The Agronomist

How can you be a cultivator of the earth with no true land?

The figure of the agronomist recently re-entered popular imagination in American director Jonathan Demme’s 2003 documentary starring Jean Dominique. Demme’s The Agronomist follows the life of Dominique, who trained as an agronomist agriculturalist in Paris, France before going on to run Haiti’s first independent radio station, Radio Haiti-Inter, during multiple repressive regimes before his assassination in 2000.

The archetypal figure of the agronomist, embodied by Jean Dominique in the film, is part of a bigger story. An intellectual, man of science and often a land own, “the Agronomist” was important person and often powerful political player in 20th century agricultural societies such as Haiti and Cuba. Today, the mass commercialisation of agriculture and changing patterns of land ownership and political power mean that “the Agronomist” is often cut off from the very soil he specialises and disenfranchised from the system of land tenure.

We delve deep into the fertile depths of the central metaphor of Demme’s film – that Dominique is a cultivator of the earth with no true land to call his own – to investigate the changing conditions of land, to explore the relationship between soil and society, myth and history and offer a vision of “Third World” culture and knowledge that is at once individual and communal, local and archetypal.

Resources:

The Agronomist reviews

The Assassination of Jean Dominique, Haïti Progrès “Le journal qui offre une, 2000

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