Food Systems in an Unequal World

Pesticides, Vegetables, and Agrarian Capitalism in Costa Rica

Ryan E. Galt (Author)
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Pesticides, a short-term aid for farmers, can often be harmful, undermining the long-term health of agriculture, ecosystems, and people. The United States and other industrialized countries import food from Costa Rica and other regions. To safeguard the public health, importers now regulate the level and types of pesticides used in the exporters’ food production, which creates “regulatory risk” for the export farmers. Although farmers respond to export regulations by trying to avoid illegal pesticide residues, the food produced for their domestic market lacks similar regulation, creating a double standard of pesticide use.

Food Systems in an Unequal World examines the agrochemical-dependent agriculture of Costa Rica and how its uneven regulation in export versus domestic markets affects Costa Rican vegetable farmers. Examining pesticide-dependent vegetable production within two food systems, the author shows that pesticide use is shaped by three main forces: agrarian capitalism, the governance of food systems throughout the commodity chain, and ecological dynamics driving local food production. Those processes produce unequal outcomes that disadvantage less powerful producers who have more limited choices than larger farmers, who usually have access to better growing environments and thereby can reduce pesticide use and production costs.
  Despite the rise of alternative food networks, Galt says, persistent problems remain in the conventional food system, including widespread and intensive pesticide use. Facing domestic price squeezes, vegetable farmers in Costa Rica are more likely to supply the national market with produce containing residues of highly toxic pesticides, while using less toxic pesticides on exported vegetables. In seeking solutions, Galt argues for improved governance and research into alternative pest control but emphasizes that the process must be rooted in farmers’ economic well-being.
“Forms a part of and provides an important critical moment within a new wave of scholarship that speaks to the rise of quality-defined national and international markets.”—Tad Mutersbaugh, University of Kentucky

“One of the major contributions of Food Systems in an Unequal World is the concept of regulatory risk and how that is translated to farmers. Filtering the regulatory risk to the field is good geography and laudable.”—Brad Jokisch, Ohio University

“Using Costa Rican farmer surveys, archival data, and a political ecology framework, Galt carefully teases out the relations between local agro-ecologies, multiple markets, public policies, and pesticide use to provide a fine-grained perspective on these paradoxes.”—Agriculture and Human Values

“Diving into the large technical variability in pesticides may lead to tedious reading, but Galt succeeds extraordinarily well in introducing the reader to the material complexity of the issue, by explaining the technical aspects bit by bit without distracting the reader from the larger story.”—AAG Review of Books

Food Systems … is an ambitious theoretical reconstruction of critical perspectives on industrial agriculture, and a great example of how a political ecology approach maybe operationalized and refined.”—Bulletin of Latin American Research
“This is a very rich, thoroughly documented, and well-written book that illustrates very effectively the advantages of using a political ecological approach to understanding pesticide use.”—Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Food Systems in an Unequal World is an information-intensive book that presents both a carefully researched empirical case study and a compelling theoretical argument.”—Global Environmental Politics
“[Food Systems in an Unequal World] is a recommended reading for anyone studying and/or researching aspects of human ecology and agroecology and is… an important contribution to the farming pesticides debate.”—International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
“This is an excellent example of how a spatial approach can bring out aspects of human-environmental interactions that otherwise might not be discerned.”—Journal of Latin American Geography
“An undeniably significant scholarly achievement…groundbreaking.”—The Journal of Peasant Studies

“Offers an important contribution to the political ecology approach as it shifts political ecology’s predominant focus on subsistence agriculture to a more industrialized agriculture practiced by small-scale family farmers.”—Economic Geography
Food Systems in an Unequal World
304 Pages 6 x 9
Published: January 2017Paperback ISBN: 9780816536542
Published: March 2014Ebook ISBN: 9780816598908

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