The neoliberal global food system has intensified the uncertainties associated
with peasant farming and agrarian livelihoods around the world. This article
examines processes of precarization among smallholder farmers in the Majes
Irrigation Project in Peru. By discussing price volatility and uncertainty related
to the “free market,” I argue that the conditions of small-scale entrepreneurial
farmers today can best be understood in terms of gambling and precarity. After
four decades of neoliberal deregulation, farmers in Majes describe agriculture as
a “lottery” where one can win or lose everything. Despite prospects of growth and
progress, most farmers rely on low-income dairy farming or contracted crops for
agro-industrial corporations. The freedom to take risks in the open market entails
uncertainty and often results in loss, and farmers must negotiate the ambiguous
relation between autonomy and dependency.
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