Responding to the over-exploitation of migrant farm labourers by building peasant farming and food sovereignty? Insights from three experiences in Southern Italy

Giulio Iocco, Université de Calabre, Martina Lo Cascio, Université de Palerme &
Domenico Perrotta, Université de Bergame

In Southern Italy – as well as in other areas of Mediterranean Europe – the over-exploitation of migrant farm labourers appears as a structural factor in agri-food chains. In recent years, several actors within policy-making and civil society networks have proposed diverse and competing responses to this major social issue. For radical European peasant and food movements, building an alternative food system inspired by the principles of peasant farming and food sovereignty represents the only possible way to end the over-exploitation of migrant farm labourers. In Southern Italy, this approach has since 2011 inspired the birth of several grassroots farming initiatives uniting local farmers, precarious workers, activists and migrant labourers. Nevertheless, how to translate this perspective in practice in specific contexts is a problematic issue that raises several major questions. In what ways can peasant farming and food sovereignty be built in areas characterised by monocultures and export-oriented agro-industrial production? How can the (often competing) interests of actors with highly different social positions (in terms of class, national origin, age, life project, etc.) such as farmers and migrant farm workers be mediated? Can migrant farm workers become truly protagonists within the food sovereignty project – and as a “sovereign” subject as local actors? This presentation discusses these questions through an analysis of three political and productive projects: SOS Rosarno, active in Calabria since 2011; Contadinazioni, active in Sicily since 2015; Funky Tomato, active in Basilicata and Campania since 2015. Albeit each with its own specific features, these three projects have been ideated as a form of social intervention in areas characterized by the over-exploitation of migrant labour; they are all animated by activists, small-scale farmers, and local and migrant workers, who have embraced a process of repeasantisation as a way out of labour exploitation. After a description of the projects, we explore the political and economic difficulties and contradictions they have faced as well as the steps forward they have made towards the construction of mutualistic forms of organization at both a local and a national level.