Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
After the recent abandonment of sugar quota-based access to EU markets, sugar producing countries in the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) regions have struggled to stay afloat. One country, Mauritius, is attempting to reform its local industry through mill consolidations and by ‘recuperating’ value from sugarcane by-products. These calculated efforts to streamline industry simultaneously mean sweeping cuts to the agricultural workforce whose knowledge of cane cultivation continues to be exploited by this capitalist squeeze.
Drawing on discard studies’ eponymous analytic, the paper seeks to understand the ways that wasted materials as well as “people, landscapes, futures, [and] ways of life” are made expendable (Liboiron 2018). It troubles understandings of caring and abandonment generated “in the wake” (Sharpe 2016) of industry structural adjustments. I focus on the ways that discarding becomes a mechanism of capitalist extraction as well as how smallholder planters strategically opt out of adjustments by abandoning sugarcane fields. As a form of preservation, planters choose where and how they invest into farming—by leaving fields fallow, waiting out market declines, or leasing out their lands, using the profits to send their children to agricultural school. I further draw attention to instances where sugarcane plants themselves evade capitalist extraction in these abandoned fields by cultivating relations with ‘weedy’ plant-kin. Attending to evasions and abandonment can offer novel insights into surviving systems hostile to ‘disorderly’ well-being. This paper posits that strategic abandonment fosters forms of being and knowing that may flourish in the ruins beyond capitalist enclosures (Tsing 2015).