Production-reproduction, rethinking the boundaries

As demonstrated by feminist and post-colonial debates (Barca, 2020), to grasp the logic of accumulation, one should consider the structural relationship that binds together ‘inclusion through exploitation’ and ‘exclusion through expropriation’ under capitalism development. Accordingly, both the continuous reproduction of primitive accumulation and the subordination of social reproduction are functional elements in the process of capital valorisation. Though formally located outside commodities production proper, such processes functions as its condition of possibility. Eco-Marxism added to this debate the role of nature as a further condition of capitalism reproduction (O’Connor, 1988). Building on the main insights from this literature, Jason Moore’s idea of capitalism as a world ecology (Moore, 2015) proposes an ecological reading of Marx’s labour theory of value: it acknowledges the role of unpaid work in determining the value produced by abstract wage labour and argues that not only care work but also ‘cheap natures’ are necessary conditions for the realization of the valorisation process manifested in the commodity. This means that the production of nature under capitalism does not simply illustrate the effect of (capitalist) society on nature; rather, it illustrates a process in which the organisation of nature as a space for appropriation determines the possibility of the organisation of the society as a space of exploitation. As value operates through a dialectic of exploitation and appropriation, increasing labour productivity depends on the continued expansion of the commodities frontiers: spaces where capitalism can appropriate new forms of cheap labour and cheap nature.

As Moore claims, financialization under neoliberalism failed to extend nature productivity, including land and agrarian productivity, and generally restricted wealth production to allow the growing of (financial) value. This explains, for example, the failure of the ‘biotechnology revolution’ to raise agricultural production and overcome yield gaps. This reasoning requires revisiting the current debate on the post-Fordist ecological regime and its relationships with climate and ecological crises. If these crises manifest socially through ecological and health impacts caused by escalated appropriation of the natural world, they become relevant to capitalism because they drag it into a negative value phase, in which opportunities to further expand the frontiers of appropriation while maintaining the costs for reproductive factors are drastically reduced. Against this backdrop, dynamics as diverse as the ongoing agricultural intensification, genetic engineering experimentation and the development of green and climate financial markets lead to questions about how, and on what terms, nature is being accumulated and becoming pivotal to the expansion of capitalism, and about the new patterns of exclusion and exploitation that emerge. To address these issues, and recognising, in line with the world ecology approach, that financialisaton has profoundly restructured the mechanisms and logic of accumulation and production, my analysis addresses how financial neoliberalism has transformed the commodification of nature by orientating the production of value in the fields of social, biological and ecological reproduction.

According to Melinda Cooper (2011), a turning point came with the alarm about resources limits to growth following the 1973 oil shock, which increased interest in new explanatory paradigms within dominant economic theories. The idea - established in the life sciences debate - of expansive biological ecosystems, in which systemic limits are only momentarily defined and evolve with increasing systemic complexity, has thus provided the theoretical backbone to a neoliberal regime determined to pursue growth beyond its limits. This project, explains Cooper, is driven by financial debt combined with technoscience intent on extracting value through biological reproduction. These dynamics, which emerged from the crisis of Fordism, are central to understanding current capitalist development as a project that aims to shift the ground of growth ‘on the cusp between the petrochemical and biospheric modes of accumulation, the foregone conclusion of oil depletion and the promise of bioregeneration’ (Cooper, 2011: p. 70).

It is against this backdrop that I address nature accumulation in the context of agrarian development following the global crises of 2007-2008, with global partnerships (such as the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition) and private foundations (such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa [AGRA] promoted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) engaged in transforming the nature of African agrarian production. Aimed at promoting a ‘New Green Revolution’, these programmes are endorsing broader approaches to agriculture such as climate-smart agriculture, the green economy and the bio-economy in order to simultaneously address yield gaps, climate change and biodiversity conservation concerns. In general terms, climate-smart agriculture merges climate change mitigation with water and soil conservation concerns in agrarian production. However, climate-smart agriculture is also a contested notion on the battlefield between different conceptions of the future of food and agriculture (Holt- Gimenez and Altieri, 2013; Taylor, 2018). Mainstream developmental initiatives range from attempting to develop new drought-resistant crop varieties to encouraging the application of data science to agrarian production (here the idea of climate-smart agriculture is often associated with that of precision agriculture).2 Green economy and climate financing initiatives such as payment for ecosystem services, carbon-credit schemes and REDD+ are also a growing trend in the context of sub-Saharan African development, often promoted by international donors to raise funding for projects and attract international investors (FAO, 2014). Finally, agrarian development is also delineating an umbrella under which experimenting and promoting bio-economy. Similarly to climate-smart agriculture, there is no universally agreed on definition for bio-economy, however, the concept mainly refers to the idea of further exploiting bio-based resources and processes in the move to a post-carbon mode of production in order to rearticulate the relation between biology and (petrochemical in the production process. Accordingly, bio-economy promotes the use of genetically modified raw materials and living technologies such as modified crops and bacteria to optimise production efficiency and develop new produce. Proponents of bio-economy are also interested in exploring new uses for recombinant DNA techniques such as intelligent life technologies, which are technologies that show similar properties to those of life, including self-organisation, adaptability and the ability to evolve.

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