Struggles for land and livelihood
Scholars, policy practitioners, and political activists alike have had difficulty grappling with the complex dynamics that have unfolded over the past decade and a half in Philippine banana plantations in the context of the 1988 agrarian reform law. While some focus their attention exclusively on land redistribution issues, others concentrate on the modalities of contract farming and still others emphasize trade union issues — all to the neglect of underlying agrarian dynamics. Relatively few have attempted a more integrated examination of developments in this sector of the Philippine economy. The still-limited availability of studies of land-reform-related experiences in agribusiness plantations outside the Philippines further constrains our understanding of the issues arising in Philippine plantations. This article tries to build on and deepen previous attempts at understanding the complex and confusing dynamics involving the banana elite, the state, and various segments of organized farmworkers and to fill in an important gap in the literature, using an integrated, rights-based, and process-oriented historical-institutional approach. It cites two reasons for an unexpectedly contingent land reform process in commercial banana farms in the Philippines: (1) the surprisingly unsettled character of the prevailing political-legal institutional environment within which land and livelihood struggles are playing out, and (2) the diverse perceptions among farmworkers of the meaning and purpose of, and opportunity for, land reform.
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