Main content area

Organic rural development: Barriers to value in the quest for qualities in Jordanian olive oil

Cook, Brittany
Journal of rural studies 2019 v.69 pp. 106-116
agricultural development, certification, farmers, hinterland, intensive farming, modernization, mountains, olive oil, organic foods, organic production, packaging, politics, rural development, socioeconomics, sustainable agriculture, world markets, Jordan
Globally, governments have encouraged organic farming with smallholder farmers as a rural development strategy. However, certified organic agriculture has proven to be a paradox: certification requirements designed to promote environmentally sustainable farming often lead to agricultural intensification contrary to organic agriculture's stated goals. Meanwhile, certification itself is not the sole cause of this paradox. This article, based on 15 months of qualitative fieldwork in Jordan, argues that the paradox of organic agriculture in Jordan centers on the ways in which the ‘alternative’ organic olive oil production functionally requires producers to abandon local markets and engage in long-distance commodity chains. This shift alters how value is added to olive oil and changes technological requirements for processing, storing, packaging, and transporting the oil to international gourmet markets. By calling attention to the social relations in differing commodity networks and chains, my analysis focuses on, first, how quality and value is constructed within material and cultural systems, then how farmers become dependent on access to distant consumers, and, third, how production for these consumers alters the structure of relational and technological rents. As a result, I find that the promotion of certified organic, gourmet olive oil for sale in global markets privileges specific regions within Jordan. In short, the structure of relational and technological rents favors resource-intensive production in a Jordanian desert region over ‘traditional’ low-input production in Jordan's mountainous hinterland. In theoretical terms, this study highlights teleologies of success and modernization in agricultural development and offers an examination of those environmental, socio-economic, and political factors that prevent small-farmers from realizing rents in certified agriculture.