The Ivorian pineapple : social action within the international pineapple commodity network

S. Willems

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    Today, a significant part of the agricultural commodities that we find at markets in the West are cultivated in developing countries. Many of these products are shipped around the world, passing through a complex network of actors involved in production, distribution and marketing activities. Who are the actors involved in these processes? What shapes their realities? And, in turn, how do they respond to and act upon factors related to the part they play within increasing globalized commodity networks? These questions have 1ed me to analyse the social context in which.local actors in the fresh produce sector operate.

    The focus of this thesis is on what I refer to as the 'field of social action' of actors involved in global commodity networks. This field of sociaI action may be defined as the 'social space' in which actors operate and which consequently constitutes the basis for their actions, practices, relationships, struggles and local knowledge. This study aims to explore the contemporary life of actors who act local, within their own 'reality', though as part of the global pineapple domain. The research focuses on the fresh pineapple sector in Ivory Coast. The central objective of this thesis is to analyse how local actors in the Ivorian pineapple sector respond to globalization trends and developments according to their own 'reality' (i.e. their life-worlds and local knowledge) and how they internalize these trends and developments in their actions, practices and relationships.

    The qualitative field study which forms the basis of this thesis was conducted in the humid tropical south of Ivory Coast, from early 1998 to late 1999. The empirical data derived from this field study was further updated on the basis of more recent sources, and additional information was acquired during a brief visit to Ivory Coast in 2003. Extensive interviews heId with actors in the commodity network - producers, landlords, export organizations, traders, local vendors, the sector-wide producers' and exporters' organization OCAB, the quality control agent Veritas, European importers and others - together with meetings and training sessions for producers that 1 attended, and observations in the field have resulted in the portrait of the fresh pineapple sector as presented in this thesis.

    In terms of theoretical orientation, an actor-oriented perspective has been used to capture the specific situations and circumstances in which different local actors manoeuvre. The personal stories and experiences presented in this study seek to enhance our understanding of how different actors engage with and shape global commodity networks at the local level (in Ivory Coast). This helps us to understand the way these actors experience global processes and seek to create room for manoeuvre within an increasingly demanding global pineapple sector.

    A number of key elements of the globalization of agriculture have, in my opinion, shaped today's field of social action for actors operating within the fresh produce sector. These key elements include the expansion of production territories and de-territorializing of products, technological developments, such as in the transportation and communication sectors and the increasing demand for production capacity. Furthermore, in particular in recent times, we may identify a trend towards fully coordinated supply chain activities and the related consolidation of companies, driven by cost reduction benefits (economics of sca!c) and a desire for control over all activities in the supply chain (mainly from a food safety and quality perspective), as well as increased market orientation and consumer awareness. This study analyses how the Ivorian pineapple sector has dealt with these key elements in the globalization of agriculture.

    The thesis describes how, during the early colonial period, French colonizers introduced the pineapple to Ivory Coast as a commercial enterprise for the home market. The introduction of pineapple was paralled by the emergency of a large-scale plantation economy of various other commodities. This development consequently generated a flow of labour; migrants from other parts of ivory Coast and from neighbouring countries were attracted to the southern region of lvory Coast in search of employment. The arrival of these newcomers, and a subsequent pressure on land, transformed village organization, with a new pattern of social relations emerging from power struggles for local control over land.

    Since colonial times, the Ivorian pineapple sector has been organized through a sector-encompassing institutional framework. This administrative, production and distribution system 1ed to a dominance of the Ivorian fresh pineapple in European markets, peaking at a 95% market share in the mid 1980s. Until the early 1990s, the Ivorian pineapple sector did not face serious competition within Europe. However, this situation changed when transnational corporations such as Dole and Del Monte penetrated the market, resulting in a severe loss of market share. Over the past 15 years, the Ivorian pineapple sector has initiated a number of activities to re-win their position in European markets, under the guidance of the overall producer and export organization, OCAB. This study presents the actions and struggles of the various actors involved in these efforts, in order to keep competing in the 'Big League'. It furthermore shows how the role of OCAB and other actors has changed over time, and how OCAB has evolved into a powerful mechanism for the coordination and control of activities in the Ivorian pineapple sector.

    In this powerful institutional framework, the large number of small-scale producers who dominate the Ivorian pineapple sector, cultivate pineapples for far-away markets in the 'Pays des Blanches'. Despite the lack of a direct link with consumers, these producers have generated ideas about the behaviour and preferences of these consumers, which has 1ed to particular ways of acting and established practices in the pineapple fields. The study demonstrates that such practices arc often based upon their observation of local consumer behaviour. A number of such interpretations, which may bc held to be attributes of local actors' versions of the 'truth' about far-away pineapple markets, arc described in this thesis; analyses of the actions and practices of producers therefore provides an understanding of their life-worlds and local knowledge.

    The study uses global commodity networks associated with the production, distribution and consumption of lvorian pineapples as B window for analysing the discourses of the global fresh produce domain. These discourses constitute an important 'mode of ordering' within the commodity network, representing trends and developments that 1ead to changes in the organizational framework and the network of the fresh fruit itself. Within the context of the Ivorian pineapple sector, the way in which such ordering takes place depends not simply on a number of key actors, but on the totality of actors' actions and realities within the pineapple network. The struggles. negotiations and discourses of these actors, as well as their interrelationships, dependencies and power positions, determine the eventual outcome of such ordering. Such processes and relations between actors arc inherently dynamic in nature, and follow trends and developments which trigger important changes and reposition people, organizations and commodities. This process of constant re-ordering assumes the characteristic of an uncertain process which will never remain the same forever.

    It is through the analysis of local actors' actions, responses and related realities that insights have been obtained that will prove to bc valuable for understanding the field of social action of local actors involved in the Ivorian pineapple network. It is therefore hoped that this study will add an important dimension to our critica! understanding and appraisal of more 'rational' perspectives on globalization of agriculturc. The insights gained through this study has provided important understanding of the ways in which ordering processes in globalized commodity networks take place, and how actions and practices of actors within such networks are socially constructed.

    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Wageningen University
    • Long, N.E., Promotor
    • Arce, Alberto, Co-promotor
    Award date20 Oct 2006
    Place of Publication[S.l.]
    Print ISBNs9789085045076
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


    • rural sociology
    • rural development
    • pineapples
    • commodities
    • globalization
    • commodity markets
    • agricultural products
    • cote d'ivoire
    • networks
    • action research
    • social relations
    • supply chain management


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