Session: Utilizing Complexity Theory to Deconstruct the Global Vulnerabilities of Farmers: Where Are the Social Work Solutions? (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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228 Utilizing Complexity Theory to Deconstruct the Global Vulnerabilities of Farmers: Where Are the Social Work Solutions?

Saturday, January 14, 2023: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Maryvale B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
Cluster: International Social Work & Global Issues
Shena Leverett Brown, PhD, Clark Atlanta University
Anna Scheyett, PhD, University of Georgia, George Leibowitz, PhD, State University of New York at Stony Brook and Shankar Das, PhD, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Anyone who eats food, wears fiber, or uses fuel should care deeply about farmer wellbeing. Globally, farmers experience high levels of stress and rates of suicide, embedded in complex contexts. Financial survival is often determined by factors farmers cannot control: weather, commodity prices, policies. Farmers face systemic threats to their wellbeing, including inequities in health/mental-healthcare access and lack of economic self-determination. Recently, these threats are exacerbated by pandemic and war. The complex threats to farmer wellbeing are seen globally, in countries as disparate as Australia, Sweden, and Bangladesh. In India farmer suicide rates are elevated and associated with social-economic factors such as marginal landholding and predatory lending, and socio-structural factors such as disintegration of rural joint family systems.

A subset of US farmers faces unique challenges from systemic racism and historical oppression. During 1900-2012, the percentage of Black farm operators decreased from 13% to 1.5%, as a result of unjust tenant farming practices and discriminatory policies. Black farmers continue to confront obstacles that threaten their farmland, businesses, and overall wellbeing.

Surprisingly, social work scholars are mostly absent from the discourse on farmer vulnerability. Searching SW Abstracts using farm* AND social work* resulted in 38 entries, with only 14 discussing farmer wellbeing; 8 of these were written before 1995, with the most recent from 2012. Given the urgency of the inequities and threats farmers face, where are the social work solutions?

Solutions to global threats to farmer wellbeing require scholarship grounded in community-engaged partnerships and understanding of the complexly interrelated and emergent properties of systems at the individual, community, cultural, economic, institutional and policy levels. Complexity theory is an interdisciplinary approach drawing from social and natural sciences that can be utilized to deconstruct farmer vulnerabilities; complexity theory concepts such as coevolution and nonlinearity can be used by social work researchers to conceptualize research problems, structure data, frame analyses, and carry out evaluations that embrace context including culture, history, and human agency.

The purpose of this roundtable is to present information on the challenges and inequities faced by farmers in the US and globally, and generate complexity-framed dialogue among social work researchers. Presenters will explore the intercalation of multiple complex systems impacting farmers, grounded in an array of transdisciplinary approaches under the umbrella of complexity theory. Within this framework, one presenter will discuss suicide rates and contemporary interrelated stresses in US farmers. Another will discuss Black farmers in the US, the impacts of racism, and the need to center structural racial equity. Two presenters will discuss a complex systemic economic, governmental, and NGO approach in India, which resulted in substantial decline in farmer suicide. Participants will be invited to describe their work and think together about ways social work scholars can use a complexity framework to develop a research agenda for farmer wellbeing. The vulnerabilities of farmers may vary globally, however, their struggles and issues in which this vulnerability is embedded-- poverty, war, pandemic, structural oppression-- are complex contemporary problems that social work must address.022-->

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