The decline of sustainable agricultural livelihoods has been a feature accompanying economic development all over the world. In Portugal, the decline has been particularly severe over the last century, leading to the displacement of the rural population and to environmental, economic and social losses. Action to address the problem so far has been unsystematic and largely limited to the amelioration of symptoms.
This study contributes to the development of a grounded understanding of the causes and consequences of agricultural marginalisation in Portugal, in order to find entry points to overcome the current impasse.
A Grounded Theory approach was used to study threats to farm viability and consequences for rural livelihoods. The social context of agricultural marginalisation was explored and the potential for developing Alternative Agri-Food Networks to improve farm viability was assessed. The perspectives on agricultural marginalisation of stakeholders from the agricultural and rural development sectors were recorded and the implications for future developments were discussed.
The results show that a limited problematisation of agricultural land abandonment and the endorsement of the ‘ideology of economic development ’ by both, the rural populations and policy-makers, has kept agricultural marginalisation off the political agenda, despite 25% of the country experiencing extreme marginalisation. Action by the affected population itself is limited, and constrained by economic, legal and socio-cultural factors. A number of measures that could be pursued at various levels of agency are proposed and possible future developments are discussed.
Problematising agricultural marginalisation and challenging the illusion of the inevitability of agricultural decline will be essential to empower stakeholders to transform current drivers of marginalisation and develop more sustainable agri-food systems.
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