rights and environmental policy protections and opening up Indigenous territories to mining (Da Cunha et al., 2017). Temer’s administration also cut the budget of Brazil’s national Indigenous affairs body, FUNAI, by almost half (Alves, n.d.). Signifying the ongoing primacy of the land-as-property ontology in Brazil, the Bolsonaro government (2019–present) tabled legislation that would further open up Indigenous reserves for mining and other industries (Agência Pública et al., 2020; Reuters, 2020) and sought to transfer the land governance responsibilities of FUNAI to the agribusiness-oriented Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Supply (MAPA).1
3.1.2. State-led land distribution
Many scholars emphasize the need to acknowledge the social value of land as going beyond its economic role to include the deep meanings and attachments people hold to land and territory (Rosset et al., 2006; Hall, 2013). In Brazil, the notion that land has a social function has been referenced multiple times in law, but with a narrow legal term of reference, where the concept of social function is equated with definitions of “productive” use that are primarily economic in nature. For example, the intention behind the drafting of the 1964 Land Statute was to redistribute land to improve social equity by expropriating land from large landowners, but these efforts were subverted after the 1964 political coup (Robles, 2018), such that the policy instead incentivized smallholders and the landless to push into frontier areas, Indigenous territories, and government-claimed lands.2 Yet these smallholders were under-resourced and many were quickly incorporated or dispossessed by large landowners, producing the net effect of land consolidation while also attenuating political debate (Wittman, 2009b). The social function of land reaffirmed in Brazil’s 1988 constitution includes consideration of labor and ecological values, but in practice the definition of “productive” use, operationalized by economic productivity alone, has been used continuously since the colonial period to justify commodity production and benefit large landholders. As a result, land in Brazil remains concentrated in the hands of powerful elites.
In reaction to historical and ongoing processes of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey, 2003), social movements began to take a more concrete shape in Brazil as the country redemocratized in the mid-1980s. Among the most notable is the Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST), formed in 1984. Using a suite of activist tactics, including land occupations of estates that are defined as economically unproductive in the legal sense, the MST engages the state to redistribute land that is not fulfilling the definition of “social function” as articulated within the constitution. From 1985–2016, 9,402 agrarian reform settlements were created and 1,082,285 families settled on around 78 million hectares of land (DATALUTA, 2017). However, more recent changes in Brazil highlight tensions around land redistribution, even when codified in law. Since 2016, government institutions responsible for agrarian development have watered down redistributive programs, including those for land reform and social welfare (Sencébé et al., 2020).
3.1.3. Holding space for agroecological land relations
Given historical and present drivers of land dispossession that undermine agroecological principles of fairness and responsible governance, as well as ongoing institutional pressure for the expansion of agribusiness and land grabbing in Brazil—is there space for an agroecological land governance regime that could uphold a land ethic of relationality in Brazil? Several Brazilian organizations are members of La Vía Campesina (LVC)—the international movement of peasants and Indigenous peoples that advocates for food sovereignty and agroecology. At the community scale, one of LVC’s founding members, Brazil’s MST, has been experimenting with and advancing new social relations rooted in radical cooperativism since the 1980s, enacting alternative ways of holding land collectively and in support of solidarity economies (Wittman, 2007; Massicotte, 2014). These efforts at the local level reflect broader changes happening within LVC. As Rosset (2013, p. 726) notes,
…[a big] change has been the way in which the movement has increasingly learned to think in terms of territory. In 2002…LVC leaders from Indigenous peoples’ organizations challenged LVC and the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform to expand their shared vision of agrarian issues to include the indigenous perspective of territory, rather than just land…[this shift] has increasingly marked the broadened vision of agrarian struggle inside LVC, which increasingly has begun to think and speak about territory. (emphasis in original)
The expansion of LVC’s original emphasis on agrarian reform as land distribution based on notions linked to the labor theory of value, to also include “the defense of land and territory” (Rosset, 2013; LVC, 2016), has been mutually shaped by the food sovereignty and agroecology movements in Brazil. For example, at the national scale, the National Agroecology Coalition (ANA)—an umbrella organization that includes academics, social movements, farmer organizations, and other civil society groups—developed a “Charter on Land, Territory, Diversity, and Struggles” in conjunction with various political officials and representatives (ANA, 2019). The charter reaffirms the coalition’s commitment to rally in “defense of territories, land, water, seeds, public goods, culture, ways of life and good living” in order “to build a new project for the countryside, centering people—especially women, youth, and Black folks—land and territories, education, food sovereignty, cooperation, and agroecology” (ANA, 2019). In addition, the national meetings held by ANA have increasingly centered structurally oppressed peoples and struggles for decolonization and social justice; as one material example, the plenary session at the most recent meeting (IV ENA) was hosted by 25 different Indigenous groups (ANA, 2018). At the meeting, Kaingang leader Douglas Jacinto da Rosa (Douglas Kaingang) said:
It is necessary to…discuss this powerful and creative counterpoint that is agroecology. But these concepts need to be refined, as Indigenous practices and knowledge go beyond physical nutrition…[to include] much broader immemorial traditions. But the first step towards agroecology is the immediate reclamation of the demarcation of [Indigenous and traditional] lands [as a demand coming out] of this meeting.
Thus, while the agroecology movement in Brazil is opening space for Indigenous leaders to play a more central role in discussions on agroecology, Jacinto da Rosa and others are deepening discussions on how to move beyond narrower conceptions of land and food to consider Indigenous knowledge, traditions, and territory. They are also demanding that settlers take action in support of Indigenous rights in light of the ongoing invasions of Indigenous lands, which have dramatically increased since 2018. The fact that agrarian movements, many of which had long mobilized based on a labour theory of value, are now actively engaging with Indigenous rights to territory in venues like ANA is not insignificant considering the history of settler-led movements in Brazil; during the inception of the MST only several decades ago, for example, thousands of settler farm families were invading Indigenous territories in pursuit of land, fueling major ethnic conflict (Carter, 2003; Tarlau, 2014). Increasingly, other on-the-ground examples can be found where new Indigenous-settler relationships are being formed. For instance, CEPAGRO, a non-governmental organization working on agroecological transitions in Santa Catarina, Brazil, has developed a partnership with a local Guarani aldeia (reserve community) to support the use of agroecological management and access to seeds while also honoring Guarani-Mbyá cultural traditions and biocultural heritage (notably around avaxi ete’i, or native Guarani corn, which is used in ceremonies and saved and exchanged over many generations) (James and Bowness, 2021). Alliance-building efforts such as these indicate potential for the development of shared agroecological institutions based in reciprocity, solidarity, fairness, and a respect for diversity. We see the potential for these principles of responsible land governance beginning to inform the agroecology movement’s praxis more broadly, and turn now to discussing how they are taking shape in Canada.
3.2.1. Colonization of Indigenous lands
[T]here is now uncertainty over whether the entire province is burdened by Aboriginal title…What is needed is a clear exchange and an end of Aboriginal rights and title for a defined set of treaty rights.
—Lawyer Chris Harvey, British Columbia Treaty Negotiations advisory committee “Certainty Working Group” meeting (Lukacs and Pasternak, 2020)
Prior to waves of English and French colonization beginning in the late 1400s, dozens of distinct Indigenous Nations in what is now territorialized as Canada practice(d) diverse and complex forms of governance rooted in place-based land and food systems (Borrows, 2002; Morrison, 2011; Daigle, 2019). Drawing on the work of Anishinaabe legal scholar John Borrows, Michelle Daigle (Mushkegowuk) states that “during pre-settler times, Indigenous peoples existed as diverse nations shaped by their ancestral lands, kinship relations, governance structures, economic trading networks, ceremonial practices, linguistic traditions, and well-established yet fluid legal orders” (Daigle, 2019, p. 301). While disrupted due to settler-colonial invasion, Indigenous Nations continue to rely on “a variety of mechanisms to govern resource uses…as articulated and demonstrated through social institutions” rooted in specific cultural and ecological relations (Ryan, 2014, p. 2).
When Canada was confederated in 1867 (i.e., the provinces decided to form a federated unit with allegiance to the United Kingdom, as a constitutional monarchy to the present day), this process both ignored—and further attempted to erase—Indigenous peoples’ relations to specific territories, as well as particular emerging relations between settlers and the distinct Indigenous Nations inhabiting the land, in favor of formalizing “the union of Canada’s French and English settlers into one state” (Shipley, 2020, p. 42). Extractivism had already been long underway; the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trade empire was already 2 centuries in development. As many scholars of settler colonialism have noted, extractive infrastructures and industries—including agriculture—were (and are) primary drivers of the dispossession of Indigenous peoples in Canada (Starblanket and Hunt, 2018; 2020; Carter, 2019; Daschuk, 2019; LaDuke and Cowen, 2020). Over the next 150 years, the new settler state actively shaped policy to undermine Indigenous communities’ well-being, capacities for self-determination, and relationships to land, and engaged in a campaign of violence and starvation to force Indigenous peoples to agree to treaty terms that further dispossessed them of territory (Daschuk, 2019).
The paternalistic, overtly racist, misogynistic, and still legally binding 1876 Indian Act (RSC, 1985) explicitly denied Indigenous jurisdiction over territory in favor of opening up lands to settlers for agriculture. In what dominant historical narratives articulated as agreements to “share the land” with settlers, treaty provisions also gave the settler state the responsibility to provide Indigenous communities with “food aid, medicine and assistance in establishing new farmlands on the reserves they had been confined to” (Shipley, 2020, p. 50). Yet the state mostly ignored/ignores or directly violated/violates these provisions in order to protect the economic interests and competitiveness of the settler agrarian population (Carter, 2019; Daschuk, 2019; Starblanket and Hunt, 2020). Today, almost 90% of Canadian territory is designated as “Crown land,” or land “owned” by federal or provincial governments, while reserve lands formally demarcated by a completed treaty comprise just 0.33% of Canada’s land base (Pasternak and King, 2019; Government of Canada, 2021). Reserve lands designated via provisions in the Indian Act are held “in trust” by the federal government (Hanson, 2009; Pasternak and King, 2019) and are thus not considered to be “owned” by Indigenous peoples. Portions of previously negotiated reserve land have continued to be “cut off,” or expropriated/seized, by policy makers in subsequent periods (see Union of BC Indian Chiefs, n.d.) based on criteria of “proper usage”, which was primarily defined by settler forms of agriculture and resource extraction activities. The government in many cases retained property rights to mineral and sub-surface resources on reserve land (Hanson, 2009).
The installation of a settler-colonial property regime also had severe consequences for food systems governance and food sovereignty in Canada (Daigle, 2019; Jonasson et al., 2019; Morrison, 2011; Settee and Shukla, 2020). The federal government- and Catholic Church-sponsored residential school system in place from the 1870s–1990s forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families to attend school in distant territories, where they were forbidden to acknowledge their cultural teachings or speak their own languages—a documented genocide which in turn damaged oral traditions of land-based knowledge and relationships between people, territory, and food (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015; Coté, 2016). Land dispossession (and resulting loss of place-specific ecological knowledge) has dramatically affected food security by reducing access to territory to practice hunting, fishing, gathering, cultivating, harvesting, and trading relations (Turner and Loewen, 1998), where many of these practices and knowledges are consistent with agroecological ideals based on nutrient recycling, diversity, and reciprocal exchange. Land dispossession has also directly eroded the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples (Coté, 2016; Dennis and Robin, 2020; Richmond et al., 2021) and undermines communities’ adaptive capacity, as an ongoing form of climate injustice (Whyte, 2018; 2019).
Even those Indigenous farmers who adopted Western farming approaches on land designated as reserve or “Crown” land are typically unable to access agricultural credit or loans available to settler farmers holding private property “since the lands may not be sold [and therefore] they may not be leveraged, neither by the band nor by individual band members” (Arcand et al., 2020, p. 634). The Indian Act also erased the rights of women, transgender, and Two-Spirit people by creating a patriarchal system of power which was “internalized by many Indigenous communities and has been reproduced through misogyny in First Nation governments” (Pasternak and King, 2019, p. 10). For example, until 2019 with the passage of Bill S-3, provisions in the Indian Act remained active that caused Indigenous women who married a non-Indigenous partner, and their descendants, to lose their legal status (i.e., rights to territory and legal and financial entitlements associated with membership in an Indigenous community).
3.2.2. State-led land distribution
While colonial settlement processes occurred across Canada in several waves by French, Spanish, English, and other settlers since the early 1500s, the formal recruitment of British farmers as part of a national settlement strategy began in the late 19th century, building on increasing demand for wheat as a cheap “wage food” by the British Empire (Magnan, 2016). Settlement and the implementation of private property regimes during westward expansion continue to influence settler logics about who belongs in which spaces and under what terms. Drawing on archival research, Starblanket and Hunt (2018) describe how:
Early immigration posters and handbooks described the region as a vast, unoccupied, fertile hinterland, with little, if any, mention of Indigenous peoples. Colonial settlements offered newcomers property, independence, industry and, most of all, opportunities for wealth and bounty that would vastly exceed those available in their countries of origin…They simultaneously appeal to, and uphold, the institution of masculinity: the ability to build a home, provide for and protect one’s family, and—most importantly—to exercise control over one’s private domain. (see Figure 2)
State institutions supported the entrenchment of this private property regime through investments in financial, infrastructural, and ontological support for settler colonization. In the Canadian prairies, the 1872 Homestead Act and investments in infrastructure such as the Canadian Pacific Railway, ports, and grain storage facilities strongly supported the expansion of export-oriented agricultural production and the homogenization of both the social and biophysical landscape (Laforge and McLachlan, 2018).
In the 21st century, the hegemony of predominantly white male settler farmers is maintained through a racialized, colonial, and patriarchal social and legal order (Rotz, 2017) that underpins “enduring asymmetrical structural patterns of relationships between Indigenous and settler peoples” (Starblanket and Hunt, 2020, p. 24). This ideology continues to be reproduced in Canadian settler logics, agricultural policy, and land and food governance to justify the subordination of Indigenous and racialized communities (Rotz, 2017; Starblanket and Hunt, 2018; 2020), thereby also reproducing agrarian landscapes that are both ontologically and materially resistant to diversification.
3.2.3. Devolving land governance to new regional governance regimes
Land use regulation in Canada was devolved to individual provinces—and even municipalities—after the initial wave of central government-led land colonization and settlement. Across the territory, land consolidation and corporate concentration, as extensions of prior colonial processes, have cemented new and varied “business models” based in different geographic conditions. In the Canadian prairies, for example, federal deregulation of the Canadian Wheat Board and other market restructuring related to global trade agreements has led to a decline in farm numbers, farmland consolidation, environmental degradation, and the adoption of highly mechanized grain production systems (Qualman et al., 2020). While the Canadian prairie provinces prohibit foreign ownership of farmland, financialization of farmland in this region has resulted in the development of both publicly and privately owned “mega-farms” oriented toward short-term profits, and based on the mixing of productive and financial logics rather than long-term agroecological resilience (Magnan, 2015). Following policies that discouraged Indigenous communities from pursuing farming as an economic development strategy, including limiting their access to credit and government subsidies, many Indigenous communities in the prairies today lease some of their land to settler farmers, including on terms below market rates. This dynamic of short-term leases is designed to maximize agricultural production with few mechanisms to ensure long-term land stewardship (Sommerville and Magnan, 2015).
In contrast, in British Columbia—a mountainous province with less than 3% of its land considered suitable for crops (Katz, 2009)—the installation of large-scale commodity production across most of the province was more difficult. Instead, settlers installed relatively small and diversified fruit, vegetable, and dairy farms. In this region, foreign (often absentee) ownership of farmland is not only allowed but is actively encouraged by the regional real estate sector, with farmland an active real estate concern for offshore investors (Cooper, 2017; Western Investor, 2019). Despite a 1973 provincial zoning designation that created a 4.7-million-ha Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) based on soil maps and market proximity, almost half of the ALR is currently held speculatively, challenging land access for actors seeking to restore any kind of food system more rooted in agroecological or kinship ontologies, including in support of Land Back initiatives (cf. Wittman et al., 2017). Current farm zoning policy also depends on municipal agricultural advisory councils, which are highly diverse in their approaches to farmland: Some view it as creating a rural aesthetic that fosters suburban development (de la Salle and Holland, 2010), others as a “nuisance” to the very same suburban populations, and still others as a development strategy for local food economies (Newman et al., 2015).
3.2.4. Holding space for restorative land relations
Many Indigenous communities continue to engage in struggles for the return of ancestral lands (between 1973 and the present day, 1,025 land claims have been settled, and 669 are in active progress or litigation) (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, 2021), as well as their rights to hunt, fish, gather, and manage their traditional territories (Daigle, 2019). Given this history, how can fair and responsible land governance regimes be reconceived in support of more agroecological futures in settler-colonial Canada? In a review of the recent emergence of an agroecological discourse in Canada, Isaac et al. (2018, p. 3) argue that policies aimed at more broadly supporting agroecology in Canada would “run counter to a long history of [settler] governmental support for an export-oriented agriculture that is based on economies of scale, mechanization, standardization, [and intensification of] industrial style inputs.” Before policy, then, must come a grappling with the seemingly immovable “here to stay-ness” (Rotz, 2017, p. 158; see also Kepkiewicz and Dale, 2018) of settler colonialism and its attendant practices and logics. Land governance proposals for agroecological transitions must first begin by supporting processes of land restitution and the reclamation of Indigenous political and legal orders as the fundamental basis for Indigenous food sovereignty (Daigle, 2019; Pasternak and King, 2019; James et al., 2021) and then find ways to co-construct alternative food and land relations that could support agroecology as well as Indigenous self-determination and resurgence.
Conversations about decolonization—not just of land, but of power as well—have moved to the forefront of discussions about sustainable food systems in Canada. Food Secure Canada (FSC), for example, is a coalition of food activists, farmers, Indigenous peoples, and academics that came together in the mid-2000s to advocate for policies supporting food security and a sustainable food system. An Indigenous Circle within FSC brought issues of food sovereignty and decolonization to the plenary table at biennial conferences, and agroecology is also gaining new ground in conversations among FSC members. At the same time, visible tensions remain over concerns that Indigenous rights continue to be subsumed within a Western, productivist, agricultural paradigm. For example, in reference to the unjust acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley for the 2016 murder of Colten Boushie (a 22-year old member of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation who had driven onto Stanley’s “property”), a young audience member at a plenary session in the 2018 national FSC gathering decried the lack of attention being given to the role of settler agriculture in perpetuating anti-Indigenous violence “in one of the only spaces in Canada where farmers and Indigenous people are together in the same room.”
The Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty (WGIFS) prioritizes relationships in thinking about how Indigenous food sovereignty and more sustainable forms of agriculture and food provisioning—including but not limited to agroecology—can work together. In a 2016 gathering of the BC Food Systems Network, Ks nᕋawynwiwmntm iᕈ sc’iɬn (“Reconciling Cultures and Reconnecting Foodscapes”), Secwepemc scholar-activist and WGIFS curator Dawn Morrison presented a decolonizing food systems lexicon in which the words “utilized or underutilized land” are considered “contentious term[s] that connote the doctrine of terra nullius that has dispossessed Indigenous peoples” (BCFSN, 2016). Agrarian movements associated with agroecology in Canada are also beginning to engage with the importance of decolonizing the land-based ontologies, relationships, and institutions associated with settler colonialism, beginning with setting the stage for new conversations based on relations of respect and solidarity. For example, the National Farmers Union (NFU)—a founding member of LVC that promotes agroecology in Canada—has a “commitment to act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples” (National Farmers Union, n.d.). This includes supporting demands for state recognition of treaty rights (including to traditional fisheries and other foodways) and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The NFU states that the organization:
understand[s] that Canada is a settler colonial country and that, as treaty people, or people living on unceded Indigenous territory, we have a social and legal responsibility to uphold the original agreements settlers made with sovereign Indigenous nations.
Furthermore, the NFU recognizes that Indigenous and non-Indigenous farmers share common ground as people who are on the land and who feed our communities. We have a mutual interest in protecting the land and the water for sustainable use for today and the future. There are many ways in which NFU members and Indigenous hunters, gatherers, trappers, fishers and farmers can learn from each other and collaborate to promote food sovereignty. (National Farmers Union, n.d.)
Efforts to work toward Indigenous-settler alliances through relationship-building and cross-cultural understanding have demonstrated promise for shaping new, hybrid forms of responsible land governance. In British Columbia, the Foodlands Cooperative land trust has been created for the purpose of making land available in the community and public interest and to “encourage[e] alternative forms of land ownership and practices that ensure our foodlands provide food security in perpetuity” (Foodlands Cooperative of BC, n.d.). The original name of the organization was the “Farmlands Cooperative,” and was formally changed in order to be inclusive of non-agricultural food provisioning practices. Also in British Columbia, settlers and Indigenous peoples have found shared ground in pushing back against large-scale extractive projects. In speaking about the proposed Site C Dam in northern British Columbia, Dawn Morrison (in Morrison and Wittman, 2017, p. 137) notes,
while there are still conflicts and imbalances with local ranchers and farmers who have settled in Indigenous territories in many areas, some Indigenous and sustainable food systems advocates are working together toward shared visions and goals of stopping the Site C Dam that threatens to flood valuable agricultural land and important Indigenous bio-cultural heritage areas. Some local ranchers and farmers are willing to work with Indigenous peoples for one of the first times in history.
Returning to the Canadian prairies, in explicit response to Gerald Stanley’s 2018 acquittal for the killing of Colten Boushie, a newly formed Treaty Land Sharing Network has established protocols for facilitating Indigenous community members’ access to privatized agricultural land for gathering plants and medicines, hunting, and practicing ceremony. Sharing access is designated by public signage, in direct contrast to the “ubiquitous ‘no trespassing’ signs on fences across rural Saskatchewan” (Sawatzky, 2021). The network is now working in formal partnership with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, which facilitates treaty education in Saskatchewan.
In the cases above, we have reviewed the ways in which different ontological and institutional arrangements have shaped material and conceptual conflict over land governance, and therefore shaped progress (or lack thereof) toward agroecological outcomes related to diversity, equity, and justice. A common mechanism acting as a barrier to agroecological futures in both the Brazil and Canada cases is the ongoing hegemony of colonial-capitalist land laws, policies, and logics—even in individual cases that attempt to subvert these institutions. As just one example, in 2017, a British Columbia rancher returned 130 acres of land to the Esk’etemc First Nation as an “act of reconciliation,” saying “Every year since I bought the land, I’ve paid my taxes so I could continue to use it. But I’ve always, always known it’s your [the Esk’etemc Nation’s] land. I would like to give it back to you” (CBC Radio, 2017). Yet, the rancher’s son successfully sued in the BC Supreme Court in 2019 to void the land transfer to Esk’etemc, and once again gained private property rights not only to the disputed 130 acres but also to woodlot, water, and grazing licenses associated with nearby parcels of Crown land (Linde v. Linde, 2019). In a clear enforcement of the reigning labor theory of value, the presiding judge argued:
The law surrounding the equitable doctrine of proprietary estoppel is not in dispute. Equity enforces promises that the law does not. [The rancher’s son and daughter-in-law] claim that after over 50 years of [the son’s] dedicated hard work on the Ranch and over 20 years of [the daughter-in-law] doing likewise…it was their reasonable expectation that they would inherit the Ranch. (Linde v. Linde, 2019, emphasis added)
Our review indicates that these laws and policies, informed by the interaction between and mutual reinforcement of settler-colonial and capitalist logics (racial ordering and othering, ontological violence, the labor theory of value, privatization, commodification, liberalism, meritocracy), are poorly equipped to lead to agroecological futures. To date, even despite the potential of some policies (such as the Brazilian constitutional clauses regarding the social function of land) to shift resources, the counter-movements of enclosure through farmland financialization and continued dispossession in both countries has led to decreased self-determination, continually more inequitable access to land, and environmental degradation as a result of agricultural intensification and extensification.
Actors involved in the food sovereignty movement have proposed land governance solutions that they argue would lead to better agroecological outcomes. LVC, for instance, has long advocated for state-led land reform to counter land dispossession and concentration. Indigenous leaders and representatives at multiple scales (from the local to international, e.g., through UNDRIP) have emphasized land restitution as central to the self-determination of Indigenous communities around the world. Increasingly, new hybrid forms of land cooperatives or collectives based on principles of respect and reciprocity are emerging in settler-colonial contexts as another possible solution. For example, the Foodlands Cooperative in British Columbia, Canada holds food-providing lands in trust for communities to steward and manage, and has opened up a space for dialogue and action that could potentially address challenges related to (settler) farmland access and Indigenous food sovereignty and land rights (Foodlands Cooperative of BC, n.d.; Wittman et al., 2017).
A growing number of organizations and efforts in both Canada and Brazil are beginning to use the language and praxis of agroecology for deconstructing and reconstructing new land–community institutions that challenge the objectification and commodification of land, repair socio-ecological relationships, and center the need for decolonization and social justice. Despite these promising examples, in both Canada and Brazil, private property is a deeply entrenched institution and cultural value; any form of agroecology-inspired land reform, including community-led initiatives, will require a cultural and values-based shift to create effective conditions for structural change in agrarian property relations (Wittman et al., 2017), and most importantly, a serious engagement with the call to give “Land Back” (Pasternak and King, 2019). In the words of Ronald Gamblin, National Learning Community Coordinator of the 4Rs Youth Movement: “Land Back is about Indigenous peoples confronting colonialism at the root. It’s about fighting for the right to our relationship with the earth. It’s about coming back to ourselves, as sovereign Indigenous Nations” (Gamblin, n.d.). Underlying this demand is the need to confront fundamentally different understandings of land—as property and as kin—and of governance, and the material outcomes that follow. Agroecological land governance in settler-colonial contexts will therefore require grappling with the incommensurability of ontologies of land (Tuck and Yang, 2012).
The food sovereignty and agroecology literatures are rooted in calls for land redistribution and increased autonomy by Indigenous peoples, smallholder farmers, and landless workers around the world, and particularly in the Global South. We have highlighted examples here of the land logics that constrain the experiences and material realities of those who are involved in these movements—namely the colonial-capitalist processes that have continuously increased the consolidation of land, resources, and power in the hands of a few key actors in the agri-food system at the expense of diverse peoples and natures. We have also provided examples of both long-standing and emerging land governance alternatives that have the potential to (re)shape landscapes to be more in line with agroecological outcomes related to self-determination, equity and justice, and ecological health.
The discussion presented here suggests the necessity and potential of future lines of research on land, land politics, and land sovereignty, where new views on—and configurations of—land relations could allow for the possibility of more agroecological futures to foster social and ecological justice. While we have focused our analysis on Brazil and Canada—as 2 exemplars of settler colonialism from the Global South and North, and places where we work and have engaged with agroecological movements grappling with these issues both internally and externally—future research could extend to other regions that are subject or susceptible to similar logics, policies, and private property institutions that challenge agroecological land governance regimes generally (Calo et al., 2021); see, for example, Huambachano’s work (2018; 2020) on Indigenous food sovereignty and land relations in Peru and New Zealand, or Bezner Kerr’s work (2005; 2013) on agroecology, land and seed relations and entitlements, and colonization in Malawi.
Our analysis also opens up avenues for investigating the multifunctionality of agri-food systems according to multiple material, epistemological, and ontological dimensions. In particular, more work is needed to systematically document, assess, and transform the ways in which capitalist and colonialist logics play out in the realm of land governance at multiple scales—from the household/community to the global—and the implications of this for people on the ground around the world. There is also a further need to explore the dynamics and outcomes of relational and hybrid land governance logics relative to capitalist–colonialist logics, in line with a comparative approach to justice that can highlight relatively more or less just land institutions and governance arrangements (Sen, 2009). This would provide valuable insights with respect to reorganizing governance bodies and mechanisms to place self-determination, equity and justice, and ecological health at the center of land-based decision making.
The authors would like to thank Nils McCune, Evan Bowness, Vanessa Andreotti, and Rafi Arefin, as well as the Elementa editor and reviewers, for helpful suggestions and comments on previous versions of this manuscript. The authors also thank the Working Group on Redistribution for Food Systems Transformation for holding space to further discuss these ideas.
The authors are grateful for funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for the grant F19-05372 Agroecological Transitions in Latin America.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Substantial contributions to conception and design: HW, DJ.
Acquisition of data: HW, DJ.
Analysis and interpretation of data: HW, DJ.
Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content: HW, DJ.
Final approval of the version to be published: HW, DJ.
Bolsonaro introduced this transfer through a Provisional Measure, but this decision was overturned by Brazil’s Supreme Court.
This relationship between “colonization” and “land reform” is evident in the name of Brazil’s land reform ministry, the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária, INCRA).
How to cite this article: Wittman, H, James, D. 2022. Land governance for agroecology. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 10(1). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.2021.00100
Domain Editor-in-Chief: Alastair Iles, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA
Guest Editor: Nils McCune, Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), Plant & Soil Science Department and Environmental Program, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA
Knowledge Domain: Sustainability Transitions
Part of an Elementa Special Feature: Principles-based Approaches in Agroecology