The View From Here: Agricultural Policy, Climate Change, and the Future of Farm Women in Saskatchewan
Fletcher, Amber JoAnn
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There are few things that affect agricultural production more than changes in public policy and weather. Agricultural policy and climate change are macro-level phenomena; they are “big” problems that are often seen to be outside farmers’ control, yet they have dramatic effects on both farm livelihoods and food production in general. It can be difficult to trace the everyday, lived effects of major changes in agricultural policy and climate, and even more difficult to understand the gendered dimensions of these changes. In this research project, I explored the interaction between public policy, climate change, and gender in Saskatchewan. I used semi-structured interviews combined with historical document analysis to understand and explain the experiences of 30 Saskatchewan farm women who live and work in an increasingly competitive and uncertain agricultural environment. The project combined a feminist political economy framework with critical realist methodology. Very little has been written about the combination of these two frameworks; therefore, I provide a model for the practical application of critical realism in feminist research and offer a coding structure for qualitative data processing. The changing context of prairie agriculture was examined through two case studies. First, I examined two controversial policy changes, one historical and one more contemporary, both of which permanently altered the face of prairie agriculture. The first was the 1995 elimination of the historic and much-loved “Crow Benefit” (and its predecessor policy, the “Crow Rate”), a transportation support program for prairie farmers. The second policy remains a priority on governmental agendas today: the expansion of plant breeders rights legislation, which facilitates an international system of intellectual property rights on seed and plant varieties. Both policy changes exemplify the broader neoliberal policy paradigm that is dominant today. The second case study examined the interaction of farm livelihoods with the growing threat of climate change. The prairie region has one of the most variable climates in Canada. Climatological scenarios warn of increasingly frequent and severe climate events in the future, as anthropogenic climate change continues to affect natural climate cycles. I examine gendered forms of vulnerability and resilience in the face of extreme events such as flood and drought. I explore farm women’s perceptions of climate change and the gendered dimensions of awareness and mitigation. The burgeoning literature on gender and climate change has focused primarily on the global South; this research aims to fill a significant gap in the literature on gender and climate change in the global North, focusing on a population that is highly dependent on weather. Taken together, the two case studies offer a glimpse into the forces of structure and agency that shape farm families’ responses to macro-level events. The agency of farmers, and particularly farm women, is understood in the context of rapidly industrializing and ever-larger scales of production on prairie farms. An understanding of these forces and their everyday impacts is essential for future public policy that will reduce the economic and human costs of climate extremes, while ensuring sustainable systems of food production into the future. Keywords: gender; farm women; Canada; Saskatchewan; agriculture; public policy; agricultural policy; climate change; climate extremes; vulnerability; adaptation; critical realism; feminist political economy; qualitative methods; coding.