Assembling Export Markets
- Represents a major and empirically rich contribution to the emerging field of the social studies of economization and marketization
- Offers one of the first ethnographic accounts on the making of global commodity chains 'from below'
- Denaturalizes global markets by unpacking their local engagement, materially entangled construction, need for maintenance, and fragile character
- Offers a trans-disciplinary engagement with the construction and extension of market relations in two frontier regions of global capitalism
- Critically examines the opportunities and risks for firms and farms in Ghana entering global fresh produce markets
Stefan Ouma is Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Geography at the Goethe University of Frankfurt. Being an economic geographer by training, he has worked extensively on global commodity chains, agrifood standards, smallholder agriculture, and contract farming in East and West Africa.
Assembling Export Markets
Introduction: Struggling with "World Market Integration"
It has become a familiar scene in Densu Valley, Aborobe district, southern Ghana: Trucks piled with fresh pineapples struggle through the rough rural terrain, making their way to the nearby processing facility of a multinational agribusiness company. Upon arrival, the fruits are sliced and packed, and flown "fresh from farm" and "just-in-time" to retailers in Europe, where an affluent and quality-conscious urban clientele would buy the little 200_g packages of pineapple chunks, making the farmers distant participants in the convenience food revolution.
For some time now, Densu Valley has been one of the new sites of the global agrifood economy. In the past, many farmers in the valley - until the 1950s a major cocoa-growing area, when all the plants were destroyed by disease - had mainly been involved in food crop production or had left to seek their fortunes in Ghana's sprawling cities, but it was in the late 1980s that a much more lucrative window of business opportunity opened. With European consumers hungry for fresh pineapples, some farmers and pioneer exporters ventured into pineapple production, which subsequently took off on a broad scale from the early 1990s onwards. However, "the market" was frequently deceitful, shaped by mistrust and uncertainty, with both exporters and farmers often being cheated by one another or by buyers in distant Europe, in a trade that was mainly organized around volatile spot-market relations. With the arrival of the exporter-processor Ton:go Fruits1 (TF) in the late 1990s, times seemed to change for a few chosen ones. Through its operations, some farmers were integrated into more tightly regulated, dynamic, and demanding supply chains via more solid contractual arrangements. Under close supervision of the company's agronomists and through its financial support, the farmers were introduced to the world of European retailers, with its demands for food safety, quality, freshness, supply chain management. Many farmers fared well with the just-in-time model. Their new riches materialized through the opening of shops and the construction of houses in the area, symbolizing the relative fortunes that a new class of "big-time farmers" (as they are known locally) had acquired through the blessings of international trade.
Depending on one's theoretical inclination, the integration of Densu Valley farmers into agrobusiness supply chains may be seen through very different prisms. In their seminal work Living under Contract, Little and Watts (1994) conceived of the "world market integration" of farmers in the Global South through specific contractual relations with (often large) agribusiness companies as an industrial appropriation of selected rural activities, expressive of a new global regime of capital accumulation based on "global fresh" and the penetration of new agrarian frontiers (see also Friedmann 1993). In the same book, Watts (1994) reflected extensively and with impressive historical detail upon the social implications of contract farming in the rural South,2 arguing that through such a mode of market integration "[n]ominally independent growers retain the illusion of autonomy but have become in practice what Lenin called propertied proletarians, workers cultivating company crops on private allotments" (ibid.: 64). Watts' argument can be placed in a lineage with other political economy texts that have critically discussed how agribusiness operates and takes control over production in the Global South, and what role smallholder farmers (or "peasants") play in a globalized agrifood economy (Feder 1976; Bernstein 2010).
Agrarian political economy's critical stance towards "world market integration" and global capitalism more generally can be contrasted to the position of neoclassical economics and the policy descriptions derived from i