POLLEN

I will be participating in the next POLLEN conference, which will take place concurrently in Lima, Dodoma and Lund on 10-14 June 2024 in a joint panel with Matthew Archer where we try to conceive of more just agri-food supply chains. In the panel we’ll bring my recent monograph The Natural Border (Cornell 2024) in conversation with Matthew’s book Unsustainable (NY Press 2024), which offers a behind-the-scenes look at how corporate and financial actors enforce a business-friendly approach to global sustainability, a concept which – as the book argues – confuses measuring social and environmental impacts of industrial growth with a just and equitable governance of these impacts.

In addition, I will also be participating in a roundtable on global resource governance and agrarian labour (re)production, with Muriel Côte, Vanessa Jaiteh, Alin Kadfak and Diana Vela Almeida. In this panel, we will discuss how current efforts of resource supply chain governance across different agri-food supply chains land on the ground and reconfigure labour dynamics and reproduction.

Have a look at the detailed programme and details here

Xaraasi Xanne – Crossing Voices

On 30 May at 18-21:00 I will be co-hosting a film screening at the DAMSLab/Auditorium (Piazzetta P.P. Pasolini, 5b – Bologna) with director Raphaël Grisey

Part of the ERC funded HEMIG project – Hostile Environments: the Political Ecology of Migration and Border Violence, the film Screening will host the powerful film Xaraasi Xanne – Crossing Voices (in English and French with English subtitles). Using rare cinematic, photographic and sound archives, Crossing Voices focuses upon the extraordinary life story of Bouba Touré. An activist and photographer, Touré was one of the founding members of the radical Malian agricultural cooperative Somankidi Coura formed in Paris in 1977 by western African immigrant workers living in workers’ residences in France.

Largely drawn from a rich personal archive, the film was co-directed with French artist Raphaël Grisey and charts the civil rights movement in France and the interwoven anti-colonial liberation struggles on the African continent. The story of this improbable, utopic return to the homeland follows a winding path that travels through the ecological challenges and conflicts on the African continent from the 1970s to the present day. It documents peasant struggles in France and Mali as well as following the personal stories of migrant workers over many decades.

BORDER ENVIRONMENTS

I am glad to announce a joint book presentation at the Biblioteca Cabral in Bologna, with Riccardo BadanoTomas Percival and Susan Schuppli, who have just published their Border Environments with Spector Books. I will presenting my book The Natural Border, Cornell University Press, 2024.

The presentation is part of a series of events organised by LIMINAL a part of the HEMIG project – Hostile Environments: the Political Ecology of Migration and Border Violence which aims to reframe the notion of ‘hostile environment’ as a conceptual and analytical lens to rethink the relationship between environment and migration.

Pelin Tan and Patricia Daley will lead the discussion, creating a dialogue between the two books and opening the debate on these pressing subjects.

Meeting in English open to everyone.

Whose underground

I’m pleased to announce the publication of a co-authored article with my PhD candidate Gabriel Kamundala from Bukavu, Eastern DRC, in Geoforum titled Whose underground? Entangled Territorialization and Mining Cooperatives in Eastern Congo’s gold frontier, which will remain open access for the next 50 days.

The article discusses the problematic formalization of small-scale gold mining by analyzing the geography of underground access to this natural resource – which remains contended between customary authorities, state administration and local cooperatives.

In so doing, we assess the pitfalls of recent supply chain restructuring in the extractives industry which, more often than not, externalizes the costs of rising consumer awareness around so-called ‘conflict minerals’ onto the miners and their extended social networks, thus generating new dynamics of inequality and discrimination.

foto courtesy digital gold

Imagining Just Environmental and Climate Futures in Africa

I’m happy to share the program of the symposium I just attended at Cornell University’s Global Development Programme in Ithaca, NY, Imagining Just Environmental and Climate Futures in Africa with a wonderful group of colleagues form Africa and the US.

In my key-note lecture for this conference, I invited the audience to think through the implications of recent capitalist restructuring in mineral and agri-food supply chains from an environmental justice and critical race perspective, building on recent work in Central Africa and the Mediterranean. I’m extremely grateful to the organizers, particularly the program’s director, Rachel Bezner Kerr, and her PhD candidate Emily Baker, for giving us such a warm welcome and an inspiring couple of days.

Considering the Social and Ecological Cost of the Contemporary Agri-Food Frontier

I am happy to share a blog post on my recent monograph from the editor Cornell University Press, which elaborates on another post from the Sage House Blog.


What is the social and ecological cost of eating industrialized farm products? And why should we care? In my book The Natural Border: Bounding Migrant Farmwork in the Black Mediterranean, I describe how the global agri-food industry wrecks the land and the workers engaged in the production of farm products, with the aim to accumulate capital far away from the places where food is being produced. Building on the example of the canned tomato – a typical “Made in Italy” product – and the expansion of its production along a complex chain that involves producers in Italy, distributors in Europe, and workers from Africa’s Sahel region, I argue that this contemporary agri-food frontier is based on fundamental racial and socio-ecological hierarchies.

Though Italy is famous for its excellent food (the country is the word’s third top producer of tomato commodities, after China and the US), workers in the sector don’t meet the minimum standards in terms of job safety, housing, and welfare: over one third of the 1.2 million people engaged in agriculture today are migrants from ‘new entry’ EU countries like Bulgaria and Romania, and from Sub-Saharan Africa. While their contracts are either non-existent of incomplete – and in this sense, agri-food labor remains largely informal – producers heavily rely on so-called gangmastering networks (in Italian, called caporalato), which, in return for a cut from workers’ wages, provide the paperwork and logistics to channel workers towards the exploitative farm jobs that get our daily food on the table. As one worker quoted in my book put it: “behind your food is our slavery.” Following insistent migrant protests in recent years, Italy has passed a series of legislations that make caporalato a criminal offense, not just for the illegal labor intermediaries but also for the firms that hire them. This would be good news, if it were not for the fact that the responsibility for denouncing such abusive practices continues to fall on the shoulders of the workers and their social networks. Not surprisingly, therefore, only a fraction of current abuses is being officially reported.

As one worker quoted in my book put it: “behind your food is our slavery.”

While I join the critiques of labor unions and activists against this gap in legal provisions, I take a step further in the analysis of labor exploitation, by analyzing the fundamental racial hierarchies on which the tomato labor regime is based. Adopting a long-term perspective, I highlight the reinforcing dynamics through which land and labor are being brought to fruition in the context of an expanding corporate food regime. Building on historical records of colonialism in Africa, and of Italy’s internal colonization process, I highlight how the historical division of labor between ‘nature’ and the labor invested in its commodification has generated a double discrimination. In short, industrialized agriculture submits the earth to a factor of capitalist production, while at the same time it naturalizes the spatial segregation of the agricultural workforce into a subaltern condition of marginality. In that sense, I argue, the racialization of nature, and the naturalization of racial segregation, are, really, two sides of the same coin.

The Natural Border is also grounded in a deep ethnography of African workers’ lives as they dwell between the African Sahel and Italy’s informal rural labor camps, where they try to make ends meet, mend relations with employers, and seek to dodge Europe’s increasingly repressive bordering infrastructures. In this new, globalized rurality, it is worth asking what will be the future of agrarian societies that persist on the brink between different modes of production and reproduction, and which remain characterized by persistent state abandonment, labor exploitation, and socio-ecological depletion.

My answer lays in the Black Mediterranean: a concept that highlights the increasing, though largely marginalized and informalized, construction of places between the interconnected rural ways of life and their social and ecological reproduction across European-African boundaries. Building on the experiences of young African workers and their extended networks, I argue that the informalized infrastructures that mobilize farm labor not only provide an indirect subsidy to capital, but they also bear the potential to repoliticize a historical marginality that has characterized the expansion of rural capitalism from its very inception.

Food for Profit

After a long interview with me on the labour conditions in the contemporary European agri-food industry (of which a small excerpt is shown in the film) I am here to announce the publication of Food For Profit, a documentary by Giulia Innocenzi and Pablo D’Ambrosi.

Food for Profit claims to be the first feature documentary that exposes the links between the meat industry, lobbying and the corridors of power in the European Parliament and Commission – contextualized through a series of interviews from David Quammen, Jonathan Safran Foer, and myself, amongst others.

The documentary denounces how Europe is transferring hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money into the hands of intensive farms, which mistreat animals, pollute the environment, and pose a potential danger for future pandemics. Since its publication, the documentary has raised quite contrary reactions, between contestations and celebrations of its confrontational style. I would simply recommend seeing for yourself how the journalists address intensive animal farming in Europe in its current state.

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The Natural Border: book presentations

Here is list of upcoming presentations of my new monograph The Natural Border: Bounding Migrant Farmwork in the Black Mediterranean, with Cornell University Press:

Wednesday 10 April at 9AM CET / 5PM Australian EST at the Australian Critical Border Studies Network (online: link)

Wednesday 17 April at 9AM at the Centro studi su Mobilità, Diversità, Inclusione sociale (MoDI) in Bologna, Italy

Wednesday 24 April at Roma3 University (course Legal Philosophy in a Global Perspective in Rome, Italy

Friday 3 May at Cornell University (during the international workshop Imagining Just Environmental and Climate Futures in Africa), in Ithaca, US

Monday 13 May at UC Davis (at the University’s Anthropology Seminar), in Davis (CA), US

Tuesday 14 May at UC Santa Cruz (at the University’s Sociology Department), in Santa Cruz (CA), US

23-24 may at the Agriculture and Migrations Network (AGROMIG) annual conference in Reggio Calabria, Italy

31 May at the Biblioteca Amilcar Calbral, in Bologna, Italy

12 June: at the POLLEN24 conference, Lund University

17 June, at the University of Bayreuth

The Natural Border

I am happy to announce the publication of my new monograph The Natural Border: Bounding Migrant Farmwork in the Black Mediterranean, with Cornell University Press.

Feel free to write me to obtain information related to book promotion activities and planned events.

– For North American orders, please order through Cornell University Press (use discount code 09BCARD)
– For European orders, please order through Combined Academic Publishers (use discount code FFF23)

abstract

The book tells the recent history of Mediterranean rural capitalism from the perspective of marginalized Black African farm workers. In the book, I show how in the context of global supply chains and repressive border regimes, agrarian production and reproduction are based on fundamental racial hierarchies.

Taking the example of the tomato—a typical ‘Made in Italy’ commodity— I ask myself asks how political boundaries are drawn around the land and the labor needed for its production, what technologies of exclusion and inclusion enable capitalist operations to take place in the Mediterranean agrarian frontier, and which practices structure the allocation, use and commodification of land and labor across the tomato chain. While the mobile infrastructures that mobilize, channel, commodify and segregate labor play a central role in the ‘naturalization’ of racial segregation, they are also terrains of contestation and power—and thus, as The Natural Border demonstrates, reflect the tense socio-ecological transformation the Mediterranean border space is going through today.