Publications of Aistara, Guntra
Seeds of Kin, Kin of Seeds: the Commodification of Organic Seeds and Social Relations in Costa Rica and Latvia
This article employs multi-sited ethnography as a tool to explore the relationships among farmer seed exchange practices, intellectual property rights legislation, and biodiversity. Specifically, it investigates these issues in the historically, ecologically and culturally diverse contexts of the Costa Rican and Latvian organic agriculture movements, as these small countries negotiate their places in the economic trading blocs of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the European Union (EU), respectively. The juxtaposition of two such different cases reveals the micro-processes whereby the imposition of intellectual property rights on seeds replaces the centrality of social kin networks through which seeds are exchanged with bureaucratic transactions. This shift from exchanging seeds among kin to tracing the genetic lineage of seeds is part of a global process of commodification and control of seeds. Increasing efforts to “harmonize” intellectual property rights on seeds and plant varieties throughout the world will have profound impacts on food production, small farmer livelihoods and social networks, and agricultural biodiversity.
Maps from Space: Latvian Organic Farmers Negotiate their Place in the European Union
Implementation of a new system of geographical information system (GIS) maps based on aerial photos to administer EU agri-environmental support payments for organic farmers in Latvia in 2005 erupted into disputes over farm boundaries, cultural landscapes, good agricultural practices and regional power dynamics. Farmers whose land area had been changed along with the change in technology were deemed to be in breach of their support payment agreements and had to repay the difference, leaving many disillusioned with the EU and considering withdrawal from the organic agriculture support programme. I argue here that this case demonstrates the complexities of EU accession for new member states, revealing the unintended consequences of the implementation of European policies in post-socialist contexts. Disputes over the organic land area reflect deeper cultural issues tied to the history of foreign domination. Furthermore, they represent a conflict surrounding ideas of space versus place. Abstract ‘maps from space’ challenge farmers' place-based knowledge and national imaginaries of agricultural landscapes. On a broader level, this conflict reflects the tensions between the imagined ‘return to Europe’ and the reality of Europe as a political and bureaucratic space.