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Dr Adam Calo, The James Hutton Institute, UK

Topic: Land Access Mapping in a Tenancy Universe: A participatory mapping framework to facilitate farmland access

keywords: Critical GIS, Participatory GIS, Farmland Investment, Land Access, New Entrants


This paper provides a critical analysis of The Farmland Monitoring Project (FMP), a web GIS intervention designed (by the author) to promote farmland access for tenant farmers in California. I first review the challenges of land access for new entrant farmers, highlighting spatial and social aspects of the problem. Then, I review contributions from the field of critical GIS that show how spatial interventions are thought to provide legitimacy for making access claims. Based on this review, I trace how GIS tools are increasingly being used to promote a variety of large scale and industrial agricultural visions, often overlooking or even entrenching the land access dilemma. Finally, I present a functional example of a geospatial land access intervention framework—a web based participatory GIS framework for monitoring, analyzing, and interrogating patterns of agricultural land ownership for beginning farmers in the California Central Coast. The framework, embodied in a novel GIS tool called “Farmview”, proposes to use participatory mapping tools to support farmers and farm support organizations in their access claims. The tool proposes to do this in three ways: 1) crowdsource the identification of available farmland parcels rendered invisible amongst existing sources; 2) Aggregate land ownership information for ongoing monitoring of consolidation trends; 3) Produce “story maps” that interrogate spatial delimitations of land ownership and management regimes. These three features aim to contest entrenched understanding of “available land” and provide new social power to farmer groups who struggle with land access. Using the FMP as a case, I discuss the ways emerging GIS tools engage with the structural aspects of
land access for beginning farmers. Thinking about the access dilemma from the perspective of the social relations that govern the ability to benefit from farmland, I contend that GIS tools oriented towards land access have a key role to legitimate appeals by farmers to authority. Despite this optimism, the FMP still carries embedded assumptions about land use and land transfer, an inevitable consequence of spatial representations of social systems. Within a landscape of rapidly emerging GIS interventions for agriculture, I bring the reflexive and power-aware spirit of the critical GIS literature to examine the future of GIS use for the land access challenge. As this scholarship suggests, GIS interventions can both provide new social power to its users as well as reinforce the status quo.

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