Jonas Wegener is a German student who studies International Development Studies at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. He is completing his Master’s Degree at the moment, and as part of his Master thesis he conducted a research on fluidity in agriculture in the Central Highland of Ecuador. During his time in Ecuador he lived with several farmer families during a period of three months. EkoRural supported him with its extended network. We asked him to share his work and story with us.
Jonas’ research started from the observation that today’s agricultural situations appear to be contradictory, nonlinear and dynamic; thus fluid. He states that: “farmers do not fit into classical categories like ‘peasant’ and ‘industrial’.” He continues in saying that science fails to approach these realities as it assumes fixed situations and denies nonhuman agency. Scientific tools like modelling and systems thinking cannot deal with this complexity. Being part of development approaches, this causes a fail of current interventions in agriculture. At the same time it calls for a better link between scientific theory and practice on the ground; theory of science needs to go beyond positivistic assumptions.
In his quest for an alternative approach, Jonas decided that he needed to start on the ground. He based himself in the office in Riobamba to get acquainted with the projects and build trust with farmer families. Together with EkoRural he chose three different farmer families in the Central Highland of Ecuador to live with for a period of one month each. He accompanied farmers in their everyday life and participated when they went to their plots to harvest maize, to spray pesticides or to work collectively during so called ‘mingas’. The minga (minka in Quechua) is an ancient tradition of community to collectively work for social utility.
“As I assumed that agriculture is not an isolated part of life but a mirror of it, I broadened my focus to life outside farming as well. This showed me that materialities can have multiple realities. For example, the colour of the soil does not only indicate how fertile it is, it may also be perceived of how well a farmer practices his religion; the blacker (thus more fertile) the soil, the more dedicated the farmer studies his bible. A tree can be a symbol of agro-ecology, and an unwanted part of modernity or a crop variety can be western and indigenous at the same time.”
Based on these complex situations he developed a framework to analyse these human and nonhuman interactions. He got his inspiration from Post-Structural approaches and Assemblage theory. The framework includes critiques to positivistic assumptions and goes beyond assumptions on fixed and singular understanding on realities and contexts, on human centred agency and linearity of practices. By this, the framework contributes to a new generation of development approach, whose base is a dynamic understanding of realities.
In retrospect, Jonas concludes that he had a fulfilling time in the Central Highland of Ecuador, and enjoyed his time in the field a lot: “I loved to get up early in the morning, take care of the animals, work in the field and join the families to local football matches or in running an errand in the city. This, however, was only possible because of the incredible kindness of the local people who made me part of their families.” Besides the possibility to do research on a very interesting topic, Jonas therefore states that he has learned a great deal about hospitality.