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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Agrarian repair : agriculture, race and accumulation in contemporary Canada and South Africa Sommerville, Melanie


This dissertation explores certain agricultural investment projects emerging early in the new millennium which I term ‘agrarian repair’ projects. Proponents of these projects present them as binding together two distinct ‘fixes’. First, they seek to repair processes of capital accumulation and value preservation, always uncertain but freshly destabilized by the 2007/8 financial crisis. Second, they attempt to repair histories of colonial and racial injustice, often codified as resulting in and from a particular group’s historical ‘exclusion’ from agriculture and consequently larger national economies. I examine ‘agrarian repair’ projects at two sites, one in Canada and one in South Africa, where financial investors partnered with racialized, marginalized communities to establish large scale agricultural investment ventures. In Canada, One Earth Farms established a massive corporate grain, oilseeds and cattle farm engaging First Nations in the prairie provinces. In South Africa, the Futuregrowth Agri-Fund implemented investment models involving African communities in the commercial fruit sector across the country. I trace the historical origins of the projects, situating them in two concurrent transitions unfolding in their respective national settings: one in the organization of the agrarian economy, the other in the orientation of the nation-state towards a liberal democratic ‘reconciliatory’ dispensation. I detail the specific logics, modalities, and mechanics employed by the ‘agrarian repair’ projects, reflecting on how they can advance understandings of financialized racial capitalism and its operations at the settler colonial agrarian interface. I assess the projects’ capacity to deliver on their purported fixes, showing that agriculture neither proves to be the stable financial provider that investors expect, nor do the projects deliver their anticipated social results. Benefits for the racialized communities engaged are uneven at best, while the projects actively exploit not only settler colonial and racial legacies but also contemporary redress efforts, generating new advantages and valuation channels for investors. The research lends insights into how colonial and racialized histories and reparative movements are mobilized and monetized in contemporary agricultural projects. This allows me to begin outlining a larger schema of reparative capitalism, whereby capitalism incorporates its critiques – here about its colonial and racial past – as new sites of accumulation.

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