A culture of cultures: the social regulation of plant disease, farmer identities, and implications for biodiversity

Authors: Sara Cavallo*, Penn State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Uganda, plant disease, biodiversity, biosecurity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines what it means to have a ‘healthy farm’ in the context of disease management and biosecurity governance. Specifically, I interrogate the contradiction between healthy-looking farms and disease in western Uganda following the outbreak of a deadly plant disease, banana Xanthomonas wilt [BXW]. There is no known cultivated banana variety that is immune to BXW. Thus, phytosanitary practices have been introduced as cultural practices via sensitization campaigns and state-supported initiatives to manage the disease and reduce spread. These practices and campaigns work to make biosecurity citizenship visible, and I argue this has made aesthetics a key part of BXW management while also contributing to the centralization of expertise in “model” demonstration farmers. Model farmers, recognized for having a hygienic households and plantations, received state support and inputs and served as points of village agricultural extension. Farmers who did not or were unable to follow these practices faced stigma, fines, retaliation, and potential jail time. Drawing on interviews and archival document collection during fieldwork in western Uganda, I found that this production of difference via adoption of cultural practices renegotiates farmer identities and relationships to their plantations. Further, another consequence of this concentration of expertise is a growing shift to commercial banana varieties: model farmers largely promote improved varieties designed for commercial production over indigenous varieties preferred for home consumption. In this way, I find that a 'healthy farm' is one that looks “clean” but actually much more susceptible to disease due to this reduced biodiversity.

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