, Volume 90, Issue 1, pp 89-106

Well-Being is a Process of Becoming: Respondent-Led Research With Organic Farmers in Madagascar

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Abstract

Malagasy ‘players’—farmers, middle men, organic organisations and policy makers—see in export-orientated organic agriculture a way for Madagascar to build upon its historic export strengths: spices, essential oils, medicinal plants and tropical fruits. They point to the de facto organic status of most farming in the country and view organic production strategies as a means for Malagasy farmers to differentiate their produce in the highly competitive world market (Ramboatiana and Randriamanantena 2000; Randriamanantena 1998; Vallée 2000). However, producing for the export market poses significant challenges for Malagasy farmers. Despite its apparent ‘fit’ with existing farming practice, ‘true’ certified organic practice does not necessarily offer a means towards achieving a Malagasy farmer-defined ‘good life’. Smallholders can be disempowered through their incorporation into wider systemic relationships whose more powerful actors—such as buyers and consumers—and their ‘rules’ about what ‘organic’ is, for example, are necessarily unfamiliar. Yet farmers are very interested in the significant opportunities for much-needed cash that organic farming offers. This paper argues that strengthening farmer agency, and thus their presence as actors in international food chains, can be partially achieved if farmers are involved in devising the rules for organic and social certification. I set out eight principles that I have developed which seem important when trying to capture and measure ‘quality of life’ for the purposes of social certification. My theoretical and empirical work, detailed here, is set within a methodological discussion on how to best ensure that research is ‘respondent-led’. Respondent-led research is, I argue, critical for ensuring that an understanding of the components of ‘quality of life’, and their operationalisation as standards and indicators, is truly meaningful to the target group.