The History Department presents a lecture by Dr. Clifford Welch

October 28, 2014


Clifford Welch: "Small-Farm Resistance and Its Contradictions in California: A Research Progress Report on Transnational Rural Social History" 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014
2:00 PM
Humanities 1, 520

To help prevent a repeat of the Cuban revolution in the 1960s, the United States government asked all collaborating nations in Latin America to adopt agrarian reform policies as part of its Alliance for Progress initiative. Building a rural middle class of family farmers was seen as essential to stabilize democratic market economies in the region. In Brazil, however, a dictatorship complied with the Alliance mandate just a few months after taking power in a U.S. approved military coup d’état in 1964. For the regime, the law paved the way to greater land concentration, consecrating capitalist relations of production and undermining the small-farm ideal, in a policy package later known as the Green Revolution. Similarly, during the same period in California, many officials and large-scale farmers espoused a pro-family farm rhetoric while working to undermine enforcement of the 1902 Reclamation Act, which limited the size of farms eligible to receive subsidized water from federally supplied irrigation projects to 160-acres. Operators were also required to live on or need the farms. A history of conflict over this issue helped make the state home to the National Coalition for Land Reform, formed in 1971. In the Central Valley, government officials and large landowners routinely ignored the limits until the Fresno-based National Land for People (NLP) organization built a following of ethnically diverse farmers and consumers, including men and women in leadership roles, to defend the “160-limit against the biggies.” Until a 1982 reform backfired by increasing the acreage limitation and eliminating the residency requirement, they managed to interrupt the illegal provision of subsidized water to corporate farms. The acute conflict provoked proved to be land reform’s last battle on US soil, while in Brazil, the collapse of the dictatorship in 1984 stimulated a national agrarian reform movement. The report seeks to summarize and contextualize recent research on the NLP experience.

Clifford Andrew Welch is professor of contemporary Brazil in the undergraduate and graduate History programs at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP). In the US, he has taught at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, North Carolina State University and the University of California – Santa Cruz. In Brazil, he has taught in the graduate geography and history at several leading institutions. His productions include several books, including Land Governance in Brazil (2012), articles in journals like Radical History Review, and documentaries like Grass War: Peasant Struggle in Brazil (2001). He also serves as a consultant to Brazil’s Via Campesina movements.