Throughout the centuries maize has played a vital role in the power relations between people and has been used as a tool to manipulate power, particularly among the poor (Warman, 2003). From the African slave trade across the Atlantic, where it was given as a primary means of sustenance in the form of paste, its use as an introduced crop of control by colonial settlers, to its modern day use as animal feed and food aid, maize has a rich history in power relations, especially in traditional third world countries. This essay will identify and explore the way that maize is linked to power within its local commodity chain in the country of Bhutan – that is, among the vast majority of the peasantry who utilise maize as a primary subsistence food. Through outlining Bhutan’s general maize statistics and demonstrating the key forces behind the power relations of maize throughout Bhutan, it will be concluded that power lies primarily in the political and religious conditions of the country on the macro level and the social conditions of the family unit on the micro level. Furthermore, it will be shown that the religious and political conditions directly contribute to how power is manifested and utilised in the family with regards to maize production, exchange, and consumption.
In describing where and how power is attributed to the local maize commodity chain in Bhutan, it is useful to first outline the basic statistics of the commodity. As per Renewable Natural Resource (RNR) statistics from 2000, maize is cultivated all throughout the country, particularly in the poorest areas, with 69% of rural households planting maize for subsistence (Katwal et al., 2008, pp.1-7). Maize ranks first among food crops in production, and its by-products are one of the primary means of animal feed. Most of the processing of maize, which is highly labour intensive, is done at the household level. According to the Ministry of Health (Katwal et al., 2008, p17), “The flow mechanisms of maize within in Bhutan are fairly simple, with up to 80% being consumed at the household level, 3% being retained as seed, 11% used for giving gifts and animal feeds, and the remaining 6% is left for available sale”. The above data shows that while Bhutanese maize does hold commodity status by way of a small portion of its production, with the possibility of sale or exchange, it is primarily a non-commodified substance. The majority of its use is for subsistence among families and this designates maize different power relations than that of a commodity produced for an exchange market. A commodity destined for the market would have additional power influences from suppliers, distributors, and consumers (Cox et al, 2002, pp.3-5). The local maize chain in Bhutan merges all of the above influences onto the family and thus consolidates power through a more inter-personal power chain. To gain a better understanding of the power relations behind maize production in Bhutan it is necessary to explore two key theorists works - that of Sydney Mintz and Eric Wolf.
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- Lee Hooper (Author), 2012, Exploring the Power Relations of Maize in Bhutanese Society, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/262250